Photo credit - Disney Studios

I am going to paraphrase the words of an educated man Jacob Fitisemanu in very simple English.
If you are going to watch Moana to learn your history… Don’t
If you are going to watch Moana to learn your identity… Don’t
If you are going to watch Moana to learn your genealogy… Don’t
If you are going to watch Moana to learn your culture… Don’t
If you are going to watch Moana to learn about the Demi-God Maui… Don’t
If you are going to watch Moana to learn the definition of the word Moana… Don’t

Go and watch the movie and enjoy it. Look for the positive messages that are in the movie. For example, Moana’s words were “I’m NOT a princess, I’m the daughter of a chief.” The majority of us are not of royalty and our daughters will never be princesses. But my daughter is the daughter of the chief of my home.

Another good one is by Maui, paraphrasing his words… ‘know where you are from to determine where you are going.
So go and enjoy the movie, knowing that Moana is a cartoon character. As the words of the lady with the video on Café Koko Samoa – ‘Moana on the cartoon “was NOT born… she was drawn…”

Now here is my advice to all those that say Disney is exploiting our culture. – LEARN FROM THE MORMONS (AKA The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – LDS).

Let me take you away from Moana and take you to New York City so you will understand what I mean by “Learn from the Mormons.”
When the Musical the Book of Mormon debuted on Broadway in New York City, it was a musical that was completely the opposite of what the Mormons teach. There was a lot of profanity in the play. They even wrote a song that mocked how the Book of Mormon came about and Joseph Smith. Some of the critics who were not Mormons indicated that the play is very offensive towards the Mormons. The normal ticket to see the play was $500USD, but it was almost always sold out, despite how crass the musical is.

The Mormon Church never came out with any official statement against the musical (at least to my knowledge). Instead, they flooded New York City with ad campaigns of “Meet the Mormons.” The LDS church paid for an ad campaign to go on some of the biggest billboards in New York City saying “Meet the Mormons.” They paid for some of the digital billboards in the center of Time Square to run their ads on who the Mormons are. The LDS church completely flooded New York City with pamphlets, commercials and ad-campaigns so people will know what the Mormons believe.

Meet the Mormons in New York city.
Meet the Mormons in New York city.

I thought that was a great strategy. The musical was free publicity for the Mormon Church. When a person that has never heard of the Mormon Church goes to the musical, they come out wondering who the Mormons are. So they start researching, and to their surprise, they see it on the billboards, they see it on TV commercials and they see it on the digital boards in the middle of Time Square. This resulted in people knowing more about the Mormon Church than ever before – all because of the crass Musical The Book of Mormon.

So back to Moana and Maui.

We have a lot of educated Polynesians that know a lot of our legends and history. Educated people that can write in words that makes people like me read their writings ( sometimes with a dictionary on my side just to understand their writings!)  People like Lani Wendt, Tevita Kaili, Jacob Fitisemanu, Seti Matua, and a lot more out there that I don’t know your names.

I urge you to write blogs, start FB group pages, do youtube videos and more that tell the story about the true Demi-God Maui. Write about the Tifa-i-Moana and its meaning. When people go to see the movie, they will come out wanting to know more about who Maui is. So when they google Maui or Moana, they will find your epistle that tells of the real Maui. Ride the Disney wave and get the word out there.

Take advantage of Disney’s publicity of the Polynesian culture. The more we write negative comments about the movie, the more bitter we look as Polynesian people. Let us ride the Disney wave and tell the world about how friendly and happy we are. Not very many people know who Polynesians are.

Let me personalize this now. When I first moved to America, I lived in the East Coast (Connecticut). Naturally people thought I was Hispanic and would start speaking Spanish to me. I would always tell them sorry no Espanol, I’m Samoan. “Where?” They would ask. I would say “Samoa.” “Where is that?” I would start by saying “Fiji”, blank stare, “Tahiti”, blank stare, “Hawaii?”… “Oh you’re Hawaiian.” I then would try and explain that I am not Hawaiian but am Polynesian. People have no idea what Polynesians are.

So now that Disney has created a galu lolo (tidal wave) large enough for the world to see, let’s ride that wave and tell the people who we really are. Lets tell the world that we really are the Friendly Isles of the Pacific. That we truly live on the Happy Islands of Polynesia.

Learn from the Mormons and ride the Disney Wave!

Malaela Pauga

Samoa born and raised. Bachelor of Science in Information System Computer Science (ISCS) with a double emphaisis Programmer Analyst & Business Application Specialist
Taught computers at Vaiola College
LDS Mission in Samoa for 2 years
Worked as the IT Manager for LDS Church Schools for 8 years
Taught night classes for NUS for 4 years
Met a tourist in Samoa in 2001
Married her in 2003 in Mesa AZ
Moved to CT USA Dec 2003
Have 2 little beautiful girls
Now work as a Financial Technical Analyst for a Health Insurance Brokerage in the US.

Latest posts by Malaela Pauga (see all)

Samoa born and raised. Bachelor of Science in Information System Computer Science (ISCS) with a double emphaisis Programmer Analyst & Business Application Specialist Taught computers at Vaiola College LDS Mission in Samoa for 2 years Worked as the IT Manager for LDS Church Schools for 8 years Taught night classes for NUS for 4 years Met a tourist in Samoa in 2001 Married her in 2003 in Mesa AZ Moved to CT USA Dec 2003 Have 2 little beautiful girls Now work as a Financial Technical Analyst for a Health Insurance Brokerage in the US.


  1. Not so accurate analogy and comparison, at least the specific stance that is used in your op-ed. I see your point though I don’t quite agree with it. Unlike the Book of Mormon Broadway musical, Moana is not crass to its Polynesian template. In fact Moana is, for the most part, true to its Polynesian story. I understand that there are Moana detractors among our Polynesian people, but most of them apparently are those that are far removed – in one sense or another – from the real story and history of Polynesia and its island members. I have written a couple of Moana reviews already on my blog ( Having been born and raised in the islands, I find the movie quite sentimental/nostalgic, inspiring, positive and didactic. Read my reviews to learn how and why I love Moana. There’s a lot of other positive messages in the movie that I’d love to write about. Ironically, however, one of those messages has to do with some thematic and other references that I, as a Mormon, have found to be amazingly specific and germane to my faith’s doctrine and teachings. Ma le faaaloalo lava.

  2. I have yet to see the Moana movie, but whatever points that are depicted/portrayed in essence with the way Disney wants the world to see a thematic version of Polynesia I have yet to see it give my two-bit into the discussion. All I can say is that I’m glad that the big screen is finally bringing awareness to our Polynesian culture in sharing some of who we are to the world. Malo lava.

    • I agree in general with this sentiment. The fact that Disney has paid attention and careful attention, monitored for accuracy by Seiuli Dwanye Johnson, to the mostly ignored or misconstrued Polynesian cultures is a gift.
      Exploit it! Ride that tital wave!
      Two cautions:
      One: Learn the non-Disney version of the history and myths.
      Two: Don’t forget though the legion of people, writers, scientists, teachers and historians who have worked for decades to accurately represent and chronicle for posterity, the cultures. Those folk are for lack of a better word, palagi or alakasi. A large number of committed people have worked across the years (starting with Tusitala and Kraemer in Samoa and moving on through each island group and people for at least 250 years) to bring attention and preserve the oral histories in writing for the amazing group of Pacific peoples designated as Polynesian. I want credit given all around where it is due.

  3. Southern California has more Polynesians than most states outside Hawaii, though there are a fair number in Utah. Have you looked into how the Disney animators decided to do a movie based on Polynesian culture and whether pokynesians were involved? I believe both the lead voice actors are Polynesian. Yes, Dwayne The Rock Johnson has a Polynesian mother.

  4. I honestly think that Disney made a serious and informed effort in trying to represent Polynesia in a fair and objective way. Polynesia, meaning “many islands”, must have been a challenge in that regard for Disney, since despite sharing similar myths, stories and legends (re: Maui), each island group tends to inject its own subjective and biased version of these, hence an obvious challenge in assimilation and synchronization for the entertainment titan. Case in point, the Maori version of creation has Maui fishing up the north island of NZ, while the generic version involves fishing up all the islands. Disney references the latter. Also, the Maori story of creation, sharing with the Samoan version, the papa (rock/earth) element, and yet both supply their own proprietary endings and spins.

    And so Disney did its homework in sending a group to the islands to do research as well as putting together a group of island specialists as consultants for Moana. In fact I can see in the different aspects of Moana how Disney tries its best to be inclusive in its representation of at least the main island groups.

    Polynesian detractors need to be a little more forbearing and understanding that this is a movie, not a documentary, and therefore be gentler in granting Disney some space for artistic license. That will certainly result in adding more to our entertainment, enjoyment and artistic pleasures.

    Notwithstanding, Moana is still deep, eponymously, figuratively and didactically. For me, it’s a beautiful movie. I guess, as in most cases, it depends on attitude. Not to be offensive but echoing one common notion, you can and will find anything (in the movie), including dirt, if that’s what you’re looking for. Merry Christmas!

    Oh and kudos to Samoa Planet and the forum that it is, and especially to those responsible for its inception. Faafetai lava. Malo le tauata’i!

  5. There is an article about how Disney did there Homework before writing the Storyline for the Movie Disney actually went to every Island But Hawaii. I believe the story is base in a time when we as Polynesians stop sailing for about a Thousand years and than for some reason resumed sailing. I’ll try to find it. But I know some of the people involved in this film were Polynesian even the the town where Moana was from is believed to have been in Samoa. I for one loved the movie not so much the Disney parts of that makes sense but the part where we as Polynesian were Navigators , explorers who were capable of traveling long distances. That we didn’t come from the west but up from the east as some would have us believe.

  6. I am with Jacob on how to approach this movie. I haven’t seen it yet and I live a couple of blocks from Disneyland and its because of the history of exploitation by this Corporation. So far from reviews by those who had seen it indicates another commercial project rather than a cultural-centered theme type of proposition. It’s just another fictional cartoon with positive messages. Take what you can from it and enjoy. Expect also a lot of these in the future as Moana so far has proven the Polys purchasing power, there will be more of these characters to come. We don’t need Disney to teach us and the world about our culture, movies out of South Pacific such as the ‘Orator’ and ‘Once were warriors’ have done more than a cartoon movie will ever do. So just enjoy as Mr. Fitisemanu proposes, and learn from the Mormons, in self-promotion that is.

  7. Good idea, although the mormon church takes the publicity to provide those with a white-washed story, not a historically accurate story.

    • Malo Jacob. Hey how about an actual demonstration of the point in the op-ed? While you equivocate, prevaricate and denigrate, I, as a Mormon, will elevate:
      “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” ~ Book of Mormon

  8. I grew up in Tonga, I watched the movie out of nostalgia, nothing else, and from that point of view it achieved what it set out to do.

  9. I’m a Disney fan…but MOANA has me inspired to be a loud and proud Polynesian….forget being technical and all…the movie was well organised and presented in my opinion….but one true part that I totally got all emotional with was MOANA’s grandmother’s role and the relationship that was depicted between the 2 characters. ….spot on loved it and loved the movie…reminded me of a story from the good old days…Tofa Grandma….and that simple relationship I am sure any Polynesian can relate to…Malo lava Disney….

  10. I myself have not watch this movie yet, but have seen and read articles about this creation by Disney ( good or not so good). However, I think that Disney did us a great favor by putting us Polynesians back on the map by opening this can of worms ( I meant this in a good way). I do believed that this movie was depicted on the conclusion of their researched based on the English version and observation of the long ago Foreigner Discoveries
    of some but not all Polynesian Islands without the understanding in the deep root of there culture. Mind you that English was not a known language back then until after the settlement by the white race. I’m still going to watch this movie and I’m pretty sure that I am going to like,regardless. Until then my friends, stay bless……

  11. Well said! I loved the movie Moana, especially the beautiful music! When one looks deep & view with an opened mind, there are so many good things one could learn from this movie. A lot of us were not born into “earthly” royalty, but for those of us who believe that we are all created by God, regardless of our ethnicity in this world, we are most definitely children of Royal birth! Therefore, all the Daughters of God area “Princesses” & His Sons…”Princess”.
    On a spiritual note…finding the heart of Tefiti, can be likened unto ‘Finding Faith in Christ’…which can bring us lasting joy & happiness in this life & throughout all eternity! 🙂

    • Chris, unless you’re bent on being a “hater” of the Mormons, an attitude with predilections for closed-mindedness, there’s a lot you can, and should, learn from them/us. To name a few:

      1. Healthy Lifestyle – cited and lauded by many doctors and health professionals.

      2. Humanitarian Program – no church, if any, can match the humanitarian efforts of the Mormons who spend an average of $40 million a year to help others regardless of race color or religion.

      3. Welfare Program – Unmatched… and one that has been praised by world leaders as a model program for any church, government or organization.

      4. Genealogical Program/Research – Mormons are leaders in what has become a new trend for the world over. Chris, if you want to know about your genealogy information, chances are that the Mormon Church will be your main resource.

      5. Community Involvement – Mormons everywhere are active and involved members of their communities in promoting goodwill and social and political responsibilities. Volunteerism is highest among Mormons wherever the Church is established.

      The amazing fact, however, is that though the above are mostly temporal things, they actually are extensions of their/our doctrine.

      So the phrase “learn from the Mormons” is not underwhelming but compelling!


  12. S.d.a do the same thing as Mormon church do.The difference is the theology,the Mormon church base their beliefs not on the Holy Bible but the book of Mormon which was written by a Shady character named Joseph Smith. They do not pray to the same Jesus and god of the Holy Bible that most other Christians do.
    God bless.

    • T.42
      If you want to know about the Mormons you might want to ask a Mormon about their beliefs with that being said the Book of Mormon is an extension of the Holy Bible and the correct name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, do you know of any church that is named after Jesus Christ? We Mormons would be more than happy to invite you into our homes and church services before you make any assumptions which most of the time is incorrect. There is one God our Savior Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost we the Mormons believe in the 3 Godheads, as a Mormon I don’t know of any other God.
      Stella M
      Boston Ma

    • T.42, I almost wasn’t going to dignify your remarks with a response because of the apparent lack of learning, intelligence, understanding and scholarship you have demonstrated. But then I thought that this would be a good opportunity to hopefully enlighten your mind on your fatuous comments. In other words, a learning opportunity for you. (lol)

      “S.d.a do the same thing as Mormon church do.”
      I think you meant to say that S.d.a [sic] does similar – not the same – things as the LDS Church. For example, while the LDS Church does genealogy and family trees for saving ordinances (temple) for those who have died without the gospel, your church (assuming you’re SDA) does it just for record keeping and historical records.

      “…Mormon church base their beliefs not on the Holy Bible but the book of Mormon….”
      Again, you shouldn’t make such a careless and ill-informed claim; it just goes to show how little you know about the LDS Church. Contrary to your inane opinion, most if not all of the LDS Church’s basic beliefs are based on what is in the Bible. Here are a few examples: the necessity for prophets (Amos 3:7), baptism for the dead (1 Cor 15:29), temple work/ordinances (Malachi 4:5-6); three degrees of glory (1 Cor. 15:39–41; 2 Cor. 12:2; John 14:2); baptism and conferring the holy ghost by the laying on of hands (Matt 3:16; Acts 19:2-6); the officers in the Church: prophets, apostles, teachers, patriarchs, deacons, pastors, etc. (Eph 2:20; 4:11) It’s obvious that you don’t know that Jesus Christ DID organize and establish a Church when He was here in mortality. And the only church that has all the officers (blueprint) as organized by Jesus Christ in his Church, is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Befittingly since it (latter) is the Restored Church of Jesus Christ.

      “… the book of Mormon which was written by a Shady character named Joseph Smith.”
      Another shallow claim. Recently, the Book of Mormon was voted as the fourth most influential work in American literature (didn’t see anything by Ellen White though). Members of Congress celebrated the event, and since you’re SDA (again I assume based on your post) here’s something you might find interesting from the commemoration:

      “Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black, a Seventh-day Adventist, opened Wednesday’s event about the Book of Mormon with a prayer offering thanks that the LDS Church’s most precious tome was part of the exhibit.
      “We praise you that this influential book has made a transformational impact on the lives of millions,” Black said, “providing them with doctrines and instructions that have enabled them to glorify your name.”

      Some have tried to duplicate or attempted to write something like the Book of Mormon, but have failed miserably and I bet you that Ellen White, if she were to try, can’t either. Amazing considering that “shady” Joseph Smith only had a very limited formal education – not even a college level one. Here are some samples of what Joseph Smith “wrote” (Book of Mormon) if you don’t believe that he translated an ancient record:

      “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
      “And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”

      “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.”

      “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”

      “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the father: Ye shall have eternal life.”

      “[Mormons] do not pray to the same Jesus and god of the Holy Bible that most other Christians do.”
      You may be right in a sense since we do not pray to Jesus. We pray to God the Father, in Jesus’ name. That is if you know and understand the Bible!


    • It is obvious that you lack understanding about us members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I can go on and on about the things we are taught and the doctrines of the gospel. But because you lack understanding, here’s something from the scriptures that’ll sum things up for your understanding.

      Articles of Faith 1:1
      We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost..

      That should help you figure the rest out. Instead of saying things you don’t know about, why don’t you pay us “Mormons” a visit? And we’ll gladly tell you that everything you say are not facts, but YOUR opinion!

  13. It’s a Disney movie. Mostly for children’s entertainment. NOT a Documentary. Some people have way too much time and just analyze the living daylights out of everything. BTW, No one even needed the Mormons to tell them anything, except for the Mormons themselves. Ridiculous!

  14. Moana is a fairy tale, and it brings the sub-culture of Polynesian-Americans into the mainstream. Of course it is not accurate, it’s Disney! It is a hint or an outline, but the grandmother character rang true from our Samoan-American family. Take what works. It is not a documentary, but a cartoon. It’s meant to be enjoyed as such!

  15. OK, Mormon aspect of the op-ed aside.

    Samoan tulāfale (orators) often use the word “loloto” (deep) for its metaphorical association with the moana (ocean). Example: “e loloto le moana” (the ocean is deep). The oratorical context of the adage suggests wisdom, profundity, reason and intelligence. For example, “lafo le upega i le loloto” (to cast the net into the deep), is a suggestion to view something and/or conduct discussions/deliberations/debates using insights, deep understanding and wisdom. Another similar maxim: “O i’a o le aloalo e fitivale, ae o i’a o le moana e to’a, e lē gaoiā,” (Fishes of the shallow waters/lagoon are often agitated while those of the deep are calm and unflustered.) The expression is often used to differentiate between the untried and inexperienced orators or arrivistes (shallow), and the older, wiser and more seasoned ones (deep).

    Moana is a Disney movie and a cartoon. I concur. But, like many other forms of art and entertainment, Moana can also be much more profound – on several levels – than its stereotypical association with the Disney cartoon genre. In fact all Disney cartoons have deeper meanings and themes underneath their cartoon shells. You just have to have a deeper sense of cognition and perception to see them. The cartoon level, of course, is for children mainly and the young at heart for entertainment and superficial pleasure. But the more loloto (deeper) levels of a simple cartoon – as in an allegory – are actually what make them endure as classics and masterpieces. The characters, plot, storyline, theme/s, etc., can all be writ large to represent real life situations, hence affirming the popular aphorism of “art imitating life”. Disney’s “Lion King” has endured as a classic not because of its cartoonishness but because of its depiction and portrayal of a father-son relationship and other real life themes. Other similar works that may fall in the same category include “Animal Farm, ” “Lord of the Flies,” “Charlotte’s Web,” etc. Sometimes these genres are often more effective in their portrayal and demonstration of practical themes than, say, documentaries – as surmised.

    Again, for me, Moana is loloto (pun intended). It’s much more than just a cartoon, a hint, Disney movie and/or a fairy tale. Moana is not for children only either. Some adults, like me, who have the knack and propensity for the profound, enjoy Moana more because of its socio-political, cultural, historical, sentimental, nostalgic, thematic and artistic sophistication.

    Ma le fa’aaloalo lava

  16. Fantastic article! Putting comparisons aside, I understood the moral of your point of view. To which I say, beautifully written. A matter of opinion, which we’re all entitled to have, but an opinion with a positive message. How can you argue with that?!?

    • MTofa, I’m not quite sure if your comments were to me for my above post, I just feel that they are and therefore don’t want the risk of being ungrateful by not acknowledging your faaaloalo; so here’s my faafetai tele lava and God bless.

  17. D Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints(Mormon) is a true church,,,lead by a Living Prophet, Pres, Nelson, as d Bible said, Amos 3:7; for surely the Lord God will do nothing but he revealed his secret unto his servants of Prophets,,,d one n only one church w/a Living Prophet; received revelation n inspiration from Our Heavenly Father to teach the Children of Zion here on earth,,,As for d people in d Book of Mormon, R d ones from the 12 tribes of Israel,,,in d book of Genesis, it even tells about those people in the Book of Mormon,,,Efaraima ma Manase,,ole brothers in d bible,,,I pray for your soul, I pray for Heavenly Father n His Son Jesus Christ d Savior n for d Still Small Voice to HELP U understand abt his Gospel here on EARTH,,,Manuia lou Aso!

  18. no big deal with d misunderstanding abt d gospel, just remember one thing, we were sent to this world as children of God,,yes, WE R ALL CHILDREN of God, doesn’t matter what church U attend,,,WE R ALL CHILDREN of God,,,enjoyed life n return back to him a ea? alofa atu!

  19. OMG Lovvvvve the movie it is still my alarm clock everymorning! The kids father and I were morman attentees for a short while back when we first got married and moved to Aussie. Love all your blogs and books Lani. I’m your biggest fan? I’ve recently started publishing gardening blogs would love your expertise on this department if you have time ??


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