According to a story recorded by the missionary George Turner, Funafuti was first inhabited by the porcupine fish whose progeny became men and women. The accepted tradition of the island, however, and this accords with historical probability, is that the Funafuti people originated from Samoa. As was the case with Vaitupu, the founding ancestors were Telematua and his two wives Futi (meaning banana) and Tupu (meaning "holy" or "abundant").
The island is named after Futi; funa is a feminine prefix. The travellers first settled on Funafuna islet before shifting to Fogafale, where the main village is still situated. 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 henceforth he divided his time between the two islands.
The Tongans used to attack Funafuti at intervals. After each attack they would kidnap a child and take it home with them so that, as the child grew up, they could work out when the next generation on Funafuti would be old enough to fight. They would then mount another raid, and repeat their performance until they were defeated and did not return. Thereafter, Funafuti was free of foreign marauders until the Peruvian slave raids of the 19th century.
The power on Funafuti remained in the hands of the chiefs until the coming of the Samoan pastors brought the system to an end. Iakopa, the chief at the time the first pastor arrived, surrendered his place of honour to the pastor and also gave up receiving the turtle's head.
Henceforth that, too was given to the pastor. The end was then in sight. Iakopa's son, Elia, who died in 1902 was the last chief. He was also the one who allowed Captain Davis to raise the British flag on Funafuti in 1892, although it is said that before he did so the sailors had scared him by parading outside with their rifles.
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