Last night I had an epiphany, a sudden moment of clarity brought on by the question of a haole* person I was sitting beside at a dinner. She asked, “What is the big deal about Moana, it’s just a cartoon for kids.”
I paused. (As a Hawaiian Cultural Advisor to a variety of entities, I’ve learned that any offhand remarks I make can (and often will) be taken literally. )
I thought. “”It’s just a cartoon for kids.” Aha. THAT is EXACTLY WHY it is a big deal.”
Now, I am not going to go into whether it is well done or not, who was insulted, who loved it, and all that. There are many blogs, articles, and comments available on-line and in print which are well thought out and make excellent reading for you to make up your own mind. I am only going to say a few words about WHY IT IS A BIG DEAL.
It is a big deal because kids are watching it.
You see, kids/children/keiki, are rapidly absorbing everything that goes on around them. Whatever they see, hear, feel, smell, sense in any way is shaping the adults they will become. So it is critical that whatever is made for and marketed to children be true, honest, and healthful for their souls, minds, and bodies.
Movies, cartoons, and other media directed at children are far MORE important to produce to the highest possible standards than media directed to any other audience.
A child has no filters. Moana is targeted to children who are in that time of life in which they are most actively forming their perceptions of themselves and the world in which they live. What the child sees in Moana will largely inform that child’s perceptions of Polynesian people. If the child is Polynesian, this will have a direct effect on the child’s self-perception and view of his or her own history. If the child is not Polynesian, it will have a direct effect on how the child will see people who look like Polynesians.
If you let your child watch this (or any) movie, watch it with your child and use the movie as a starting point for discussion and exploration of your ʻohana‘s culture and values. It does not need to be heavy – simple questions like, “If you had been in _______’s place, what would you have done?” are a good starting point. Go to the library and borrow books about Maui and the Pacific. (And feel free to explain that it’s just a movie, Maui’s mother loved him very much. She didn’t throw him away because she didn’t love him. He looked like he was born dead, so she wrapped him in her hair and gave him to his ocean ancestors. Click here for a beautifully done video of the story!)
At the bottom of this post are links to resources, and to purchase books if you do not have a library available.
So, it is a big deal. Mahalo for asking a question that made me think!
Another question this lovely woman asked was, “Why are people so upset about a made-up character?”
The answer is, “He is not made-up.”
Maui is an ancestor figure, culture hero, and cultural archetype who defines much of how, as Polynesians, we see ourselves. Any perceived disrespect or attack is disrespect and attack which strikes at the self-perception of an entire people.
For an example of this in European culture, take a look at the stories of William Tell. Whether or not one pursues a literal interpretation of William Tell the Man, or is satisfied with the Legendary Figure of William Tell, again, he is an ancestor figure, culture hero, and cultural archetype. To disrespect or attack him is to disrespect and attack Swiss culture and self-perception.
Archetypal figures, found in all cultures, are used to teach children and adults cultural values and truths that go deeper than those found in simple dates and role-calls.
Here in the world’s largest ocean, Maui is revered throughout Polynesia. His wondrous deeds as a culture hero have been told and re-told for over a thousand years. Though there are differences between island groups, that they have remained as consistent as they have is amazing, and demonstrates how important Maui is to Polynesians throughout the Pacific.
“The Maui legends form one of the strongest links in the mythological chain of evidence which binds the scattered inhabitants of the Pacific into one nation. An incomplete list aids in making clear the fact that groups of islands hundreds and even thousands of miles apart have been peopled centuries past by the same organic race.”
- The world-wide voyage of Hōkūleʻa – REAL Polynesian Voyagers!
- Disney’s Educator’s Guide
- Background to Disney’s Educator’s Guide
- Teaching the “Hero’s Journey” worksheet
- Family activity suggestions
- Legends of Maui
- Legends of Volcanos
- Oceanic Mythology
- Maui Videos
- About Maui’s Fishhook
IMDb is now providing community-created parental guides for movies, including Moana.
Must-haves for the grownups
Hawaʻiki Rising is free on Kindle!
Classic collections of mythologies
*I point out that she is haole (in the sense of ʻforeign to Hawaiʻiʻ) so that you know she is has an American/Euro-centric cultural background, as opposed to someone reared in the islands. If she were Japanese or of any other ethnic/cultural background, I would have pointed that out so that readers would have a cultural referent for her.