Searching for the heart of Te Fiti: Environmentalism in Polynesian mythology

Te Fiti from Moana © Disney, 2016

Early peoples the world over have a common thread running through their mythologies: their connection to nature. That is to say, they have at the heart of their creation myths some version of a primordial being or couple that created the earth and all the inhabitants upon it (Yakar, 2018) (Sepie, 2017). In many, this connection between nature and man becomes both a point of synergy and competition as they struggle for resources in an oftentimes semi-hospitable world (Hakluyt Society, 2020). A situation of growing importance in this world of rapid climate change and environmental uncertainty, especially to island and coastal peoples who are on the front lines of this seemingly unbeatable war, aka. climate refugees (UNHCR, 2021).

For the many ethnic groups that make up Oceania, and Polynesia specifically, this synergistic cohabitation takes the form of both a religious and cultural connectivity to nature that is passed down culturally and states that man, animals and the environment are all siblings, or at least distant cousins we still need to look out for. In this way, a theme of environmentalism crops up again and again in the mythologies, but unlike many western mythologies, this thread is woven into the daily lives of the various island peoples: from cultural taboos and political activism, all the way to the silver screen.

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