The legends of Vaitupu contain many stories of how the island was created, but they differ almost as much from each other as they do from modern scientific explanation. In regard to the settlement of the island, however, they generally agree that the first settler was Telematua, who arrived by canoe from Samoa. With him were his son Foumatua and his grandson Silaga.
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According to some stories Telematua, who had earlier visited Funafuti, where he landed his wife Futi, placed his second wife Tupu on Vaitupu. He then divided his time between the two islands. Often the people of Funafuti would inquire why Telematua went away so often, and where he had gone. Futi would reply, in Samoan, voai ia Tupu, "to see Tupu." Eventually the phrase became shortened to one word "Vaitupu" - and that is how the island got its name.
There are six large family groups on Vaitupu that claimed descent from Telematua. In addition to their membership of these the Vaitupu people are also divided into three principal clans; namely Tua, Lotoa and Kilitai. Each clan now elects one chief to represent them on the council of three chiefs.
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In the 20th century Vaitupu has been notable as the educational centre of Tuvalu. The London Missionary Society (LMS) opened a school there at Motufoua in 1905. Motufoua was not the only school on Vaitupu. In 1923 the Government Primary School was shifted there from Funafuti and the school was called Elisefou (New Ellice).
D. G. Kennedy, the first Headmaster of the school was a firm disciplinarian who often used the cricket bat to control his subjects. Elisefou continued until 1953 until the Government closed it down and shifted the students to King George V School in Kiribati. Two distinguished Tuvaluans, Sir Penitala Teo, the first Governor General and the first Prime Minister Toalipi Lauti, were both pupils at Elisefou.