DISNEY’S LATEST ADVENTURE: AN EXPLORATION OF POLYNESIAN CULTURE
When I first saw the trailer of Moana, I was giddy with curiosity to watch it. Not just because it seemed to have great original music and a feisty heroine, but because of the richness of Polynesian culture that it shored up.
From just watching the trailer, and seeing the setting (island), people (tatooed, robust, black-haired tribes), and the demigod Maui, I instantly recognized the movie to be about the Pacific Islanders, a group of people that I am always interested in learning about, ever since my trip to New Zealand, that beautiful, wondrous country (of not just sheep, mind you)!
So you’d understand the excitement I had in creating Jia’s Moana party:
Jia’s Moana Party, styled by Party Magic
Beware the Kakomorans: dreadfully cute coconut-warriors!
THE SETTING: WELCOME TO JIA’S MOANA PARTY!
Moana as the theme for a party is filled with possibilities. For me, Moana is kind of like a beach / surfing / nautical party, but with elements of Polynesian (Hawaiian, New Zealander) culture, thrown in, such as leis which my client Joan gave out to all guests during the party!
Aloha! Guests were given lei’s to wear as they entered Jia’s party
The stage itself was a joy to design. I decided on a beach scene, with a baby Moana (as requested by Joan) in the off-center, framed by a pair of totem poles, Kakomoras, and Moana’s boat, and her parents. Seashells and starfishes dot the beach floor.
Moana and her loving parents
Peeking at Jia’s stage from a tiki hut
I love how the Party Magic team and I accented the ceiling, mostly with grass skirts, tropical colored lanterns, leaves, string lights, and oh, some pineapple lanterns as well!
Jia’s party: a tropical paradise
Moana’s ceiling: a collection of leaves, grass skirts, lanterns, and pineapples!
THE POUNAMU STONE AND THE MYTH OF MAUI
Being the culture and history buff that I am, I just cannot write this blog post without discussing Moana’s cultural overtones!
When Disney does a movie about a cultural group, you know that they’ll do it right and nail it.
For example, in the movie, a green stone representing the heart of the island goddess Te Fiti found its way into Moana’s hands. Later on, Moana meets a demigod of the wind and sea called Maui.
The green stone is actually called pounamu, a name given to a group of stones found in Southern New Zealand. The name pounamu is of Maori origin (Maori are the native peoples of New Zealand). In fact, pounamu is actually a part of the Maori name for New Zealand’s South Island, which is called Te Waipounamu which means “the waters of greenstone”!
The heart of Te Fiti, a magical greenstone in the movie Moana
Maui, on the other hand, is a very famous mythological god / demi-god known all throughout the Polynesian Islands (I kind of think of him as the Hercules-equivalent of Polynesia). For example, there is a whole island in Hawaii with the name Maui. New Zealand’s North Island, meanwhile, is named Te Ika-a-Maui, which means, “the fish of Maui”.
Maui, the demigod of wind and sea, played by Dwayne Johnson in Moana
MAUI’S FISH: THE BIRTH OF HAWAII AND NEW ZEALAND
Remember Maui’s adorable song and dance number, “You’re Welcome”? Well Maui was actually doing the haka dance, which is a traditional Maori war cry / challenge dance ritual known for its vigorous movements and posturing. This tradition dates all the way back to the early Maori population of New Zealand (before the Europeans came), who were a warrior tribe rich in battle traditions.
What’s up with those funny movements by Maui? It’s the haka dance!
During Maui’s song, he talks about his various feats of strength and courage. One of the feats mentioned were “the islands I (Maui) pulled from the sea” by his magical fish hook. These also have strong mythological origins. According to legend, Maui tricks his brothers by asking them to haul up his fish hook which was caught on the ocean floor. Maui’s brothers thought that they’ve caught a big fish, but they were actually hauling an island. This is the legend of how the Hawaiian Islands were created.
The legend of how the Hawaiian Islands were created: Maui throws his fish hook on the ocean,
…and pulled islands out from the water.
THE PHOTO-OP, DESSERT STATION, AND THE KAKOMORANS
One of my favorite sections in Jia’s party was the photo-op. Since the stage and entrance was already filled with characters, I decided tone things down a bit and opt for a more “styled” aesthetic:
Take a seat and enjoy the scene at Jia’s Moana party
I wanted to achieve a more minimalist feel, but still capture the essence of Moana and provide a bit of fun on the side as well. The fun part came from the balloon sculpture we made, depicting an animate wave of water. In order to recreate this, the Party Magic team and I had to use various colors of balloons (blue, light blue, clear, and white) of various sizes.
The backdrop is a minimalist white, with native drop lamps and a cascade of paper tropical leaves framing the right side. The resulting scene is so clean, creative, and fun. I love it!
Jia’s Moana photo section: study of minimalism and creativity
On to the dessert station: a tiki hut filled with goodies!
What I really really find fascinating is the dessert station’s backdrop. If you look closely at the picture above, you can see the silhouette of turtles swimming the ocean!
We achieved this by just back-lighting the backdrop with white light. This is a simple, yet visually effective way to change the eyes of your guests and reorient them towards the scene that you’d like them to experience: that of beaches and vast ocean filled with aquatic creatures.
But the climax of this scene is really Cottontail Cake Studio’s work of art!
Cottontail Cake Studio’s latest masterpiece: Jia’s Cake
For more about Cottontail Cake Studio, check out my other blog post, Isabel’s Velveteen Rabbit Birthday: A Story Unfolds
The centerpieces we made were a scene from the movie: a miniature Tiki hut, some tropical flora, and a very angry (and very cute) Kakomoran!
Jia’s centerpiece: a tropical scene
JIA’S JOURNEY: FINDING ONESELF, AND MAN’S INNATE DESIRE TO EXPLORE
Ultimately, I believe that Moana is all about our love for nature and our endless curiosity about the world and ourselves. This is what propels us to go forward on to the great adventure that is called life.
Happiest of birthdays to you, dear Jia!
See the line where the sky meets the sea,
It calls me,
And no one knows,
how far it goes