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Tuvalu can't believe its luck. We can't believe Tuvalu

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It's one of the world's smallest and most isolated independent nations, it was known as the Ellice Islands when the British Empire was in full flow and it's now called Tuvalu, which means "cluster of eight" even though there are actually nine islands. It is also the lucky owner of the ".tv" domain name, which, as you can imagine, is a bonus.

This is a class island (see below for the top ten Tuvalu facts) and its national income (previously stemming from sex lines) has doubled thanks to the Internet. In 1998, the 12-member parliament decided to outsource the marketing of .tv names to a Canadian firm, titled The .TV Corporation. It paid Tuvalu $60,000 and set about selling domain names for $1,000 for the first year and $500 a year thereafter. This approach didn't prove too popular and the boys on Funafuti, the main island in the group, pulled the plug.

However things are looking up and Tuvalu has just received a $15 million lump sum from the Silicon Valley company now in charge of marketing their .TV domaion name. It used the money to pay the fees to join the United Nations. The marketing is a little more professional this time and you can buy the URL outright in the same way as everywhere else in the world. Mind you, it'll cost yer $100,000 if you want www.free.tv, www.china.tv or www.net.tv. There's also a marked difference between the sites run by the marketing company (which has the very tasty URL www.tv) and the Tuvalu government at www.tuvalu.tv.

Which just goes to show that while Western companies continue to flush billions of pounds down the Web toilet every year, it's the small people that are benefiting. ®

Tuvalu's top ten facts*


  • Due to high airfares, this remote group of low coral atolls gets only a few hundred tourists a year and most of those never go beyond the crowded little government centre on Funafuti
  • The national motto is "Tuvalu for God"
  • Solar-powered satellites installed in 1996 provided excess international phone capacity that was quickly sold off to sex line operators in Japan, the US and the UK. However, the calls are simply routed through Tuvalu and the "horny" operators are actually based in New Zealand. The resulting cash accounts for 10 per cent of the island's income.
  • You can buy a Tuvaluan passport for $11,000 ($22,000 for a family of four). It won't give you citizenship but you can then live there.
  • In 1996, an Italian restauranteur "persuaded" the Tuvalu government to grant him ambassadorship to the Vatican, even though there are fewer that 100 catholics on the island. It's a peculiar thing, but Vatican-accredited diplomats enjoy a special tax status that allows them to make huge profits on business dealings in Italy.
  • The islands' nine atolls are inhabited, with one or two villages on each. The villages are often divided into two "sides" to foster competition (?!)
  • More than 70% of the people on the outer islands still live in traditional-style housing
  • Tuvalu's population density (more than 400 persons per square km) is the highest in the South Pacific and one of the highest in the world
  • The national game is "te ano" - the ball. Two teams line up facing one another and starts with one member throwing the heavy ball toward the other team, who must hit it back with their hands. Points are scored if the opposite team lets the ball fall and the first team to reach 10 wins. Obviously, weak players are targeted and the matches can be fierce (but usually friendly). The game ends with the losers performing a funny song and dance routine intended to bring the winners back to earth.
  • The word for toilet is falefoliki.


* Extracted from the South Pacific Handbook

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