In a familiar sequence of events right across the South Pacific, Polynesian explorers first settled Tuvalu more than 1000 years ago. Village life here progressed unchanged and unmolested until European traders started showing up in the 1820s, followed by British Christian missionaries in the 1860s, hell-bent on converting the heathen realm.

The Brits put down less-theological roots in 1877, when Tuvalu (then known as the Ellice Islands) came under British protection as part of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands Protectorate. This status remained in place until a 1974 referendum returned a vote overwhelmingly in favour of independence. As part of this process, Tuvalu cut ties with the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati) and became an independent member of the British Commonwealth in 1978, then a member of the United Nations in 2000.

During WWII the Ellice Islands were a staging point for Allied attacks on Nauru and the Gilbert Islands, then occupied by the Japanese. Airfields, naval bases, hospitals, seaplane ramps and port facilities were built around the Ellice Islands by US Marines, with a bit of muscle from the locals. All sorts of sorties were launched from here, with Funafuti being on the receiving end of Japanese air attacks in 1943. After the war finished in 1945, Funafuti airfield became Funafuti International Airport.