An Open Letter from Two Oceanic Story Trust Polynesians

Aloha, Kia Ora, Talofa, Malo e lelei,

Before we begin, let us protocol our genealogy. Our names are Kimo Aulani Moana III (aka Junior Boy Jr.) and Lani Aulani Moana (aka Lani Girl). We are from the ahupuaʻa of the Polynesian Triangle. Our ancestors are natural navigators, farmers, fishermen, and storytellers. We speak Polynesian fluently, and we breathe the essence of Polynesia daily.

Throughout our lives, we have been taught the true value of Polynesian culture. That’s why we started the cultural consultant firm: Poly Face, LLC.

We are members of Disney’s Oceanic Story Trust. We are breaking our non-disclosure agreement to address the controversy over the new movie, Moana, and its merchandise.

1) On Appropriation

Disney, like everyone else in the world, loves and desires all things Polynesian, from our hypnotic hair to our sculptural bodies, from our seductive tattoos to our lovely hula hands. While it is true that Disney appropriates our culture, we can’t blame them. Disney is simply a hapless victim of our Polynesian spell.

2) On the Skin Suit Costume

When we look in the mirror and see our single estate chocolate skin and meaningful tattoos, we exclaim: “Hooooooooo, who wouldn’t overthrow a kingdom to get a piece of this brown sugar!” Yet when we look at haoles at the beach, we exclaim: “Hoooooooo, white privilege ain’t worth having to wear that old world skin!” The Polynesian costume was meant to make haoles more attractive to look at, even if for just one day of the year.

3) On Cultural Representation

There’s already a long history of offensive Polynesian misrepresentations, from Tiki kitsch to pineapple ham pizza—so what harm will a few more do?

Plus, most of these misrepresentations are not intentional. In fact, they can easily be explained by the allure of our Polynesian mysteriousness. We form secret societies, speak in complex riddles, and tell stories using “kaona,” or hidden meanings, and even insist on using our Polynesian language without translating. We believe legends are history, myths are truths, and genealogies are epics. Is it any wonder that no one on the outside of Polynesia can understand us?

We especially can’t expect haoles, who are a simple and monolingual people, to accurately depict our complexity. And we can’t stop haoles from making movies about us, because once they have their mind set on something, we know they can’t stop. It’s like their manifest destiny or something.

That’s why Polynesian cultural consultants are so necessary. And that’s why the motto of Poly Face LLC is: “Consult us before you insult us.”

4) On Body Image

If you are a skinny Polynesian, your family will be ashamed of you because the whole village will whisper about your anorexia, bulemia, or irritable bowel syndrome behind your backs at church. This is why Polynesian families pressure you to eat. On the other hand, if you are just a regular-sized Polynesian, all of the non-Polynesians around you will think you’re fat anyway. Your doctor will shame you for being “grotesquely obese” because your BMI is too high, even if you are just big-boned. So, you may as well REALLY be fat and eat until you pass out or gas out at the all-you-can-eat lūʻau, hangi, and umu.

For too long, Polynesian body image has been stuck between The Rock and a diabetic place. It’s time for us to stop being ashamed of our bodies and embrace the positive images Disney has given us. The two characters, Moana and Maui, help us to overcome all this shame because they accurately represent and celebrate the reality and multiplicity of the Polynesian body. Besides, a character like Moana helps Polynesian families to save money because little girls will strive to eat less. #kanakasnack. And being like Maui wouldn’t be seen as fat-shaming, but as fat-FAMING! #morecushionforthepushing

5) On Merchandise

Some say the plastic merchandise will betray the environmental message of the movie. We disagree. These plastic toys will actually provide many learning opportunities. Once our kids get bored with the toys, we can take them to the ocean and throw the little Moanas and Mauis into the water. We can explain to our children how the plastic will break down into smaller pieces, how fish will mistake these plastic pieces for food, how the fish will be caught by super trawlers and sold in supermarkets, how we will eat the fish for dinner, digest it, flush it down the toilet, and how our waste will return once again to the ocean. This is a Polynesian culture-based approach to teach the anthropogenic hydrologic cycle.

The educational opportunities don’t stop there. We can teach our keiki the concept of irony: Maui is a fisherman, but he may become fish food; Moana is named for the ocean, but she is actually destroying it. We can also teach them about our gods. Plastic is immortal so what better material to make Maui out of?  This new idolatry could also really help our Polynesian religion conversion rates—which, let’s face it, have been fairly low since the 18th century, when the missionaries brought their superstar Jesus to corner the soul market.

Lastly, we can teach our keiki about navigating ocean currents. All the little Moanas and Mauis will ride the currents and navigate to the Pacific garbage patch island, their own ancestral homeland, their plastic Hawaiki/Savaiʻi/Kahiki, to find their brethren and live happily ever after!

6) On Collaboration

We like to think about our collaboration with Disney as expressing native “agency.” And our exceptional agency will lead directly to the “sovereignty” of our Polynesian nation. You’re welcome.

If we did not collaborate and join the Oceanic Story Trust, Disney would have just asked other Polynesians. Because the sovereignty of our lahui is at stake, our agency would not allow us to take that risk. Think about it: what if they asked Uncle Kimo, who thinks Heineken is a traditional Polynesian elixir, Spam is a traditional crop, that the Toyota Tacoma was based on traditional canoe design, and that a Polynesian invented football using the coconut as a ball.

Or worse, what if they asked Aunty Haunani or Aunty Hope, who would’ve told them to go to hell—and then where would we be? No movie, no nothing for us to talk and argue about, no nothing for our kids to watch, no nothing to buy for our kids. Nothing to do but watch the same old Hawaiʻi 5-0 and Blue Hawaiʻi.

7) On Selling Out

Yes, we got paid thousands of dollars as consultants, but we didn’t make any profit. First, we had to buy a new company car: a Toyota Tacoma. We had to pay to get it lifted to an illegal height and get the illegal tinting. And we had to pay to get it a traditional tātau paint job. Plus, we had to pay for all of the tickets from the cops who don’t recognize our sovereignty over our trucks! #mobilesovereignty #defendmytruck

Whatever money we had left went back into our community through “Trickle-Down Poly-Economics,” the traditional Polynesian sharing economy. Trickle-Down Poly-Economics works like this: You go to your cousin and pay him to pimp out your truck, then he calls your other cousins, your aunties and uncles, all your exes and kids, and all of their cousins, aunties, uncles, exes, and kids. When all your relatives learn that you got paid, they suddenly need money for food, rent, medical bills, etc. You can’t say no because ʻohana means family, and family means no one is left behind.

Well, at least Disney also gave us a free 5-night stay at Aulani Resort. The keiki loved the pool, and we loved all the native artwork, which Disney must have sprinkled some magic onto because when you looked at the art really closely, you could feel the Polynesian agency. As we stared at the Polynesian agency, it carried us into a transcendent moment of pure sovereignty, and we could not help but give each unnamed artist a slow clap.

Aulani also has an authentic loʻi kālā—oops, we mean, loʻi kalo.

8) On Academia

Polynesian academics (and non-Polynesian academics who wish they were Polynesian academics) think they are chiefly scholars because they have Ph.D.s and teach at fancy universities. The truth is that they are inauthentic culture bearers because their knowledge of being Polynesian has been corrupted and degraded by years of reading books. We are an oral people and our authentic knowledge is only gained through direct oral transmission from our authentic talking elders (or, from YouTube and television).

Their Ph.Ds also tend to make them really paranoid and predispose them to always assume the worst about colonialism and corporations. They have forgotten all of the fun things that colonialism and corporations have given all of us, including ice cream, apps, Taylor Swift, mai tais, Nike spandex, edible condoms, vampire romances, McDonalds, Santa Claus, Heineken, medical marijuana, Christianity in general, Mormonism specifically, and Spam.

To be real: all these Polynesian academics are just jealous that they weren’t invited to be part of the Oceanic Story Trust, and their criticisms of Disney are simply misplaced anger. As the Polynesian parable goes, “Beware of Polynesians who were not invited aboard the white man’s cruise ship, but were forced to stay on their own little canoes.”

9) On Boycott

We will boycott anyone who boycotts this movie. The 21st century is America’s Pacific Century, and we Polynesians should be grateful that Disney chose us to represent the whole Pacific. Disney is the new Gauguin and the new Cook because they really put us on the map. We estimate that someone needs to discover us at least every 100 years so we aren’t forgotten peoples.

Polynesians should be grateful to Disney because if they did not make Moana, then we would continue to be invisible like those other Pacific Islanders. Is that what you want? To be Chamorro?!

Polynesians, let us stand proud in our Olympic coconut oil shine as the rest of the Pacific fades away and disappears into obscurity (and less marketable colonial regimes).

10) On Reputation

The reputation of Polynesia as a paradise has been tarnished with all of the homelessness, gangs, drugs, obesity, diabetes, suicides, loss of culture, and environmental degradation we hear endlessly about. Things have gotten so bad that the U.S. Department of the Interior is planning to downgrade Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) to “Indians.” Oh, how the mighty Polynesians have fallen!

Thus, we should thank Disney for trying to improve our Polynesian reputation, to hide our problems beneath stories about our glory days, and to make our culture more appropriate for children. Disney, like Maui, like Cook, like Gauguin, like Obama, will make Polynesia great again!

Now let’s all do the haka together!

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4 thoughts on “An Open Letter from Two Oceanic Story Trust Polynesians

  1. can we confirm the authenticity of this “open letter” Just wondering and don’t mean to cast doubt but I was alarmed by the names of the two Polynesians speaking out as in exact similarity to the name of the movie itself. There are so many complaints on this movie and I want to provide educated response to some of these comments. Aloha from Kauai

  2. Aloha, This open letter is fictional satire. Which is to say, it addresses the issues from a humorous critical stance. Thanks for asking, Craig

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