or: Four Times Moana and Maui Surprised the Crowd, and One Time They Did Not

My first shot at a 4-and-1 type gig! I tried to keep these short, but you know my writing, that didn’t end up happening. I think this is like seven thousand words total. Look, my hand just slipped for four hours straight. 

Happy, happy birthday to my dear friend @paperjam-bipper! You’re so old now, you shmuck. Congratulations. Hope you enjoy the gratuitous amounts of fluff I stuck in here, just for you. :) 

Fandom: Moana
Words: 7,400
Category: Gen
Relationship: Moana & Maui

Summary: Four times Moana and Maui surprised the crowd, and one time they did not. 


It’s when the first wave breaks on the deck of their ship that Aronui decides, quite firmly, that she does not like storms.

Even shielded as she is from the worst of the rain by her mother’s sturdy legs and swollen belly, there pellets of water sting against her eyelids, and Aronui has to squint to see the deck of the boat mere feet in front of her. Her hairband was lost long ago to the frenzy of the wind, which whips her hair around her face. When Aronui spares a hand to try and tame it, she ends up nearly ripping off the right half of her head.

“Hard about to port!” shouts a familiar voice, commanding against the fury of the storm.

Aronui looks over to see Moana astride the canoe. Despite the writhing waves that tower around her Moana looks at ease, balanced perfectly atop the edge of her canoe while wrestling with the halyard in both hands. She’s planted at one end of her tiny craft, which sways dangerously in the water, and is somehow using the boat’s instability to clamber up the side and look intently at Kara.

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This is my maternal grandmother, Te Ata Ihaia Kiri Kowhai na Manuhiri. This photo would have been taken some time in the 1940s, when she was in her early twenties. She spent her earliest years growing up across two of our marae, Ruamata and Pikiao in Rotorua. When she was in her early teens, she went to work as a servant in the house of a rich pākehā  family (who are still very influential in the area) whose farm was acquired from my hapu well before she was born. Can you imagine, serving a family on your ancestral land? Washing their dirty clothes and scrubbing their floors, on the land that is a part of you and your tipuna? 

She was given the nickname Bessie when she went to work for them, because they couldn’t pronounce her name. Bessie is engraved on her tombstone in our urupa, she went by that as much as Te Ata Ihaia for most of her life.

Twenty years after this photo was taken, more of our land was taken under the Public Works act for the Rotorua airport. It was originally planned for the southern side of Te Ngae rd, which now belonged (by law) to the family my grandmother worked for. They had the power to oppose it, my hapu did not. 

Te Ata Ihaia worked for this family for about a decade (as much as any one can remember), before she left to work at Rotorua Hospital. She never spoke Te Reo after working for them. 

My grandfather, who was a pākehā man of German and English heritage, called her Bessie all of his life. His first (white) wife from Auckland used to tell their children that they would be sent to their father and his ’Māori witch wife’ if they misbehaved.

Despite all the messed-up stuff she had to go through, I remember her as the kindest, most gentle person. I remember making fry bread with her on a wood-burner stove that was as old as she was. I don’t have many memories of her, I wish I had been more interested in her life and her stories when she was alive. She died just over sixteen years ago, when I was ten years old.

This is a common story for so many families across Aotearoa, and I imagine for so many disenfranchised indigenous communities across the world. I love reading about the great navigators and explorers, the ancient history and myths or our people, stories which have been told a thousand times (even though I have so much more to hear and read, I’m pretty ignorant of a lot of our shared history outside of my iwi). But I treasure the lives of our more recent and intimate tipuna. Whakapapa is important. Learn as much as you can about your family, listen to your old people. They are in us and we are in them.