The animated film Moana, released by Disney in 2016, sparked intrigue about the heritage and origins of its titular character. The character Moana is depicted as a strong-willed teenager who embarks on a daring mission to save her people. While her voyage resonates with a pan-Polynesian spirit, many have speculated about the specific cultural origins of Moana.
Is Moana Hawaiian?
Contrary to some beliefs, Moana is not explicitly Hawaiian.
Instead, her character represents a broader Polynesian narrative, drawing inspiration from a variety of cultures within the Polynesian Triangle, which encompasses Hawaii, New Zealand (Aotearoa), and Rapa Nui (Easter Island), among others.
Disney’s creative team went to great lengths to craft a story that honors the traditions and myths of Polynesia.
To ensure cultural accuracy and respect, they worked closely with a board of Polynesian cultural experts.
These specialists helped guide the film’s portrayal of mythology, most notably the legends of Maui, ensuring that Moana embodies the values and heritage of Polynesian peoples as a whole rather than being confined to one island or culture.
Origin of Moana’s Character (Influence of Polynesian Mythology)
Moana’s character is deeply rooted in Polynesian mythology, embodying the values and traditions of the Pacific Island cultures.
The movie intertwines the legendary figure of Maui—a demigod known across various Polynesian islands.
The youthful spirit of Moana, portrays a journey that respects historical narratives and embodies the essence of exploration and navigation renowned in Polynesian history.
Cultural Consultation During Development
Disney constituted a board of Polynesian cultural experts, the Oceanic Story Trust, which included anthropologists, cultural practitioners, historians, and linguists.
The purpose: to ensure that the portrayal of Polynesian history, including the myth of Maui, was conducted with respect and factual integrity.
These consultations influenced everything from character development to the depiction of traditional wayfinding, safeguarding the portrayal’s authenticity.
Moana’s Cultural Representation
In the Disney film Moana, the portrayal of Polynesian heritage serves as a focal point, offering audiences a glimpse into the culture’s myths and values.
Fictional Island of Motunui
Motunui is a central element in Moana, where you witness a vibrant Polynesian community thriving on a made-up island.
While Motunui itself is not real, the island represents a composite of Polynesian cultures.
The film’s creators undertook considerable efforts to capture the essence of these rich traditions, although the island does not correspond to any specific geographic location.
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Representation of Hawaiian Culture
Although Moana is not explicitly Hawaiian, elements of Hawaiian culture, such as the value placed on navigation and the ocean, resonate throughout the film.
The character Moana herself, whose name means “ocean” in many Polynesian languages, embodies the connection that Hawaiian culture has with the sea.
The film received mixed responses, with critiques for its broad portrayal of Polynesian culture while also being commended for bringing visibility to the Pacific Islander heritage.
Comparison With Other Polynesian Cultures
Despite being fictional, the film introduces you to various cultural threads—from Hawaiian to Maori and beyond—showing Polynesian culture as a multifaceted and dynamic part of the world’s heritage.
It acknowledges Moana’s cultural background but avoids confining her to a single national identity, reflecting the interconnectedness of Polynesian peoples.