Tokelauan Play Focuses on Climate Change

A Tokelauan theater show claimed to be the first of its kind is highlighting the threat the climate crisis poses to the territory.  Te Molimau by Tokelauan-Samoan writer and actor, Taofia Pelesasawhich, opened last month at the Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney, Australia, is set in a future where Tokelau is submerged.

The Sydney Morning Herald writer, Nick Galvin, wrote that the play is set in the year 2060, by which time it is estimated low-lying Tokelau will have disappeared entirely. The play looks at the last hour of the nation through the eyes of the one remaining resident, a young woman called Vitolina. As storms have worsened and seawater has encroached ever further onto the three atolls that make up Tokelau, residents have left in even greater numbers.

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Where is Tokelau?

Director Emele Ugavule said she hoped to inspire climate action with the tri-lingual show and promote Tokelau’s culture. She said the idea came to her when she first heard rising sea levels could leave Tokelau under water. “We see what is being projected to happen in the future, in this last hour of Tokelau’s life, and then what is happening currently in the world with the climate crisis and the discussions that are happening all over the world on the news, the way that people are being affected. We see footage of the rising sea levels.”

Ugavule said the play is an important milestone for her country. “Our understanding of how to care for the land and the ocean is embedded in our language. And our cultural practices like singing and dancing are embedded in our everyday life in the islands – how do we maintain that in a context where we have to make money to survive rather than grow fish or food to survive?”

Ms Ugavule said there had been a huge turnout from Tokelauans in Sydney, with many going multiple times and often crying.

“They’ll tell us how proud they are and overwhelmed they are with joy that our stories are being heard because they’ve never ever seen that before… which really speaks to the necessity of the visibility of our stories in the theater.”

Ugavule hopes the play will encourage empathy among the audience and maybe inspire some to take action.

“It’s a very emotional experience for everyone involved,” she says. “The entire play is our lived experience and our families’ lived experience.”

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