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Tuvalu: Overview

Tuvalu, formerly known as the Ellice Island, is located in the South Pacific Ocean, about one-half of the way from Hawaii to Australia. Its nearest neighbors are Kiribati, Samoa and Fiji. It consists of nine tiny islands. Tuvalu became an independent member of the British Commonwealth in 1978.

Land is the most valuable asset in Tuvalu. With a very small land area and a burgeoning population, possession of a piece of land is critical, not to mention that Tuvalu is being eaten up by the Pacific Ocean.

The government of Tuvalu does not own land, it leases from the traditional native owners. Foreigners can also lease land from the natives. These owners however are having problems because rights of ownership have been uncertain. Family ownership was the common practice, but individual ownership has been introduced and has created confusion over the true owner/s of land. When an individual is the registered owner (usually the oldest male), the other members of their family group retain the right to access and use that piece of land. This right may be agreed amongst the family or allocated by the "owner". These plots are commonly subdivided upon death, causing a problem, as there are many small plots with multiple owners.

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