Matai appears during the song "We Know the Way" in a flashback depicting his travels with his people. Throughout the song, he is seen guiding the boats as they voyage to Motunui. Once his people colonize Motunui, Matai gives his necklace to his son and passes the title of chief onto him.
Matai's name was revealed in Moana: The Essential Guide. In the game Disney Crossy Road, he is named "Ghost Matai".
As the first chief, it is possible that he started the tradition of placing stones on top of the mountain of Motunui.
Matai had a slightly larger role in previous drafts of the movie, as he was mentioned by name a few times. At one point, Gramma Tala had Moana memorize her ancestors, beginning with Matai, all the way down to her grandfather: Tala's husband.