Vanuatu Water Music: Nature, Culture, Future

Panellists: Sandy Sur (Vanuatu Leweton Group), Thomas Dick (Further Arts), Leah Barclay (Griffith University) and Catherine Grant (Griffith University).



Keywords: Climate change, Vanuatu, Acoustic ecology.

Leweton Cultural Group hails from the remote tropical northern islands of Gaua and Merelava in Vanuatu, and live in a village in Espiritu Santo where they present, share, and maintain their unique cultural traditions and practises across cultures and generations. These remote Island communities are experiencing the true ramifications of climate change and continue to explore methods to bring and wider global awareness and engagement with the fate of their islands. The Leweton Cultural Group has attracted attention from across the world through presenting traditional performances including the Vanuatu Women’s Water Music – a cultural performance deeply connected to the environment.

The Leweton Cultural Group performing Vanuatu Women’s Water Music were a highlight for many at Balance-Unbalance 2013 in Australia and the community have maintained an ongoing partnership with Balance-Unbalance to make sure remote coastal and island communities have a voice in global conversations around climate change. In 2015, Leweton presented a Kastom Ceremony and Water Music performance conducted in Vanuatu for the opening of Balance-Unbalance 2015. This video also included a welcoming presentation from Sandy Sur, a community leader from Vanuatu and the director of the Leweton Cultural Group.

Sandy Sur’s research aims to highlight the value of Vanuatu Water Music and its connection to the environment. He believes the Vanuatu Water Music is now evolving in response to rapidly changing climates and Sur advocates for this tradition as a call to action. He describes the Water Music as a message passing through space that connects with every aspect of the surrounding environment; the sound travels and transforms, but remains part of an interconnected mesh that allows people to understand land, water, nature and culture. This resonates strongly with what Timothy Morton describes as the vast intertangling ‘mesh’ flowing through all dimensions of life and Steven Feld’s concept of acoustemology, exploring sound as a distinctive medium for knowing the world. Sur and his community perceive sound and water in similar ways – a substance that is essential for survival with cultural and spiritual significance.

Sur recognised the possibilities of interdisciplinary projects and new technologies as a means to generate global awareness and inspire climate action. This has sparked a range of collaborations that continue to adapt and evolve in collaboration with his community. This panel will reflect on existing and emerging collaborative projects and possible pathways for assisting Vanuatu to deal with climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Balance-Unbalance 2017

Balance-Unbalance (BunB)
is an International Conference designed to use art as a catalyst to explore intersections between NATURE, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY and SOCIETY as we move into an era of both unprecedented ecological threats and transdisciplinary possibilities.

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