I finally got to watch Moana with my family, and I couldn’t help but smile hearing Tokelauan, Samoan, Tahitian and many more of our pacific languages sung, spoken, emoted in the film.

Things I thought of:

– The way our motifs were shown throughout was incredible.

– we have an incredible history as seafarers, voyagers and this film was a small reminder of this past.

Things that were awks:

– That The Rock pronounced Te Fiti as Tay Fidi and Mow-ana.

– That designs by indigenous people for thousands of years are now, the creation of some designer in Hollywood. Ufakoms.

I loved that the film allowed me to think of the contradictions that is our Pacific – Oceania world:

1. What I personally loved was the depiction of our community as close-knit and collective.

We do things together and share. Much like our notion of soalaupule. Working together to generate solutions for the betterment of our community.


That community is also, in some cases close-minded and that close-knit-ness becomes a sinnet that stifles debate and chastised dialogue. Our collective nature is wonderful until there is friction and struggle and disagreements, then the village monsters come out.

I wanted to mention this because that is the reality of our community. It ain’t all idyllic living. Our closeness also means that there are no secrets among us, words travel the moment they are uttered.

Our togetherness is also a weapon when our loved ones fail or falter.

2. Woman as leaders or chiefs. Obviously, this is more so for Samoa and Cook Islands, where woman can become chiefs. I loved that in the movie, that the lead character is a young woman who will one day lead her village. I loved that the Granma is the strong ‘mana’ful woman who is at peace with herself and with her surroundings. She doesn’t give a shit what people think and she is unfazed by her son being the chief. That character is so true. Our history is decorated with incredible women leaders in Samoa. And throughout the Pacific, we have Queen Liliu’okalani of Hawaii, Queen Emma, Queen Salote of Tonga, Salamasina, and of course, Your humble Goddess of Savaii, (You’re welcome!) pugi.

On the flipside,

– Less than 10% of women are matai (chiefs) in Samoa.

– Violence against women is rife

– Christianity has, in most places demoted women from leaders and chiefs to second class citizens who exist to be a supporter, homemaker, wife, servant to her husband.

3. Si’osi’omaga: What surrounds us is our environment.

Pre-modernity, we had an incredible connection to our environment. Our language is filled with metaphors and decorated with references to the land, and species and we were accustomed to weather conditions and the ocean. This was well portrayed by the old lady and her spirit becoming a sting ray. When I saw that glow through the ocean, I thought of our how a chief’s spirit leaves their body and travels to Pulotu through the lau giu that line the path. Just wow!

Today, thanks to modernity, Pacific islands are all rushing to be developed, to be economically viable and sustainable. Relying on  aid money to finance programmes created for a  market in Norway and at the cost of our environment. Incredibly sad and short sighted. I loved that the movie  showed this aspect of our being. We are part of the si’osi’omaga.

4. Epeli Hauofa – wrote about the ocean, it is the ocean that connects us – please please please, if youre a pacific person, or if you’re not,….BUY THE BOOK and READ it, gift it to your children, gift it to your friend. It is his writing that I thought of when I watched Moana. That the ocean is within us. #wearetheocean.

5. Navigation.

In our Pacific Island Leaders of Tomorrow programme, our themes are based on Epeli’s work. We have had actual voyagers with many years experience sharing their journeys, like Hoturoa Barclay KerrTainui, the kaihautū or leader of Haunui waka)  and Conrad Stanley (Captain of Aurere) – both experienced and both still teaching the art of voyaging to hundreds of young people in Aotearoa and beyond.

On the other hand, we have the highest rate of drowning  in New Zealand. Much of our navigation history has become a past – but thanks to geniuses like Mau Piailug who has revived this art for the region. We still have a long way to go but there is hope!

6. I Loved Loved Loved that Moana is a strong, assertive, proud, young woman. She doesn’t have a love interest. OMG, that is so so so Samoan/Tongan/Tokelauan/Tuvaluan/Kiribati/etc etc hahaha

One the reality side, we have many many young Moanas walking to church or choir practice right now, who are expected to be God-fearing and will have absolutely no interest in the opposite sex. And that’s all very well if youre in an ideal society where a young man will then court you (or rather your dad) and ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

The thing is, for many Moanas, their encounter with love interest can be accidently, or secretive, or in many cases, it is an act of violence and unwanted. That’s a reality which has resulted in many young women ending up with unplanned pregnancies, stds, and sadly – many more are raped by those who are meant to care for them, we also are well known for the alarmingly high rates of suicide in the world.

So, Moana having no love interest was art imitating life to the tee!!!

7. They had a tuiga, (:

While all this is exciting, I’m already accepting that by having Disney borrow and tell our shared history and story through their cartoon lenses, we have in essence sold our souls to corporate America. That. Is a fact.

Your tapa cloth, motifs and culture is now game for anyone to copy, replicate and claim as their own.

That’s the reality.

Moana was a lovely movie – but its also the reason our designs will now be Made in China and “created and designed” by Hollywood. So when I hear anyone crying about their masi pattern on a catwalk in a year’s time, this is the price we pay. You can then spare a thought for the academics who threw caution to the wind and who got vilified for being concerned.

Ga kou o uma lava lea e ai gi kou kalo ae la ua miliogea Disney I la oukou agaguu, ae kago lava le kagaka ia i loga muliogeogea.


#DisneyMoana is definitely a double-edged sapelu

You’re welcome!


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