Administratively the islands belong to Lau Province.
Political unity came late to the Lau Islands. Historically, they comprised three territories: the Northern Lau Islands, the Southern Lau Islands, and the Moala Islands. Around 1855, the renegade Tongan prince Enele Ma'afu conquered the region and established a unified administration. Calling himself the Tui Lau, or King of Lau, he promulgated a constitution and encouraged the establishment of Christian missions. The first missionaries had arrived at Lakeba in 1830, but had been expelled. The Tui Nayau, who had been the nominal overlord of the Lau Islands, became subject to Ma'afu.
The Tui Nayau and Tui Lau titles came into personal union in 1969, when Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who had already been installed as Tui Lau in 1963 by the Yavusa Tonga, was also installed as Tui Nayau following the death of his father Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba III in 1966. The title Tui Lau was left vacant from his uncle, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, in 1958 as referenced in Mara, The Pacific Way Paper.
The Northern Lau Islands, which extended as far south as Tuvuca, were under the overlordship of Taveuni and paid tribute to the Tui Cakau (Paramount Chief of Cakaudrove). In 1855, however, Ma'afu gained sovereignty over Northern Lau, establishing Lomaloma, on Vanua Balavu, as his capital.