Kahukiwa is a contemporary Māori artist whose work brings about colonial disruption and engages in themes of indigenous experience in New Zealand, the dispossession of Māori people, and Indigenous motherhood.
I’m so proud of Disney’s Team of Researchers when it came to making Moana, because it made me, a proud Polynesian girl feel relatable to a Disney character. Now Polynesia consist of many islands, each with their own unique style. I thought it would be nice to share some of the elements used in Moana from my own Polynesian culture, the Maori culture, so that Moana fans can understand the significance or just something new.
Te Fiti’s Heart
This Spiral Pattern is known as a ‘Koru’ and can be found in many types of Maori Art including: Carvings, Jewellery, Tattoos and Paintings. It is inspired by a plant native to New Zealand known as ‘Ponga’ or ‘The Silver Fern’.
Her Heart is also inspired by a rock precious to our people called ‘Pounamu’ or ‘Green stone’ which is a variant of Jade. We use it mainly for Jewellery nowadays but it was also used to make weapons back in the day.
A Hongi is a traditional greeting and farewell used by Maori people by pressing noses. It symbolises exchanging the breath of life to one another.
Moana uses the Hongi several times in the movie but her Hongi with Te Fiti seems like the most important and special to me.
Moana’s Necklace is made out of a Abalone Shell which we call ‘Paua’ and can be found throughout many countries around the world, however the featured shell here is a type you find in New Zealand once you polish back its nacre. The shell is used in our arts including: Carvings and Jewellery.
There are so many more elements used in this movie from the other Polynesian Islands that I cannot name but hopefully someone else can add to this post to share our beautiful and rich cultures.
Emily Karaka powerfully combines art with politics as her exuberant protests and contestations spill out across large, loose canvasses. Responding to broken contracts with her ancestors from Tämaki makau-rau, Karaka paints a huge ruru or owl which hovers high on the canvas. The ruru is often a bearer of ill omen: here, wings spread to reveal a cacophony of painted cries, she looks out of the painting, weeping. At a time when the New Zealand government has privatised or sold off numerous publicly-owned assets, to the chagrin of many New Zealanders, Karaka weaves a dense tapestry of paint, criticising both past and present government practice; her overwhelming message, painted across the top of Te Uri o Te Ao, is ‘This land is Mäori land’. Although drawing on modernist styles from Europe and the USA, and inspired by New Zealand painters Philip Clairmont, Allan Maddox and Colin McCahon, the art of Emily Karaka is born from indigenous struggle. She is sometimes tagged as New Zealand’s 'difficult’ artist but her concerns for indigenous sovereignty, personal freedom, and honouring political and social obligations are both individual and universal. Karaka’s raw and edgy art is a conscience call to all New Zealanders. (from The Guide, 2001)
The koru (Māori for “loop”) is a spiral shape based on the shape of a new unfurling silver fern frond and symbolizing new life, growth, strength and peace. It is an integral symbol in Māori art, carving and tattoos. The circular shape of the koru helps to convey the idea of perpetual movement while the inner coil suggests a return to the point of origin.
Koru is the integral central motif of symbolic, seemingly-abstract kowhaiwhai designs, traditionally used to decorate Maori wharenui (meeting houses). There are numerous semi-formal designs, representing different features of the natural world.
Koru can also refer to bone carvings. Those generally take the shape of the uncurling fern plant. When bone is worn on the skin, it changes colour as oil is absorbed. The Māori took this to symbolise that the spirit of the person was inhabiting the pendant. When someone gives a pendant to someone else, it is the custom that they wear it for a time so that part of their spirit is given as well.