Is Moana a Samoan or Hawaiian?

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Moana is a popular Disney animated movie that tells the story of a young girl named Moana who embarks on a journey to save her island. While the movie has been well received by audiences around the world, there has been some confusion about Moana’s cultural identity. Specifically, some people have questioned whether Moana is a Samoan or a Hawaiian. In this blog post, we will explore the cultural origins of Moana and try to answer this question.

The Origins of Moana

The character of Moana was created by the Disney Animation Studio and was released in 2016. The movie was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, and it tells the story of a young girl from a Polynesian island who sets out to find a demigod named Maui to help her save her people and restore the balance of nature.

The movie was inspired by the cultures and mythology of the Pacific Islands, specifically the cultures of Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, and Tahiti. The filmmakers conducted extensive research and consultation with experts from these cultures to ensure that the movie was culturally accurate and respectful.

  1. Polynesian Culture and Mythology: The film draws inspiration from the rich cultural heritage and mythology of the Polynesian people. The filmmakers conducted extensive research, consulting with cultural advisors from the Pacific Islands to ensure an authentic representation of the region’s traditions, customs, and stories.
  2. Pacific Island Settings: The film’s stunning visuals and landscapes are inspired by the beauty of the Pacific Islands. The fictional island of Motunui, Moana’s home, incorporates elements from various Polynesian cultures, including Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji, and Tonga. The lush environments, pristine beaches, and crystal-clear waters depicted in the film reflect the real-life splendor of these island regions.
  3. Development Process: The concept for “Moana” began in 2011 when John Musker, one of the film’s directors, went on a research trip to the Pacific Islands. He was captivated by the culture, mythology, and people he encountered there. Along with his co-director Ron Clements, they worked on developing the story and characters, incorporating elements of Polynesian folklore and their own imaginative storytelling.
  4. Collaborative Effort: The production of “Moana” involved a collaborative effort by a diverse team of filmmakers, artists, musicians, and performers. The film aimed to showcase and celebrate Polynesian culture while also appealing to a global audience. Many Polynesian individuals, including actors, musicians, and cultural consultants, were involved in the film’s creation to ensure its authenticity and cultural sensitivity.

By combining elements of Polynesian culture, mythology, and the creative vision of the Disney team, “Moana” became a film that resonated with audiences worldwide. It not only entertained viewers but also brought attention to the beauty and significance of Polynesian culture, providing a platform to showcase the richness of these diverse Pacific Island traditions.

Moana’s Cultural Identity

Despite the movie’s inspiration from various Pacific Island cultures, Moana’s cultural identity has been a subject of debate. Specifically, some people have questioned whether Moana is a Samoan or a Hawaiian.

Throughout the story, Moana’s character represents and embodies various aspects of Polynesian culture, emphasizing the importance of her cultural identity. Here are some key elements of Moana’s cultural identity in the film:

  1. Polynesian Values: Moana is depicted as a strong, determined, and independent young woman who values her family, community, and the natural world around her. These traits align with the cultural values often found in Polynesian societies, such as respect for elders, interconnectedness with nature, and the importance of community cooperation.
  2. Wayfinding and Navigation: Moana hails from a long line of navigators, reflecting the ancient Polynesian tradition of wayfinding. This skill involves using celestial navigation, wave patterns, and other natural cues to traverse the vast Pacific Ocean. Moana’s connection to wayfinding represents the seafaring history and expertise of Polynesian cultures.
  3. Polynesian Mythology: Throughout the film, Moana encounters various mythological figures from Polynesian folklore, such as the demigod Maui and the ocean goddess Te Fiti. These encounters highlight the significance of mythology and storytelling in Polynesian cultures, emphasizing the connection between the spiritual world and everyday life.
  4. Music and Dance: The film incorporates Polynesian music and dance, showcasing the vibrant and rhythmic traditions of the Pacific Islands. Moana’s character participates in musical numbers and performs hula-inspired movements, celebrating the cultural expressions and artistic forms that are integral to Polynesian identity.
  5. Clothing and Adornments: Moana’s attire, including her traditional dress and accessories, reflects Polynesian fashion and adornment styles. The designs draw inspiration from the textiles, patterns, and motifs commonly found in Polynesian cultures, contributing to her cultural representation.

Through Moana’s character, the film aims to promote cultural pride and awareness by showcasing the diverse elements of Polynesian culture. It portrays her journey of self-discovery as an exploration of her cultural roots, emphasizing the importance of embracing one’s heritage and the strength derived from cultural identity.

Moana’s Appearance

One of the main reasons why some people believe that Moana is Samoan is because of her appearance. Moana has dark skin, curly black hair, and features that are similar to those of Samoan people. Samoans are known for their physical strength, athleticism, and cultural pride. They also have a long history of seafaring, which is a central theme in the movie.

  1. Physique: Moana is depicted as a young girl with a slender yet athletic physique. Her physique reflects her active and adventurous nature, as she embarks on a challenging journey across the ocean.
  2. Skin Tone: Moana has a warm, tan complexion that represents the diversity of skin tones found among Polynesian people. This choice in her skin tone reflects the film’s commitment to inclusivity and cultural representation.
  3. Facial Features: Moana’s facial features are inspired by Polynesian aesthetics. She has expressive, almond-shaped brown eyes, a small button-like nose, and full lips. Her features aim to capture the natural beauty associated with Polynesian individuals.
  4. Hair: Moana has long, dark, wavy hair, which is a common characteristic in many Polynesian cultures. Her hair is styled in loose waves, reflecting a relaxed and natural appearance. Throughout the film, her hair is often adorned with flowers or other traditional Polynesian accessories.
  5. Clothing: Moana’s attire reflects Polynesian fashion. She wears a sleeveless top made of woven fabric and a wrap-around skirt known as a “pāreu” or “lava-lava.” These garments are inspired by traditional clothing found in various Polynesian cultures and showcase vibrant colors and patterns.
  6. Accessories: To enhance her cultural representation, Moana wears accessories that are reminiscent of Polynesian traditions. She is often seen wearing a necklace made of seashells, which symbolizes her connection to the ocean, as well as bracelets and anklets made of woven materials or natural elements.

It’s important to note that Moana’s appearance in the film is a stylized representation influenced by Disney’s animation style and the desire to create a visually appealing and relatable character. The design choices aim to honor Polynesian culture while still maintaining the animated and fantastical nature of the film.

Moana’s Cultural Influences

While Moana’s appearance may suggest a Samoan influence, her cultural background is actually a blend of various Pacific Island cultures. The filmmakers were careful to draw from the cultures of Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, and Tahiti, among others, to create a movie that was respectful and accurate.

For example, Moana’s name is derived from the Maori language, which is spoken in New Zealand. The character of Maui, who is a central figure in the movie, is based on the mythological figure of Maui, who is revered in many Pacific Island cultures. The movie also features traditional Polynesian music and dance, which is a common cultural practice in many Pacific Island cultures.


In conclusion, while some people may believe that Moana is Samoan, her cultural identity is actually a blend of various Pacific Island cultures. The filmmakers were careful to draw from the cultures of Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, and Tahiti, among others, to create a movie that was respectful and accurate. While the movie has been criticized by some for its representation of Pacific Island cultures, it has also been praised for its positive portrayal of strong, independent women and its celebration of traditional Polynesian music and dance.

Is Moana a Samoan or Hawaiian?
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