Maui: Hawaiian Superman

Now students are all excited about the Disney movie “Moana.”  Moana means ocean in the Hawaiian language. I do not think there was ever a girl named Moana, not in historical times, nor in legends.


The Disney depiction of the character of Maui, a demi-god of the Pacific Islanders, is one I would have never recognized, after years of hearing stories about Maui from Pacific Islander storytellers, mainly Hawaiian and Tongan.

I have taught this story for years, and my students have enjoyed it greatly. We have to build a great deal of background knowledge. I enjoy telling this story to children all over the state, including Native Alaskans in rural areas. Many of  my students had never seen the Pacific Ocean.

Building Background Knowledge

I start asking the students where the Hawaiian Islands are. Alaska has coast on the Pacific Ocean, so we have that starting point. However, there is a great temperature difference between the North Pacific and the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so we talk about the difference of temperature between warm oceans and the cold ocean they are familiar with.

I then ask the children to close their eyes and visualize that they are on a warm island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. When I tell them to open their eyes, I ask them what they saw. Many children talk about sand and palm trees, some about surf boards and

Before I begin the Maui finds his strength, I ask the students what dangers are in the Pacific Ocean. We spend a bit of time talking about the dangers, sharks, whales, jelly fish, and the possibility of drowning. This also helps build background knowledge.

I show a slide show with sea turtles, a traditional ‘hale’ house, and volcanic mountains of Hawaii.

Children gather around me, I remind them that I am a storyteller, that I do not have a book to read to them today. “Where is the story?” I ask them. I tell them I keep the story in my heart, and I remind them to be quiet so that I will remember all the good parts of the story.

Stories Come Alive

The story comes alive as I tell the story to the children. I demonstrate motions, such as eating breakfast; being strong –flexing the arms to show off their muscles– and swimming in the ocean. In that way we are both creating visual mages and and creating background knowledge. The children have created their own physical experience of waking up in a ‘hale” on the beach near a water fall, swimming in a warm ocean; and proving what a fast swimmer they are.

The stories are not on the 2 dimensional pages of the book, the story emerges from my heart and we create the story together, as we make images of the sun sparkling on the ocean, the dolphins splashing; the laughter; the fear of drowning or being bit by a shark. Or the fear of not making it home to loved one.

In the end of my version of this first story of Maui, he is rescued by a honu, a sea turtle, and reunited with his family as his mother finds him on the beach, and envelops him in her loving arms. I wrap my arms around myself in a hug, to show the children how Maui’s parents welcomed him back into the the warm hug of their unconditional love. The children do the same. From that moment, we keep the story of Maui in our hearts. It is a story that we created together, creating a caring community in our classroom.

Better than any Disney movie. By far.

You can share this story with you students also. I hope you have as much fun as we do, discovering this delightful character and the legends about him.
Maui Finds His Strength

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