The founding ancestors of Funafuti were Telematua and his two wives Futi and Tupu. Later, leaving Futi on Funafuti Telematua searching for a land of greater fertility and where fresh water was more plentiful, discovered Vaitupu. There he left Tupu and subsequently divided his time between the two islands.
When Telematua died he was succeeded as chief (aliki tupu) by his eldest son, Kaitosuga. Kaitosuga was followed by his son Tailoa 1. Tailoa 1 was followed as aliki tupu by his nephew Tepaolo. Tepaolo was murdered within a few weeks by his brother Sigi, who was in turn murdered by their youngest brother, Takalamiti. It was not until Tepaolo's son Salaika became aliki tupu that the island again had a strong leader, though succession to office remained unpredictable. The next aliki tupu was Tauasa, another nephew of Salaika. Power in Funafuti remained in the hand of Tauasa's descendants until the coming of the Samoan pastors brought the aliki system to an end.
The line of descent of the aliki tupu on Funafuti is as follows:
It was Elia who died in 1902 who was the last aliki tupu. He was also the one who allowed Captain Davis to raise the British flag on Funafuti in 1892.
Captain Davis visited Funafuti on the 2nd August 1892. John (Jack) O'Brien gave his name to Captain Davis as John BRINE and his nationality as ENGLISH instead of IRISH and indicated that he was trading for Henderson and Macfarlane. Jack O'Brien was of Irish descent and came to Funafuti in the 1850's. He was the first white man in Funafuti and the Ellice Group (now Tuvalu) preceding the other white traders by some thirty odd years. He married Sarai, the daughter of the then King of Funafuti and became the matriarch of an extended Tuvaluan family. Jack O'Brien has generally been credited with "repopulating" Funafuti subsequent to the advent of the Peruvian blackbirders who took away almost all the young men of Funafuti. The O'Brien name is synonymous with Funafuti with the extended family evident in many countries throughout the world. Indeed any islander with the surname "O'Brien" would almost inevitably be a descendant of Jack O'Brien.