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'Water Is Rising' - Joyous, desperate art

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'Water Is Rising' - Joyous, desperate art

Pacific Islanders fight to save their homeland through their unique native culture

  • Members of Te Waa Mai Kiribati
    Members of Te Waa Mai Kiribati

Their homes are being swallowed by the sea. Rising oceans, the result of global warming and climate change, threaten to inundate their islands, making their houses, daily lives and culture disappear beneath the waves.

Their response to this impending disaster? To sing and dance. Proudly. Joyously. When your homeland is threatened, it might seem a strange response, unless your unique culture is all you have.

This response, "Water Is Rising," both a celebration and a plea, is on a 14-city tour of the U.S. The show comes to Centennial Hall on Friday, sponsored by UApresents.

The 36 touring musicians and dancers in “Water Is Rising” are from the tiny island nations of Tuvala, Tokelua and Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and New Zealand. The islands, with a total population of less than 115,000 people, are particularly at risk from even small increases in the oceans’ water levels from melting polar ice caps. Made up of coral atolls, their highest elevations are only 9 to 15 feet above sea level.

The troupe is using performance art to showcase their culture and gain support for efforts to halt man-caused climate change. They hope that by sharing their culture before it is lost, they can focus attention on the human cost of global warming. By both informing and entertaining, they hope to raise awareness about both their personal plight and the potential world crisis if the oceans rise even a few feet.

The show includes three different performing groups, Te Waa Mai Kiribati, Pa Laumilo from the island of Tuvala, and Kai Te Gali Mai Nukunonu from Tokekau.

The show begins with a generations-old greeting song, “E Kakim,” whose translated lyrics say:

 “We feel joy and pleasure at being with you and cherish without reservation this moment of happiness.”

Other works describe feminine power, the transition to adulthood, the courage of their fisherman and the determination of their men, love for their native land and the changing environment.

In addition to the show, there will be a free panel discussion by UA scientists and “Water Is Rising” artists and organizers that afternoon to discuss the global impact of climate change. Sponsored by UApresents and the UA’s Institute of the Environment, the discussion, “Vanishing Islands: Culture and Climate Change” will be moderated by Jonathan Overpeck, professor of Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences and co-director of the Institute. According to Overpeck, “Climate change affects all of us and small island nations in the Pacific are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine for coastal cities worldwide.”

There will also be a question and answer session with the performers following the show.


If you go

  • Panel discussion, “Vanishing Islands: Culture and Climate Change,” sponsored by UApresents and the University of Arizona Institute of the Environment
  • Friday at noon
  • The Center for Creative Photography, Room 108, 1030 N. Olive Ave.
  • Free

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