A Library for Nanumea
Vione Napoto
Nanumea Island is the most northerly island in the Tuvalu group 4°
south of the Equator and 200 kilometres from the main island of
Funafuti. It can be reached by ship from Funafuti, a voyage of one and
half days on board the government vessel Nivaga. Nanumea is an atoll
with a central lagoon and four small islands, only one of which is
The population of approximately 1000 lives in two villages separated by
common or 'island' land where the Tuvalu Church and the maneapa are
built. The economy is a subsistence one of fishing and gardening with
cash earned through the occasional sale of fish to the co-operative in
Funafuti or by the sale of handicrafts to the Government Handicraft
Centre. Nanumea is administered by an Island Council (of government
Kaumaile School is situated by the lagoon and is one of the biggest
schools in Tuvalu with 170 pupils and 8 teachers plus the Head Teacher.
Children start school at the age of 5+ and continue to Class 10. When
they are in Class 6 they sit an examination which can give them entry to
Motufoua Secondary School for Form 1. Otherwise they continue at
school in the Community Training Centre for Classes 8, 9 and 10.
The school is controlled and supported by a Parents Association who
meet every term and who organise committees to raise funds for the
The idea of building a library arose because books that had been sent to
the school were not being used. They were stored instead in a small dark
room that was far too hot for children to use even if they were allowed to.
The importance of books in education was realised and the need for good
books, and for the time to read and enjoy them. Books can be a 'voiceless
teacher' helping readers improve their understanding of subjects and
enlarging their understanding of the world they live in. Books help
children learn about the past, about nowadays and about the future. It
therefore, seemed vital to make a library.

To begin building a library required lots of discussions between the
School Committee and the Island Council. This was the first time that a
Library had been built for a school. At first the Island Council refused
but as the discussions continued they began to understand that it was a
good idea. However, it was the community's responsibility to build it.
The Library has been built in the traditional way. The floor is concrete
but the walls are of interwoven pandanus trunks with screens of dry
coconut leaves to provide shade and shelter. The roof is thatched with
pandanus. Inside it is cool, light, and airy, an attractive and welcoming
place for books and keen readers. Each village provided four workers to
build the library and provided food for them.
The library will soon be open and it is hoped that children will use it as
part of their language programme and that the community will feel free
to come in the afternoon. A librarian will be employed to work with the
teachers and to encourage everyone to value and use the library.
A library needs a good supply, and a continuing supply, of books that are
enjoyable and worth reading. At the moment the library collection
consists of books and magazines that have been donated. There are
School Journals, some Ladybird Books, and supplementary reading
books. So the next task will be to acquire more books.
There are many books in English that are suitable for the children and
adults of Nanumea Island. Traditional stories and picture books of good
quality are universal in their appeal and in their message. Funding and
selection are the requirements for such collections.
In the meantime reading material can be developed through ingenuity. A
school newspaper has been suggested with news, poems and stories
written in the Tuvalu language. Writing your own reading material is a
good way of developing writing in the school and in the community.
Teachers in Tuvalu have already been experimenting with Handmade
Books, writing traditional stories, rhymes, songs and stories for early
reading in book form. They have made books shaped like fish, fans,
coconuts, octopuses... works of art that are enjoyed and read by
A set of these books is to be published in an economical but attractive

form with the help of New Zealand School Publications. Although most
of the books will be used to help children learn to read there will be a
collection of traditional rhymes that will be appreciated by all the
The best of English children's literature, Handmade Books of every size,
shape and topic in the Tuvalu language and published Tuvalu books
would make a perfect community library. It was difficult to get a library
at first but the community of Nanumea persisted. Perhaps soon there will
be a collection of books worthy of such a library.