Water Talks II: Climate Justice in the Pacific

By: Keila Lee

13 April 2019

An evening talk-story event at the UH Mānoa Art Gallery brought together artists, scientists, historians and more to discuss how different cultures in the Pacific are dealing with climate change in their area. 

 

The event was a part of the Inundation: Art and Climate Change in the Pacific art exhibition. Two different panels were held with three experts each; one panel covering Okinawa, and the other about Polynesia. 

 

“I think the lessons that they are bringing to bear about traditional things are ones that any indigenous local culture shares,” Jaimey Hamilton Faris, the curator of the event, said. “And those are the kinds of things all around the world that we need to pay attention to now so that we feel connected.” 

“I think the lessons that they are bringing to bear about traditional things are ones that any indigenous local culture shares,” Jaimey Hamilton Faris, the curator of the event, said. “And those are the kinds of things all around the world that we need to pay attention to now so that we feel connected.” 

 

Faris created the event to emphasize old cultural traditions and how indigenous people are attempting to save their homes. According to many cultures that Faris studied, the land has “seen cycles of regeneration that the landscape is actually really regenerative.”

 

The first panel, “Tales of the Okinawan Sea”, featured artist James Jack, scientist Kenneth Kaneshiro, and musician Norman Kaneshiro. Each panelist contributed pieces of their work to illustrate how climate change affected Okinawa in different ways. 

Experts from both panels highlighted that these small communities receive the most damage from shifting weather patterns even though they contribute the least to the problem.

“It’s sad to see that these communities get hit the hardest when they probably have the smallest carbon footprint out there,” said Manuel Meiji, Polynesian Voyaging Society and Community Program Manager. “Their islands are sinking and there’s nothing they can do but adapt.” 

 

“I think what overwhelms a lot of people, especially a lot of young people, is a sense of feeling like they have to go at it alone,” Faris said. “And it’s this connection with understanding from your elders, ancestors, the landscape, that we can help with.”  

Kenneth Kaneshiro, director of the Center for Conservation Research and Training, studied insects while in Okinawa. His research with fruit flies was so successful that he was tasked with assisting in a survey of biological plants and animals in Kadena, Okinawa. While working with colleagues and scientists from Okinawa in such a cultural area, Kaneshiro was able to connect with his culture in a way that he never had before. 

 

“This really goes to the systems thinking approach; you really have to take a comprehensive approach in any real world issue,” Kaneshiro said. “Everything is place-based. I think you have to really understand the culture of the people, the community of where you do your work, and that'll obviously bring everything together.”

 

James Jack displayed many of his art pieces that he created with villagers while living in Okinawa - the main attraction being a piece of driftwood. Jack explained that the battered wood symbolizes the hardships that individuals face because of climate change. 

Driftwood has a deep spiritual meaning with the Okinawan culture because it symbolizers going on a journey and overcoming challenges.

hoahawaii_logo_v1.png