Culture and identity
The majority of Tuvaluans (96%) are Polynesian with connections to Samoa and Tokelau. The remaining 4% are Micronesian. Tuvaluan society is based on the influence and rule of aliki, chief, whose traditional role includes protecting the culture and mediation in disagreements. The sisters and daughters of the aliki act as leaders and role models for Tuvaluan women. Every family has pologa, traditional tasks, which they perform for the community; these skills are handed down through the generations in a single family.
Special events are marked with feasts, traditional dancing and music, held at the maneapas, meeting houses, which are the often highly ornate focal points for communities. The traditional form of family or clan land ownership is changing, as holdings have become fragmented due to intermarriage between families from different islands and through the selling of land to outsiders.
Life expectancy is 65 years (male 64 years, female 68 years). The infant mortality rate is 31 per 1,000 live births. Household rainwater harvesting and desalination provide water as surface and groundwater are very limited. In times of low rainfall water has to be shipped from New Zealand or Australia. Leaking septic systems are being replaced with composting toilets to improve sanitation. Medical staff are concentrated on Funafuti, with health stations on the outer islands. New Zealand contributes to the cost of medical evacuation to Fiji or New Zealand when necessary.
Religion and beliefs
Modern Tuvaluans are overwhelmingly Christian, originally converted from traditional religions by pastors sent from Samoa by the London Missionary Society. Some traditional beliefs still have influence, including Matematega o Kaumana, which involves ‘reading' the clouds to locate schools of fish and predict approaching disasters such as strong winds, high waves and drought.
Food and shelter
Major food sources include coconut, root crops such as taro, and fish. The most important cultivated plant is pulaka, swamp taro, grown in large pits and valued for its resistance to drought and high salinity. Rice is available and breadfruit, futi, plantains or cooking bananas, and vegetables are cultivated. Fish and chicken are the main forms of protein, and pigs are roasted for special feasts.
Although most Tuvaluans now live in houses constructed from modern materials such as concrete and corrugated iron and are connected to modern services such as power and telephones, some still live in traditional thatched houses. The fale (house) has timber posts, open sides and a thatched roof made of pandanus leaves.