David Katoatau and why you should never underestimate the Kiribati people


When the Olympics were on, obviously I was cheering pretty hard for the Kiribati team. That crazy person waving a Kiribati flag at the TV, when the Kiribati team entered the Olympic stadium? That nutter who cheered whenever Kiribati was even loosely mentioned in the Olympic news coverage? Yeah that was me.

Over the couple of weeks when the Olympics were on, footage and articles kept popping up about Kiribati – more specifically – David Katoatau.

Weightlifting - Men's 105kg
David Katoatau (KIR) of Kiribati celebrates a successful lift. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

David Katoatau is Kiribati’ golden boy. A Commonwealth Games and Pacific Games gold medal weightlifter, he is the pride and joy of the tiny nation. Coming 6th overall in the Olympics, Katoatau is one of the worlds best. But this isn’t what got him the attention. He’s known as the dancing weightlifter. After each lift, he dances – and not just a little bop either. It’s a full pelvic thrust, arms in the air, grin from ear to ear, make you want to join in kinda dance. If you haven’t seen it – do yourself a favour and watch it here. I swear it will make your day.


He carried the Kiribati flag into the stadium and he danced while holding the flag. He lifted his weights and followed on with more dancing. He dropped his weights and kept on dancing.

As a Kiribati person, I look at him and laugh. He is a performer like so many other I-Kiribati people and how he performs is quite normal within Kiribati culture. But obviously, this happy dancing is not the norm in Western society.

Interviewers asked him why he dances and he simply replied with:

‘Most people don’t know where Kiribati is. I want people to know more about us so I use weightlifting, and my dancing, to show the world. I wrote an open letter to the world last year to tell people about all the homes lost to rising sea levels. I don’t know how many years it will be before it sinks’

To read more – head here.

Kiribati is such a tiny country and if you don’t know about the country, then why would you care if it sinks or not? THIS is why people like David Katoatau are so important to Kiribati.

The thing I love about David and his dancing, is that it’s a perfect example of how Kiribati people share their stories. Kiribati people are happy and love using humour as a way to communicate. It’s not in their nature to be confrontational to people they don’t know (within the family, it’s a different story – it’s all drama and yelling and general firey islander)! Kiribati people have a lot of pride in how they represent their country – especially on such a global stage.

Kiribati people love a story. They love sharing their experiences in hope that people just love a good story as much as them.

The Kiribati Olympic Team, Opening Ceremony, Rio Olympics (PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

So how does Kiribati – a tiny little nation on the brink of climate change destruction – stand out in a world that is full of major Olympic stars, political tug of wars, billion dollar mining businesses and Murdoch-owned, climate skeptic journalism?

Well, here’s to you David Katoatau. Thanks for the dancing, the pride for your country and your determination to share the Kiribati story.

Kiribati people are strong, inventive, resourceful and incredibly clever at appealing to their audience. Don’t let the smiles fool you, we’re going to share the Kiribati climate change story with you whether you like it or not.

Do I sound inspired? You bet I am.


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