Dancing Lament

September 01, 2016

The Olympics last month brought many exciting moments. I celebrated victories by talented U.S. athletes and I cheered as members of "Team Refugees" (made up of refugees from around the world) competed and inspired millions. Another moment I found fascinating came from a weightlifter from Kiribati.

David Katoatau represented his Pacific island nation. He didn't win. He didn't even advance. And yet, he ended each lift with a comical, lighthearted dance. Even when he failed a lift, he grimaced for only a moment before returning to a goofy dance. Check out a short video of him.

Why is he dancing? Because he doesn't know what else to do. His island nation is among the most vulnerable to climate change. In a few decades, there might not even be an Olympic delegation from his country as his people look to flee their homeland as part of the growing number of climate refugees. So he offers a happy dance as a prophetic lament.


"Most people don't know where Kiribati is," Katoatau explained during the Olympics. "I want people to know more about us so I use weightlifting, and my dancing, to show the world."

Katoatau, who has danced like this at other major weightlifting competitions, wrote an open letter last year offering more details about his concerns. He decided to speak out for his people after feeling "helpless."

"Everyday my people fear for their lives as their homes are lost to the rising sea levels," he wrote. "We live on an atoll with nothing but flat land and ocean surrounding us. We have nowhere to climb and nowhere to run to."

"As a sportsman I have offered everything to my country but I cannot save it," he added. "I beg the countries of the world to see what is happening to Kiribati."

There's something profound in the clash between the happy dance moves and the despairing message. He's creatively found a way to capture our attention and our imagination. He could just sit down and cry. Perhaps that's what he would like to do as he feels the weight of his nation's fate on his shoulders. But instead he offers a hopeful dance as he imagines a world where people actually care and his beloved island nation can be saved. May we help turn his lament into a joyful dance.

0 comments