Decoding Oceanic objects in Moana

Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum
Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum
March 27, 2017 | Burke Museum

Disney's Moana, released in the Fall of 2016, is about a young woman navigating the geography and cultural traditions of the Pacific Islands on a mission to save her people. Though the movie is told from a Western perspective, it has many connections to the living cultures of Oceania, which informed the environments and characters in the story.

A group of UW undergraduates from Pacific Island cultures spent time studying the Burke collections to learn more about the cultural objects on display in the movie. These students, who call themselves the “Research Family” are from all over Oceania, and come together every week to study the culture and history of the region. They are led by the Burke’s Curator for Oceanic & Asian Culture, Dr. Holly Barker.

The students analyzed objects, details and myths from Moana and how they intersect with the true cultures of Oceania. Using the Burke's extensive collection of cultural artifacts, they analyzed items that were highly visible in the film, including boats, weapons and ceremonial clothing.

Thank you to the Research Family for helping the Burke decode Moana (now if only we could get those songs out of our heads!).