Tokelau Pride: Te Vaka’s song for Disney’s Princess Moana

24 August 2015
Lealaiauloto Aigaletaulealea F. Tauafiafi
There was much excitement at Disney’s biennial D23 showpiece last week when fans got their first view of Disney’s first major Pacific animated project - Moana.
Set in the ancient South Pacific world of Oceania, Moana is the 14 year-old daughter of a Polynesian chief who learns that the future of her people is in jeopardy. In order to save her world, she sets off on a journey to find a mythical island that can connect her to her ancestors who will tell her the answers.
Along the way she teams up with the demi-god Maui and on their journey they battle monsters of the deep and explore an underworld where the ocean is the ceiling above them. They encounter the ancient ones, but they also cross paths with a vengeful island spirit made of molten lava, the Guardian of Tefiti.
D23 also unveiled three other significant Pacific influences.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnston will voice the character of Maui; Victoria University of Wellington graduate and Maori writer, Taika Waititi writes the screenplay ensuring Polynesian details in the movie are authentic and contextually accurate as possible. And thirdly, the musical score will composed by a group that teams up Te Vaka with Grammy-winning composer Mark Mancina (“Tarzan” “The Lion King”) and Tony-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda the mastermind behind the new Broadway show Hamilton, a hip-hop version of the life of Alexander Hamilton.
Te Vaka performed one of the songs at D23. It was a proud moment for many Tokelauans as they heard their Tokelauan language carrying the melodies and tones of Moana. And the realization that heading to Moana’s 23 November 2016 opening date, that people will be humming Tokelauan words as Disney’s marketing machine slips into gear fueled by Te Vaka’s music and sounds.
“We praise the achievement by the Opetaia and Te Vaka. The voices and sounds of the Pacific are being presented at the world stage. They are telling and showcasing the world our identity, cultures and heritages – a valuable part of us. Tokelau is proud that its language carries the voices of the Pacific through the Te Vaka’s music. They are telling the story of the challenges against the impact of climate change and the horrific impact in the region”. They are showing the world the beautiful and uniqueness that the Pacific has to offer”, General Manager of the Tokelau Apia Liaison Office, Jovilisi Suveinakama says.
Tokelau’s leadership acknowledged with gratitude the achievements of Opetaia and Te Vaka on two fronts. That they have done much since 1995 to promote Tokelau and its language to the world.
But more importantly, Te Vaka has, through its songs and world tours, raised the very real situation that Tokelau faces total extinction as result of climate change.
Elders note with pride that it was those days long ago, from the very simple and lowly settlement of A’ai o To’elau that Opetaia’s talent was honed and nurtured. The tales and stories from his Tokelauan community handed down from generation to generation became his inspiration. And the added infusion of stories from Tuvalu and Samoan elders, the wise storehouses of those valuable information became the raw material to write and create music preserve the information for future generations, and to tell our stories to the world.
At the same time, the threat posed by climate change to these vulnerable islands became another inspirational source for Te Vaka songs. With passion, they told the world that global warming, if left untended, will exterminate their homelands.
As fate would have it, it is those early days in A’ai o To’elau that are now invaluable to infuse Moana’s musical score with Polynesian essence and lives.
And essence that connects the animated Moana to the Pacific. That as Moana sails off to find the answers to save her people in ancient Polynesia, that the Pacific of today is in the same boat, looking for answers, help to stave off climate changes’ rising seas threatening to overrun their island, relocating their people, and killing off their culture, identity, language.