Maui. The cultural hero and prankster of island mythology. Thanks to Disney’s Moana, people around the world have been exposed to the existence of the Maui hook necklace and other pieces of Hawaiian jewelry. However, there is still a lot to learn about the cultural importance of these pieces, as well as Polynesian culture and Hawaiian tradition as a whole. Here are five things we bet you didn’t know about Maui hook necklaces!
- Moana didn’t inspire the Maui hook necklace
- The Maui hook necklace has many different traditional names
- The fishhook has tremendous historical significance for island culture
- Carving is a way to preserve island culture and history
- The Maui hook necklace is more than just Hawaiian jewelry
Move Over, Moana
To say that Moana is popular would be a massive understatement. The Disney film, released in November of 2016, grossed over $690 million worldwide and created an obsession with the customs and traditions of Pacific Islanders. Although Moana references dozens of cultural traditions, themes, and stories that Pacific Islanders have passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years, these stories were relatively unknown in popular culture before the film’s release. This lack of knowledge explains why many people seem to believe that the Maui hook necklace originated with the film.
While the film’s storyline is fictitious, watching Moana will teach you more than you think about Pacific island traditions, customs, and even Polynesian and Hawaiian jewelry. Throughout the film, viewers will see dozens of references to cultural traditions belonging to Maori, Fijians, Hawaiians, Polynesians, and more. These references include the historic abrupt end of voyages made by the Polynesian people thousands of years before the present time, many of the stories Maui tells about his ventures, and the tattoos that Maui and other characters have in the film.
The film’s directors took research trips to Fiji, Samoa, and Tahiti and incorporated several historical details into the film. The directors went so far as to establish an Oceanic Story Trust made up of experts from across the South Pacific to ensure the film’s accuracy and sensitivity to historical accounts.
A Maui Hook Necklace by Any Other Name
If you’re visiting a store looking for Hawaiian jewelry, you’ll likely see a variety of shapes and symbols adorning necklaces and earrings. Although it may seem easy to label each similar-looking pendant as a Maui hook necklace, these shapes and symbols are each unique and have their traditional names.
The two most common traditional names for the Maui hook necklace are a hei matau and a makau. The hei matau is a stylized fishhook carving made of bone or greenstone and has its roots in the culture of the Maori people of New Zealand. Makau is the name for the Maui hook necklace when referencing Polynesian or Hawaiian jewelry or culture.
According to the Maori people, the hei matau’s shape pays tribute to the shape of Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. Legend has it that the North Island of New Zealand was originally a giant fish that was caught by Maui. The Maori people call the North Island Te Ika a Maui, which means “the fish of Maui.”
The Historical Significance of the Maui Hook Necklace in Hawaiian Jewelry
The Makau symbolizes the connection between its wearer and the ocean. In Hawaiian jewelry, the pendant symbolizes energy, prosperity, and strength. Tradition also says that the Maui hook necklace brings its wearer good luck and the safe passage over water.
The hei matau is also known as the Maori fish hook necklace and is said to bring the wearer the same qualities as the Makau. In Maori legend, the hei matau is one of only two symbols that evolved from a tool. When the Maori first settled in New Zealand, fishing was essential to their survival. The ocean brought them food as well as the ability to travel. Fishers wore the first fishhooks around their necks to prevent them from being lost before they could be used to catch fish. Eventually, the Maori created intricate details in their hei matau carvings, transforming them from a piece of equipment to a piece of symbolic jewelry.
Hawaiian legend tells that a magical fishhook was used to deliver a massive amount of tuna to local villagers and families, saving them from starvation. In the legend of Maui, the hook is what created the Hawaiian Islands.
How Carving Keeps the Culture Alive
In Polynesian culture, engraving helps to preserve and pass on stories and historical events from generation to generation. Before their colonization and forced use of the English language, Polynesians recorded their history through symbolism in art. Carvings represent a family’s crest, experiences, and accomplishments.
The similarities between Polynesian, Hawaiian, and Maori cultures exist because of the geographical relation of each people to one another. Native Hawaiians trace their ancestors back to the Polynesians who first settled Hawaii. Polynesia encompasses the triangular area that connects the Hawaiian Islands, New Zealand, and Easter Island. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, approximately 70 percent of the total Polynesian population resided in Hawaii in 2001.
The Maui Hook Necklace is More Than Just Hawaiian Jewelry
In Hawaiian culture, a Maui hook necklace utilizes contemporary jewelry to perpetuate the Hawaiian way of life. Legend has it that when wearing a Maui hook necklace, a part of the wearer’s spirit was transferred into the piece of Hawaiian jewelry. As wearers passed the necklace down between generations, it became a spiritual link to generations and generations of family members who have come before.
Western colonialism drastically altered the Polynesian culture. The ability of indigenous people to celebrate their culture through the creation of the Maui hook necklace and other pieces of Hawaiian jewelry is one of the ways that their rich history lives on.
When you purchase a piece of Hawaiian jewelry, whether it’s a Maui hook necklace or a hand-carved whale tail, it’s essential to respect the piece’s cultural significance. At Whaler’s Locker, we are committed to ensuring our Hawaiian jewelry is not only beautiful but is also respectful of its historical origins. If you’re ready to take home a Maui hook necklace of your own, you can shop our entire collection here! Also, be sure to check out our blog to learn more about our products and culture as a whole!