Tag Archives: pacific


How far I’ll go: Moana and Wayfinding

Jade Boyle

Society and culture | Pacific


Could Moana engage younger generations of Islanders and non-Islanders to the art of Wayfinding? The 2016 film starring Pacific Islanders Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is about a young Islander girl, Moana, who hopes to save her dying island; by stealing a canoe, sailing across the ocean and returning the heart of Te Fiti. To do this, Moana learns how to wayfind; a skill that continues to be taught in the Pacific.

Wayfinding is the art of sailing a boat using only your senses and worldly knowledge. Moana specifically uses star navigation in the film, using her hands she measures the angles between the star and the horizon to determine her latitude. Voyagers had also memorised star maps; learning where the stars rose and set, and identifying as many as 220 stars. Outside of the film, wayfinders also used other techniques to find their way. Birds can indicate nearby islands, as seen when they fly from one island to gather food, and return home to feed their young. Some very skilled wayfinders can lie in the hull of a canoe and feel the wave patterns, which indicates the direction the canoe is sailing in. Using these skills, wayfinders had travelled over a third of the earth’s surface, using the wind, the waves, and the stars as their maps and compass to find islands from Hawai’i to New Zealand.

[caption id="attachment_5728" align="alignnone" width="1763"] A Double Hulled Vaka moored off the coast of Rarotonga. One example of an ocean-going vessel utilised by wayfinders in their exploration of the Pacific[/caption]

So, where does Moana fit in all of this? The film also features a different kind of star power, as a variety of successful Pacific Islanders, from musicians such as South Pacific Fusion band Te Vaka to actors Jemaine Clement and Rachel House. Combined with Disney greats John Lasseter (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life), Ron Clements and John Musker (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid) and the popular Lin Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame, the film was given serious street credit; and has been the subject of great debate in the Pacific.

While the film has most definitely caught the attention of Pacific Islanders and non-Islanders alike, raking in over $635 million worldwide, problems over representations of Maui and the Pacific have arisen. In the Pacific, the demi-god Maui is a defender of the oppressed; his stories of stealing fire, fishing islands out of the ocean and beating monsters, as referred to in the Moana song “Your Welcome” are stories of freeing the oppressed. It is uncharacteristic of Maui to brag about these achievements. Furthermore, the key source of Maui’s mana that made these achievements possible, is missing in the film; the Goddess Hina. She is Maui’s counterpart, and none of the Disney female characters could take her place, as they lacked her sheer power. It is debated that because of Hina’s absence, Maui’s character traits had to be changed to reflect this, presenting him as comedic sidekick instead of the hero he is.

[related_article align="left" show_image="yes" index=1 text="From Moana to Vaiana"]

The film has also been accused of depicting the Pacific as an exotic escape, continuing the tropes of the Islands brought on by colonialism. As the film depicts Tahitian drumming, Samoan outfits, tattoos, and Fijian music all on Moana’s home island, the film has also been accused of misrepresenting the diversity of cultures within the Pacific, and of profiting off Islander culture. Moreover, for people, and particularly children, who don’t know much about the Pacific, Moana could be the first time they are exposed to Islander cultures. Therefore, misunderstandings could occur about who Maui is, and the diversity of Pacific Islander cultures; despite the “Oceanic Story Trust” that Disney created to consult with experts of the Pacific, to make Moana as culturally authentic as possible.

But, could Moana’s success be an indicator that younger people are interested in learning more about wayfinding and the Pacific? The National Education Association (NEA) has suggested using Moana as a source for students from Kindergarten to Year 12 to learn about the Pacific. The Teaching with Primary Sources Western Region (TPS) has also created an educators guide to using Moana as a source to explore other subjects like science, language, and mathematics.

Beyond the silver screen, there are groups that are boosting awareness about the different techniques and types of wayfinding, such as the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) in Hawai’i. PVS had initiated a return expedition from Hawai’i to Tahiti in a 20-metre canoe known as the Hōkūleʻa in 1976. This expedition proved that wayfinding was not only a skill, but Islanders were travelling to new islands with a purpose, not finding them by accident. Furthermore, various other non-profit organisations in the Pacific are also promoting and protecting different types of Pacific Islander voyaging in their own countries like Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands and New Zealand.

While it’s still too early to tell what kind of course Moana has charted, one can only hope it is a positive way forward.

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An academic talk with Professor Hugh White

Mish Khan

Politics | Australia


In Monsoon's new series we will be sitting down with academics from College of Asia and the Pacific to discuss their life as an academic and to get to know them a bit better. This week we sat down with Professor Hugh White for an engaging discussion about his experiences as a student, working for the government and to talk about his academic work.

Hugh spoke about his interesting life that spans from an education at Oxford to a staffer for Kim Beazley and Bob Hawke to a journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald all before becoming a professor at ANU.

For those of you that don't know Hugh is a Professor of Strategic studies in the Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs with College of Asia and the Pacific. Previously he was the head of the Strategic Studies Centre but is no longer in that role. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses whilst conducting his own research. Hugh's main research consists around Australian strategic policy, therefore his interest in our region and the relationships within it is strong. He particularly is interested in areas where Australia is deploying armed forces but does not regard himself as an expert on the Middle East. We were surprised to learn that Hugh does not have a PhD himself but did begin one in the 1980s at ANU which he never finished.

As such, Hugh is not a career academic. He has never formally studied political science or strategic studies as his undergraduate and graduate degrees are in philosophy. An ambition to work in government, particularly in foreign affairs, was formed early on through the influence of his father working in government. His professional career began with work at the Office of National Assessments before becoming a foreign affairs correspondant at the Sydney Morning Herald. He spoke warmly of his time as a staffer for Kim Beazley and Bob Hawke as he was able to gain great experiences in this work. A move back to the ONA and Department of Defence occurred before he was offered a job at ANU in 2004.

We began to speak more about his teaching and in particular what he found most memorable as a student. His reply was "the really great teachers" particularly those who "made the hair on the back of your neck stand up." Their sense of energy encouraged and inspired him throughout his studies.

Hugh believes that he adopts a rather "gloomy position" in his research as his main interest lies in the circumstances where Australia might find itself at war. "Conditions of peace in the Asian Century have changed very sharply" and this is an immense "mega-development." With the contest of primacy in the Asia now being hotly contested Hugh believes that his research matters now more than ever despite him appearing "sometimes quite gloomy." But his strong belief in how important his work is becomes immediately apparent upon talking to him. His passion and interest in the field are very strong and goes back a very long way.

Hugh's main advice that he felt we should take from his varied career pathway is that career planning is difficult and it is often best to "do whatever seems like most fun." This will engage you a lot better and normally leads to you being quite good at it! He elaborated on the importance of working hard and obtaining good marks at university. And for those interested in government or foreign affairs, an understanding and appreciation of history is extremely beneficial.

Hugh's work is often quite publicly criticised and he has had to repeatedly deal with this. He emphasised the need to not "take it personally" and to be thick skinned. An early career amongst politicians helped him develop this view. He feels most of his readers are more engaged in the issue itself rather than the person who is writing them anyway.

Hugh White was extremely warm and easy to talk to. A clear leader in his field who is passionate about his work. He concluded by letting us know that he was kicked out of law school in his undergraduate degree due to unstatisfactory progress! A very humanising element of an extremely interesting ANU academic.

For more information about Hugh please go to: https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/white-hj

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