"In the Beginning was the Ocean"

Pacific Cosmogony in Epeli Hauʻofa’s Oceania and Disneyʼs Moana

Tēvita O. Kaʻili

"In the beginning was the ocean" is the opening line of the Tongan creation story. Tongan deep history states that people originated in the moana (deep sea), and that Limu (seaweed) and Kele (sea sediment) are our primordial parents. Epeli’s Hau’ofa's concept of Oceania revives an ancient cosmogony that begins with the moana and frames our advocacy for the ocean.

In this paper, Tēvita O. Kaʻili will navigate Hauʻofa’s Oceania by traversing what has now become a sea of ocean pollution, ocean acidification, rising sea levels, overfishing and deep sea mining. He will also critically examine, from an indigenous Tā-Vā (time-space) theory, the "mining" by extractive corporations, like Disney, of cultural heritage, such as stories, symbols, iconographies, objects, motifs, and deities that are associated with the ocean.

For Oceanians, advocating and protecting our moana ancestors, our home, our cultural heritage and marine life reminds us of Hau’ofa’s call for all of us to be "custodians of the ocean".


Tēvita O. Kaʻili is originally from Nukuʻalofa, Tongatapu, with close ancestral ties to Tonga, Sāmoa, Fiji and Rotuma. He is a direct descendant of Tangaloa, Maui and Hina and chair of Department of Cultures & Languages at Brigham Young University Hawai'i.

Tēvita completed his PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology at University of Washington (2008), and is a scholar of Indigenous-based Tā-Vā (time-space) theory/philosophy, Indigenous Anthropology, Transnationalism and Globalization, Indigenous Knowledge, Language Revitalization, Pacific Studies and Moana/Oceania. Tēvita is associate editor for the Pacific Studies journal and contributor to The Huffington Post. His latest volume Marking Indigeneity: The Tongan Art of Sociospatial Relations (University of Arizona) will be published in October 2017.

This lecture was part of the History, Culture & Collections 2017 lecture series held at Melbourne Museum.

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