14 Jun 2024 13:00 - 15:00 Faculty of English, S24, West Road


An event by the Indigenous Studies Discussion Group


  • Kirsten Zemke (The University of Auckland)

  • Luka Leleiga Lim-Cowley (PhD candidate, St Antony’s College)


The Pacific region is one of the most severely impacted areas in the world by climate change; the countries comprising the Pacific, however, are amongst many of the lowest contributors to ecological crisis. This paper will discuss the interconnections between Indigenous Pacific popular music and climate justice: specifically, five songs have been selected through which to consider Indigenous Pacific environmental—and particularly aquatic—relationalities. One of the key underpinnings of these relationships is the understanding of the ocean as a deity and/or as kin, which permeates politics, activism, and discourses of identity. As channels into discussing the aforementioned themes, the five following songs will be analysed: Te Vaka’s “Tagaloa” (1999), Tiki Taane’s “Tangaroa God of the Sea” (2007), Maisey Rika’s “Tangaroa Whakamautai” (2012), Olivia Foa‘i and Te Vaka’s “Tulou Tagaloa” (2016), and Alien Weaponry’s “Tangaroa” (2021). Reference will also be made to further Indigenous Pacific musicians, including Stan Walker, Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole, and Herbs. Tagaloa and Tangaroa are linked: they are cognates, with differences in sound and spelling according to linguistic and semiotic context; the names of various oceanic deities in the Pacific; and key figures in Polynesian creation narratives. These five songs are spread across a number of genres, including drum and bass, heavy metal, and Pacific fusion. This paper argues that, although these songs are not conventionally considered activist music, they nonetheless carry inherent Indigenous activist / protector politics via the incorporation of Indigenous values, stories, and ecological ties (Zemke & Lim-Bunnin, 2020). This paper also argues that attention to the Pacific—and particularly Indigenous perspectives, experiences, and knowledge—is a crucial element in any discussion of global climate and environmental justice. (Sultana, 2022).

About the speakers

Dr Kirsten Zemke is a pouako matua (senior lecturer) in ethnomusicology at Te Whare Wānanga o Waipapa Taumata Rau (The University of Auckland). Her research focuses on gendersexuality in popular music, Pasifika popular music, and hip hop.

Luka Leleiga Lim-Cowley  is a poet and a doctoral candidate in social anthropology at St Antony’s College. Their main areas of research are Pasifika climate activism, race, gendersexuality, disability, and Pacific Indigeneity.


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