The Village of Motonui
Moana – A Parable of Christ – Part 1
Moana – A Parable of Christ – Part 2
Moana – A Parable of Christ – Part 3
Moana – A Parable of Christ – Part 4
Moana – A Parable of Christ – Part 5
Moana – A Parable of Christ – Part 6
WARNING: If you have not seen the movie yet, the remainder of this post is full of spoilers. I had to assume that readers had already seen the movie in order to write it.
THE VILLAGE OF MOTONUI
In my viewpoint, the Village represents society, specifically, the Traditional Family, centered on Traditional Marriage. I loved these scenes of close, happy nuclear and extended families. I loved the organic, pre-industrial, pre-colonial scenes of traditional Polynesian life. Yet, I know these were idealized motifs. The film completely whitewashed over any cultural negatives. The audience did not see things like the bloody warfare between islands and tribes, the normalized incest among the ali’i and other cultural practices such as human sacrifice and royal birthing before numerous males which were extant before the arrival of Westerners. Nevertheless, these scenes made me wish, for a moment, that I had grown up enjoying such a paradise as was depicted. Then I realized that I still had the best of these happy traditions through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So that is the second symbol I saw. I think that the village or island could very well represent the Restored Gospel as had in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I realize that in Moana‘s setting, this may be hard to see, but the feeling is still there. The only thing missing are the vital truths that have been forgotten or rejected by the villagers. These are original ideas and traditions, like the wisdom of the Voyagers, which, if rediscovered, would only make things better for Moana and her people. My FAVORITE lyrics about this place and Moana’s people come from the song Where You Are. For some reason, I found this song somewhat reminiscent of what Dorothy might have felt like after returning to Kansas from Oz. There’s no place like home.
From “Where You Are”
The village of Motonui is all you need
The dancers are practicing. They dance to an ancient song
Who needs a new song? This old one’s all we need
This tradition is our mission. And Moana, there’s so much to do!
[Perfect the Saints, Preach the Gospel, Redeem the Dead (Matthew 9:37, D&C 6:3)]
We share everything we make…
The fishermen come back from the sea
Consider the coconut. Consider its tree.
We use each part of the coconut. That’s all we need.
[It is also called the Tree of Life!! What a symbol to use here!!]
CHIEF TUI AND SINA:
The island gives us what we need
[Stay on the Good Ship Zion, the LDS Church]
And no one leaves…
[If the full standard of truth were there, yes, there would be no need to wander away from that standard]
That’s right we stay. We’re safe and we’re well provided
[the peace and security of the Saints]
And when we look to the future, there you are! You’ll be okay
[The Rising Generation]
In time you’ll learn, just as I did
The village may think I’m crazy or say that I drift too far…
[how I often feel at church]
You are your father’s daughter
[of Chief Tui, yes, but there is another, earlier Father, too… Moses 7:32-33. When they differ, you follow the first One.]
Stubbornness and pride
[or could you call it steadfastness and courage when exercised righteously?]
Mind what he says but remember, you may hear a voice inside
And if the voice starts to whisper to follow the farthest star
[The Polar Star = symbol of Christ]
Moana, that voice inside is who you are
[I am a child of God (Alma 5:38)]
I also like lyrics from How Far I’ll Go, if you concentrate on the words in boldface.
From “How Far I’ll Go”
I’ve been staring at the edge of the water
[feeling the call of God]
Long as I can remember
Never really knowing why
[This is SO Abraham, again]
I wish I could be the perfect daughter
But I come back to the water
No matter how hard I try
[That is because, for lack of knowledge, she is confusing a righteous desire for an unrighteous one.]
Every turn I take, every trail I track
Every path I make, every road leads back
To the place I know where I cannot go [Matthew 19:14]
Where I long to be… [1 Corinthians 12:31, Matthew 5:6, Psalm 107:9]
I know everybody on this island seems so happy, on this island [Ephesians 2:19]
Everything is by design [LOVE this Lyric! Yes, Everything’s by DIVINE Design! ]
I know everybody on this island has a role, on this island
So maybe I can roll with mine
[Foreordination: God’s premortal ordination of his valiant spirit children to fulfill certain missions during their mortal lives.]
I can lead with pride, I can make us strong
I’ll be satisfied if I play along
But the voice inside sings a different song [Matthew 10:35-39]
What is wrong with me?
Nothing is wrong with you! You Truth-seekers, you Way-Finders live in a world where few desire that light (John 3:19)! I know you often wonder this because of what you are told that you are, ought to be, should be, et cetera. But, as said by J. Devn Cornish, “The only opinion of us that matters is what our Heavenly Father thinks of us.” (See 1 Nephi 8:33, JSH 1:25, 2 Nephi 29:6-11, Mosiah 19:17, Abraham 1:3,5] I bear witness that when you are true to the voice of God you are truest to your best self.
I puzzled the longest over what the Ocean could possibly symbolize. I found a few videos, though, where the animators described their attempt to make the entire Ocean a character. And then I saw one of the soundtrack songs called A Battle of Wills. I’ll take a giant leap here and say that, in this case, the Ocean represents The Will of God. Some call it Divine Providence. Usually I am not a fan of water, perhaps because I was taught repeatedly and well of its dangers (D&C 61:18-19, Genesis 49:4). However, living water is different, and I grant that in this case, living water can be a positive symbol (John 4:10, Rev 7:17).
And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?
– Ether 2:25. See also Psalm 107:23-31
This scriptural passage sure sounds a lot like “the ocean chose me”, doesn’t it?
I also think Moana’s whole struggle makes A LOT more sense if the Ocean is a symbol of the Will of God. And her victory, when she proclaims, “I am Moana!” totally matches what Kierkegaard said was the cry of the pure in heart: desiring the Will of God.
As you exercise that agency and include Him in every aspect of your daily life, your heart will begin to fill with peace, buoyant peace. That peace will focus an eternal light on your struggles. It will help you to manage those challenges from an eternal perspective… I add my voice with this promise: as you dedicate time every day, personally and with your family, to [God]… peace will prevail in your life. That peace won’t come from the outside world. It will come from within your home, from within your family, from within your own heart. It will be a gift of the spirit. It will radiate out from you to influence others in the world around you… – Elder Richard G. Scott
Furthermore, find it fascinating that in multiple instances, it is only after Moana acts that the Ocean helps her (Ether 12:6). What an incredible symbol of grace! Wow. According to the Guide to the Scriptures at lds.org, grace is “the enabling power from God that allows men and women to obtain blessings in this life and to gain eternal life and exaltation after they have exercised faith, repented, and given their best effort to keep the commandments. Such divine help or strength is given through the mercy and love of God. Every mortal person needs divine grace because of Adam’s Fall and also because of man’s weaknesses.”
So what is this faith that we are supposed to exercise? To quote a Facebook post by my friend, Debby, “What is faith? David Bednar, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ recalled how the Israelites came to the river Jordan and were promised the waters would part, and they would be able to cross over on dry ground. Interestingly, the waters did not part as the children of Israel stood on the banks of the river waiting for something to happen; rather, the soles of their feet were wet before the water parted. The faith of the Israelites was manifested in the fact that they walked into the water before it parted. They walked into the river Jordan with a future-facing assurance of things hoped for. As the Israelites moved forward, the water parted, and as they crossed over on dry land, they looked back and beheld the evidence of things not seen. In this episode, faith as assurance led to action and produced the evidence of things not seen that were true.”
Therefore, I like how, watching the animation of the Ocean’s actions in the film, the concept of “receiving grace after and during the exercise of faith” becomes so obvious. Maybe I don’t always see it in real life. That’s just the ocean being the ocean, right? Nothing new… right? Wrong. It was witnessing the agency of the ocean in Moana that opened my eyes to see how awesome that grace is AND how awesome it is that a person is worthy enough to even receive grace in the first place.
Sometimes the Ocean didn’t seem to make sense, though. After all, the Ocean seemed to prefer Moana over Maui, as obviously Moana trusted and sometimes comprehended the Ocean while Maui did not. Then I had to remind myself that it was the Ocean who had saved the baby Maui. But then brain fired back with the fact that the Ocean had also claimed Moana’s father’s friend! Then I realized that, just as illustrated in the movie, the Ocean’s outward actions make no sense to us because we are not the Ocean. But the Ocean knows what it is doing, and does it, regardless of how we perceive it (D&C 121:33).
I think that scene near the end of the film, where the Ocean holds up Moana so she can watch Te Fiti return to her throne is just beautiful. Moana is all eyes for the restoration of full honor to TeFiti, barely realizing that, by holding her up, the Ocean is bestowing the same sort of praise upon her. What a beautiful thing. See also D&C 127:2, Matthew 23:12, D&C 49:27 and 84:88.
We were not meant to drown in God’s will.
We were meant to live in it, live on it and live because of it.
There are depths in the sea which the storms that lash the surface into fury never reach. They who reach down into the depths of life where, in the stillness, the voice of God is heard, have the stabilizing power which carries them poised and serene through the hurricane of difficulties. – Spencer W. Kimball, January 1971.
I sometimes feel conflicted about this character. I’m not quite sure what she is supposed to represent, but I have a few ideas. On the one hand, she seems to be a surreptitious voice, serpent-like, softly whispering to Moana that her “inappropriate” feelings are okay (Deut 5:16). Grandma Tala fans the little flickering flame of conflict inwardly plaguing Moana, but I can’t pinpoint exactly where that flame is on the whole scale of behavior between non-conformity and open rebellion.
The question is, what, exactly, is Tala rebelling against, and why? I believe she is rebelling against the suppression of truth. First, she preaches the absolute reality of the existence of deities of her people. Second, she preaches the primary role of deity in the creation, origin and survival of her people. Third, she preserves their stories by telling and retelling them, providing for the next generation an anchor of cultural literacy, including religious literacy. Fourth, she guards and holds true and sacred the actual ocean-inclusive, deity-inclusive traditions of her ancestors. She cherishes these things because she knows they are the truth. In fact, she cherishes them so much that she is them, at least for that Village.
As Epictetus said, “Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.” Grandma Tala considers herself a true messenger from Moana’s forefathers. She knows that if she does not pass these teachings on, that truth will be lost. O remember, remember! (Helaman 5:9,12; Helaman 14:30, Mosiah 2:41, Alma 37:13) So she tells those long-standing origin stories and teaches her people’s traditions to Moana and to anyone else who will listen to and believe her, every chance she gets. She preserves the memory of their ancestors and their ancestor’s beliefs. She exercises, so to speak, her matriarchal clasp. How is that wrong?
At one point in the movie, Tala says she does not have to tell her son, the chief, anything because she is his mother. The way she says it seems a bit disrespectful to him. After all, he is the presiding authority on the island. Yet, his rejection of her beliefs as mere myths, especially his open and angry reaction of the Heart of Te Fiti as “just a rock” is also disrespectful. Perhaps his actions are the more disrespectful of the two people because the Chief rejects his mother by rejecting everything she taught him. These teachings are what she spent her life conveying, what she stands for and cherishes. His rejection denies his birthright: the true heritage left to him by his ancestors. Furthermore, in denying and rejecting the sacred history of his people, isn’t he also, in a way, denying and rejecting himself and his actual and full identity?!
My feelings mesh closely with Tala on this point of the importance of comprehending one’s true, full identity. I see this all the time with family history work, especially in light of the recent explosion in DNA-based genealogical research. When I divorced my first husband, the court ORDERED me to tell my children only positive, good things about our abuser, a man who was not their biological father but was legally granted all of the rights of one. What was decreed was essentially an order to LIE and to continue to foster a fiction; to grow a relationship that did not, in actuality, exist. Sorry, Charlie. I could not do it. When my kids asked me a question about my ex-husband or about past events in regard to him, I always prefaced my answers by telling them that these things were my opinions. Then I answered them honestly. So sue me. Lex injusta non es lex. To decree that a person can not have freedom of conscience – which includes freedom of belief and freedom to speak the honest truth about one’s own faith and family history – is tyranny. As of today both of my donor-conceived children know their biological roots, thanks to DNA-testing and my determination that they would never be lied to about their origins.
Here is where I have a problem with Grandma Tala, though. Based on the behavior I initially described, Grandma Tala almost reminds me of what the scriptures call “a preacher of righteousness”. However, upon closer scrutiny, she doesn’t quite fit the bill. For example, some of her song lyrics are just weird. Why does she sing that she likes the ocean because it is mischievious and misbehaves?! She’s saying here that she sees and likes two evil aspects of the water. An evil nature does not fit the portrayal of the Ocean as seen anywhere in the movie, unless go short-sighted and decide to think that the drowning was deliberate and evil. Yet it makes no sense for a benevolent force to be maliciously harmful, injurious or improper at any time, otherwise it would cease to be benevolent (Proverbs 27:6, Hebrews 12:5-11). Furthermore, why would Grandma Tala want to be one with a noxious spirit, anyway? Why would she want this to the point of longing to be a manta ray?! If the Ocean were evil and she were a manta ray, Tala would be stuck with the likes of Tamatoa the crab, forever! I think Disney was trying to make her into some kind of “hip rebel” shaman or progressive view of a wise woman. In this thing, I think these artists misunderstand. Resisting evil is not at all the definition of misbehaving.
To rebel against false tradition and evil councils is good, and we should. The Book of Mormon teaches,”To be learned is good if they hearken unto the councils of God” (2 Nephi 9:29). As I once heard said, any amount of intelligence, without a love of and adherence to truth merely makes you a clever devil. So, I choose to believe that if there is a fighter in Grandma Tala, she is a freedom fighter: Freedom, as in, liberty. Daniel Webster described liberty as an unalienable, absolute or natural right given to man by Divine Providence which therefore cannot be given or taken away by man. Liberty is the right to act within God’s law without constraints or restrictions. If there is a rebel in Grandma Tala, it is a rebel against erroneous or false tradition. If there is a wise woman in Grandma Tala, it is because she learned wisdom and chose to follow God. Having wisely gained a testimony of him, she bore it well. We call that a prophet (see LDS Bible Dictionary).
I deeply identify with the “Village Crazy Lady” title, because I feel this way all the time at church. I also happen to be an avid family history researcher and love to do temple work for my ancestors. I might as well get my dog tags now so that I can proclaiming the fact openly. Why? Because it doesn’t matter where I attend, I always eventually find myself on the outs. C’est femme dangerouse: How ’bout a girl who’s got a brain? Who always speaks her mind?!
Anyway, I found a lesson in Tala’s calm and happy acceptance of her Crazy Lady role. It was a bit inspiring, actually. It reminds me of when I was bemoaning , to my friend, Marsha, at the domestic violence shelter house, how a certain someone had called me a bitch, again. I was upset that this word should hurt or sting like it did when I knew it wasn’t true at all. Marsha had been a dog breeder, and she laughed out loud, explaining to me about the dynamics of a natural dog or wolf pack. Then she said, “The next time he says that, you say, ‘That’s alpha bitch, to you, sir!'” It was my turn to laugh, at that point. Why is it a crime to be Beautiful Intelligent Talented Clever and Honest? I mean, what if I absolutely didn’t care that other Latter-day Saints reject me for how I choose to live my religion? Grandma Tala seems to be luxuriantly comfortable within her own skin, her own beliefs, and her own way of doing things. I would like to be like that. She is also patient with Moana, as Moana learns the lessons for herself which Grandma Tala already knows… but seems to know that Moana can learn in no other way than by her own experience.. I am learning to be like that. I think Moana is the Village-Crazy-Lady in training… like an apprentice Jedi or something. 🙂
I don’t believe in reincarnation, so I don’t like the whole post-death “holy manta-ray” animal-angel concept that Disney introduced in the movie. However, I DO like the possible symbolism of the watch-care of our righteous ancestors. In the pivotal night-time ocean scene, where Moana had pretty much given up, where I was reminded of the truth of the actual existence of what LDS call “help from beyond the veil”. This help can come from God alone, or in combination with assistance from other spirits, especially close family members, who have gone on before us.
All of my feelings in this regard are complicated by my own spiritual experiences. This is because I recognize the pattern Moana went through and I am kind of floored by how correct Disney got it (2 Kings 6:16-17). The manta ray behaved a lot like how the Holy Ghost functions in my life. This scene has also led me to wonder what the laws are which connect the Spirit’s work to that of my ancestors. For I have seen, heard and felt both… and my deceased loved ones never seem to come to me in dreams or waking visions without my feeling that they have permission to do so, or without the sanctioning presence of the Holy Ghost.
Surely those who have passed beyond can see more clearly through the veil back here to us than it is possible for us to see to them from our sphere of action…I believe we move and have our being in the presence of heavenly messengers and heavenly beings. We are not separated from them—after they die we cannot forget them; we do not cease to love them; we always hold them in our hearts and our memory. And thus, we are associated and united to them by ties that we cannot break… I claim that we live in their presence, they see us, they are solicitous for our welfare…They love us now more than ever, for now they see the dangers that beset us. [Because they know of the evils and temptations surrounding people today, those who have gone before have a deep interest in their families. They sometimes act as angels to protect and guide their posterity.] Their love for us and desire for our well being must be greater than we feel for ourselves,” he said. “Isn’t that a wonderful concept of service? They are watching over us, seeing what we are doing right and seeing what we are doing wrong and trying to care for us and influence us. – Elder Gerald N. Lund, former member of the Seventy, Aug 2015.
Maybe the best idea we can get about what the film’s creators intended to represent in Grandma Tala’s role come from the lyrics of the song, More (Reprise), which was written for the movie but was not included in the final edit. I only wish they had spelled it with two o’s, since my surname is Moore. It almost seems like an anthem for our family. 🙂
From “More (Reprise) – Outtake” performed by Marcy Harriell
She showed me day after day how to find my way
She taught me how to rely on the wind and sky
She named me after the sea. She believed in me [1 John 2:17, Ephesians 6:6]
I know we use to be bold from the tales she told [2 Nephi 4:24, Alma 26:11, 12, 36}
I know she left me prepared from the things she shared [D&C 38:30]
There was more she wanted to see [seeker after continuing revelation]
Staring at the barrier together on the shore
We practice all the names of everyone who came before me
[reminds me of my family history worker grandfathers, Floyd and David, and how I have continued the tradition with my own children, who talk of cemetery picnics with Mom]
Voyagers, warriors, ancestors in our line: their blood runs in mine
She always knew more. She hungered for more.
She taught me more and somehow I know she’d want me to go
To navigate, you have to keep your island in your mind
You’ll know what lies ahead if you remember what’s behind you
Want to find the answers to the questions that you still don’t know
You just have to go, find more
I wanna know more. There’s always more
How can I stay? She taught me the way
A true friend is someone who knows the song in your heart
and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.
(Psalm 137:4, Alma 5:26, D&C 45:71)
Moana – A Parable of Christ – Part 1
Moana – A Parable of Christ – Part 2
Moana – A Parable of Christ – Part 3 NEXT
Moana – A Parable of Christ – Part 4
Moana – A Parable of Christ – Part 5
Moana – A Parable of Christ – Part 6
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