“Moana”, a Polynesian goddess of the “deep sea” has now has joined the long line of Disney heroines in the filmmakers’ first delving into the myths of the Pacific.
The difference was, Disney made Moana a 16-year old mortal, descended from voyagers forbidden to venture out of her island. Heeding her heart, she sets out on an epic quest to find Maui, the trickster demi-god of the wind and the sea, else darkness devour her home and her people.
Hers was no cloyingly sweet love story with the hero, no erotic fireworks – quite a refreshing relief – but a search for her Self.
Along the way, she finds in him a mentor and ally – though not before he steals her boat, tosses her out of it and tries to abandon her in the high sea.
However, she’s no dainty bloom that wilts under the harsh tropical sun. She’s a feisty princess who can patch a roof, dance, march inside a creepy cave and drum, sail beyond the forbidden reef, repartee with a burly demigod.
“I am Moana of Motonui. You will board my boat,” she declared when they first met. And he did, in the end, in a flurry of action, adventure, fun and drama.
As for me, I have to admit I boarded her boat because Maui intrigued me.
I got acquainted with this hero and his magical fishhook in my first visit to New Zealand. Maui is a hero not just among the peoples of Oceania but among the Maoris.
That magical fishhook that allows him to shapeshift into all sorts of animals, from hawk, shark, lizard, fish, pig and bug as well as pull up islands from the sea, is a favorite Maori motif.
Needless to say, Maui is a beloved hero. He did so much for humans. He lassoed the sun to give us longer days and harnessed the breeze for our benefit. He even tried to conquer death.
But as always, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
This trickster-helper stole the heart of Te Fiti, the Mother Island – the Pacific version of Gaia, Roman mother goddess Ceres and the Greek Hera.
He thought her heart will give him power over life itself. He never imagined it would turn the benevolent goddess to the demon of earth and fire – Te Ka.
Of course, there’s no Te Fiti in Polynesian legend. What they have is a Fire goddess, Pele, who created the Hawaiian islands.
There’s no Moana who got entangled with Maui either. But who cares?
Moana was a charming, ballsy character, standing up to a sometimes infuriating, super-macho shapeshifter.
And of course, Disney revised Maui’s parentage, making him an orphan and changed his looks as well, depicting him as an oversized, long-haired, tattooed, wrestler type.
On the other hand, legends often describe Maui as the son of a god and a mortal woman – with a handful of brothers to boot.
Too bad, Disney saw it fit not to show how Maui died.
Legend says that in his quest to make humans immortal, Maui literally crept inside the body of a sleeping Hine-nui-te-po, the goddess of night and death. As he attempted to return to the living world, Hine woke up, biting Maui in half with her sharp, obsidian teeth.
By contrast, “Moana” ended happily, with the demi-god and the human sidekick both finding their true selves.
At the last moment, Moana realized she has to face the greatest darkness to find the light – and salvation.
So, she confronts the lava monster, Te Ka, woman to woman. They touch foreheads and noses, breathing in each other’s life force and co-mingling each other’s essence in the traditional Polynesian and Maori greeting, the “hongi”.
Instantly, Te Ka transforms back to Te Fiti, the fertile, green mother goddess of the earth as her heart is restored and the darkness ends.
She even heals naughty Maui’s damaged hook and returns it to him.