the heart of Ta Fiti


Well, no matter what you do, there will be criticism. Despite Disney’s best attempts at research, there will still be naysayers. (It’s a DISNEY movie, not Whale Rider or PowWow Highway!).

One point this article makes, a point that should be discussed with kids is the core value of what the Hokule’a team (the real Hawaiian voyaging canoe) calls malama honua; 

Mālama Honua is simply translated as “to care for our Island Earth”, but the Hawaiian language is beautiful and complex. Mālama Honua means to take care of and protect everything that makes up our world: land, oceans, living beings, our cultures, and our communities. It means learning from the lessons of islanders to take care of your limited resources, as though you were living on a canoe in the open ocean or an island in the middle of the sea. On a canoe, water, food, plants, and other basic needs are in limited supply and are tended to with great care; so too we must tend to our resources on islands, and for all of Island Earth.

The Polynesian explorers themselves learned the limits of their resources…

As they traveled farther and farther east in their astonishing voyages, Polynesians colonized islands with small, isolated, and fragile habitats. When trees, the land, fish, and game became depleted, these sites entered a vicious cycle: deforestation led to the extinction of nesting birds, to soil erosion and decreased expiration of moisture from trees, causing droughts; the lack of timber prevented the settlers from maintaining their fleets of canoes for fishing and exploration.

But that is not the point of this DISNEY MOVIE. Disney does faerie tales, legends. We do not need Disney to do Whale Rider (which was a fabulous film, go find it)(Moana’s mom was in it)(also PowWow Highway and Smoke Signals). Disney speaks the language of faerie tale, and faerie tales are applicable to larger issues, including how humans do or do not take care of their environment.

Lord of the Rings (faerie tale with British Isles vibe) has this theme as an undercurrent too: we don’t have humans wreaking devastation on the environment, we have the Dark Lord and his Minions, balanced against Elves, Hobbits, Rangers, Ents and Wizards as caretakers of those environments. Archetypes. We recognize the archetypes, and how they can be applied to our real lives.

Same thing in Moana. We have a faerie tale. We have a demigod, a relatable, fallable, but ultimately epic heroic person who (like most similar figures in myth) stands between humans and the gods, stealing fire and secrets from them, and sometimes, overstepping the bounds by stealing the heart of the goddess and bringing down doom… until a doughty human helps him restore the balance.

In the original myths, there is a tale where Maui does attempt to steal the secret of immortality, the heart of an earth goddess. In that legend, he fails and dies.

Disney prefers happier endings.

And despite, or because of, its sundrenched animation and fabulous music, Moana has lessons that can be applied to ancient cultures on islands… or modern cultures on Island Earth. And because it is a Disney faerie tale, lots of people, and millions of kids, will see it. And hopefully, look below the surface for something deeper.

It speaks the universal language of Story.



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