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We Are Moana, We Are Maui

July 30, 2016

We Are Moana, We Are Maui

Kia ora, Fakaalofa lahi atu, Mālō e lelei, Tālofa lava, Bula vinaka, Kia orana, Ia ora na, Fakatalofa atu, Malo ni, Iorana, Mauri, Aloha and greetings Disney:

As Pacific scholars who have either studied Maui and his configuration of (time) and (space), or other aspects of Pacific histories and cultures, we are writing to raise our concerns in regards to your depiction of our culture hero Maui. Currently, there are ongoing international debates via social media by Pacific and non-Pacific peoples about the Disney portrayal of Mauiʼs body, facial features, and mannerisms. While we recognize that Moana is an animated fictional film, the character Maui is not a fictional character to us. He is a revered ancestor for some of us.

For many peoples of Pacific heritage who have either grown up in their homelands or in diasporic communities (homes abroad) in New Zealand, Australia and the United States, our connections to one another are maintained through our ancestral links to the Moana (Pacific Ocean); our kinship ties; and our genealogical and oral historical links to ancient gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines, cosmologies and cosmogonies.

The Moana, our sea of islands, is the Pacific Ocean our ancestors navigated and settled over 2000 years ago across the Oceania. The late Epeli Hauʻofa, an eminent Pacific scholar who coined the term sea of islands in 1993 wrote: Pacific peoples viewed the Moana as a sea of islands. The Moana was a place where they sailed to explore, to nurture (relationships), to trade and to conquer. Our ancestors raised generations of skilled seafarers and navigators who used the stars, constellations, wave patterns, birds, fishes, winds and clouds to guide their way across the seas where they settled. In the islands they settled they passed onto their descendants indigenous understandings of the world. These understandings were explanations of their existence and would become the basis of their oral histories. Within these oral histories, Hauʻofa reminds us, that one “legendary Oceanic athlete was so powerful that during a competition he threw his javelin with such force that it pierced the horizon and disappeared until that night, when it was seen streaking across the skyline like a meteor. Every now and then it reappears to remind people of the mighty deed.” This athlete is Maui.

Though there are many stories of Maui and variations across the Pacific, there are underlying commonalities in the descriptions of his physical and mental attributes that were tempered by a great sense of humour. Mauiʼs feats are heliaki, beautiful poetic expressions, of resisting oppression and fighting injustice for the benefit of humanity. In essence, for many Pacific peoples, one of the grand messages of Maui’s stories is, to advocate for justice by transforming society. The specificity of Mauiʼs tale is unique to Oceania, but the generality of his legend is universal to all societies.

While the Moana, our sea of islands, would continue to sustain our populations and maintain our ancestral links it would also bring to our shores in the late 1700s and early 1800s interaction with papālagi (Europeans). This contact would invariably reshape our world views, histories and cultures through colonization and a new form of religious doctrine called Christianity. Perceptions of Pacific peoples in the early years of interaction with papālagi were often derogatory and belittling of indigenous cultures…Oceanic cultures were seen as savage, lascivious and barbaric (Hauʻofa 1993). Due to the “civilizing” effects of colonization and Christianity another depiction would inform views, this time through Hollywood film. Hereniko (1999) writes… from Bird of Paradise (1932, 1951) to South Pacific (1958) and The Thin Red Line (1998), Pacific Islanders, particularly Polynesian were portrayed as a simple people lacking in complexity, intellect, or ambition… When Pacific Islanders are not laughing, dancing, or feasting in this idyllic setting, they are often depicted as dangerous, evil, even cannibalistic. These kinds of portrayals by Hollywood films…linger long in the popular imagination, so much so that it is not uncommon [in the present day] for Pacific Islanders who travel to Europe to be asked if they are still cannibals.

The Hollywood stereotypical image of laughing, dancing, or feasting would decades later become linked to a number of health challenges that face our Pacific Island communities. These health challenges have given rise to physical stereotypes of Pacific peoples that are often explained by others as excesses of lifestyles due to too much laughing, dancing and feasting. It is much easier to lay blame for the current health challenges on lifestyle excesses rather than the impact of colonisation, environmental degradation and discrimination in its various forms on our social and economic outcomes.

In the same way we have navigated the mighty Moana we will also navigate the challenges that face our communities. We will do this through education. We believe that through education we will be able to build capacity and capability of Pacific peoples to pierce the horizon artistically, academically, economically and socially. It is the same story that your movie Moana will tell. It will be a story of hope, adventure and overcoming challenges tempered with humour. It will be a story that will hold many life messages, one that will resonate with many of us and our children and our grandchildren.

We wrote this letter to ask that you invest in our communities through our children in providing a fund to support the education of children of Pacific descent. This fund will be used for scholarships that will grow the capacity and capability of Pacific peoples. This kind of investment will be beneficial to you as an entity that is helping indigenous communities. This was the case with Southwest Airlines. In 2000, Southwest Airlines provided a scholarship fund to the Zia Pueblo tribe for using the Zia Puebloʼs sun symbol on the Southwest Airplanes. People praised Southwest Airlines for this investment in a native community (Who Owns Native Cultures?, 2003:91-92).

We are seeking an opportunity to have further discussions in regards to this request and would like to hear from you in regards to the request.

Mālō, Mahalo, Faʻafetai, Vinaka, Māuruuru, Fakaue lahi, Meitaki Maata and Thank you.  

We are Moana, We are Maui

ʻOkusitino Māhina, PhD, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Nuhisifa Seve-Williams, PhD, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Tēvita O. Kaʻili, PhD, Kahuku, Hawaiʻi

Teresia Teaiwa, PhD, Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand

April Henderson, PhD, Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Malia Talakai, PhD, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Katerina Teaiwa, PhD, Canberra, Australia

Cresantia Koya Vakaʻuta, PhD, Suva, Fiji

Vincente M. Diaz, PhD, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Tina Delisle, PhD, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Teena Brown Pulu, PhD, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Belinda ʻOtukolo Saltiban, PhD, Salt Lake City, Utah

Karlo Mila, PhD, Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Albert Refiti, PhD, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Sailiemanu Lilomaiava-Doktor, PhD, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi

Christopher Fung, PhD, Boston, Massachusetts

Sione Vaka, PhD, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Liana Kongaika Kinikini, DNP, APRN, NP-C, Salt Lake City, Utah

George Gavet, PhD candidate, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Joseph Keaweʻaimoku Kaholokula PhD, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi

Josephine Herman, PhD, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Edmond Fehoko, PhD candidate, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

James Perez Viernes, PhD, Mangilao, Guam

Emalani Case, PhD, Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Laurie Lali McCubbin, PhD, Louisville, Kentucky

David Gaʻoupu Palaita, PhD, Oceania

Kuʻualoha Hoʻomanawanui, PhD, Haʻikū, Hawaiʻi

Helen Tupaʻi, PhD, Pearl City, Hawaiʻi

Anna Marie Rago Christiansen, D.A., Lāʻie, Hawaiʻi

Alice Te Punga Somerville, PhD, Sydney, Australia

Trisha Kehaulani Watson-Sproat, JD, PhD, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi

Kealalōkahi C. Losch, EdD, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi

Jemaima Tiatia-Seath, PhD, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Yvonne Underhill- Sem, PhD, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

ʻAisea Nau Matthew Māhina, MA, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Hikuleʻo Feʻaomoeako-ʻI-Kenipela Melaia Māhina, BA, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Elizabeth J. Rago, MSW, Kahuku, Hawaiʻi

Laura Zimmer-Tamakoshi, PhD, West Chester, Pennsylvania

Fepulea'i Micah Van der Ryn, PhD, Pagopago, American Samoa

Chris Chan, PhD, Singapore

‘Anapesi Kaʻili, MA, Salt Lake City, Utah

Ty Kāwika Tengan, PhD, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi

Ping-Ann Addo, PhD, Boston, Massachusetts

J. Kehaulani Kauanui, PhD, Middletown, Connecticut

Jacob Fitisemanu Jr, MPH, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

Eliza Matagi, BS, Salt Lake City, Utah

Vili Nosa, PhD, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Ema Wolfgramm- Foliaki, PhD, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Brian Kāfakafa Dawson, MA, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi

Mele Taumoepeau, PhD, Dunedin, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Sylvia Frain, MA, Tahuna/ Queenstown, Aotearoa/ New Zealand & Guåhan/ Guam

Lisa Uperesa, PhD, Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

This petition was delivered to:
  • Community Relations for Moana
    Kalikolehua Hurley


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