Identification. Lau is a chain of about 100 small islands and reefs spread over an area of about 1,400 square kilometers in the South Pacific. Geographically and culturally, Lau is intermediate between Melanesian Fiji and Polynesian Tonga. Lau is made up of three major divisions: the islands of southern and central Lau including Lakemba, Oneata, Mothe, the Kambara group, the Fulanga group, and the Ono group; the Exploring Islands; and the Moala group. While the British colonial government considered all three divisions to be part of the Lau group, native Lauans considered only the central and southern islands that formed the chiefdom of Lakemba to be Lau.
Location. The Lau islands are located between 16° 43′ and 21° V S and 178° 15′ and 180° 17′ W. Three types of islands are found in the chain. Volcanic high islands are well watered with rich soil and support intensive horticulture. Limestone islands have little water and poor soil, though they do have heavily forested basins and lagoons rich with fish and shellfish. Islands composed of both volcanic rock and limestone display a combination of the above features. Lau has a tropical climate with a dry season from April to October and rainy, warm weather the rest of the year.
Demography. Reliable population figures for early Contact times are unavailable. In 1920, the population was estimated at 7,402. An estimate in 1981 reported 16,000 Lau speakers.
linguistic Affiliation. The indigenous language of Lau is a member of the Eastern Fijian Subgroup of Central Pacific: Austronesian languages. The modern Lau dialect is evidently a mixture of the now-extinct traditional dialect, the dialect of Bau Fiji, and the Tongan language.