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Motunui village is a chiefdom, with each ruler having been the offspring of the previous ruler. The continuation of the hierarchy does not rely on the death of a ruler, but rather the heir's willingness to accept their destined role. Once ready, the heir must place a stone atop Motunui's sacred mountain, as a way to usher in the start of their reign.
Created by the island goddess Te Fiti, Motunui was discovered and founded by a family of voyagers, led by the great Matai Vasa. Together, they staked their claim on the land by creating a thriving village. While the younger generation would eventually leave to continue voyaging and finding new lands, Matai Vasa remained on the island with the rest of his people. Some time afterwards, the demigod Maui stole Te Fiti's life-giving heart, which gave birth to a terrible darkness that spread across the world. Along with this darkness came sea-dwelling monsters that lurked throughout the ocean, attacking anything that crossed their paths. The people of Motunui learned of the danger as their boats and sailors failed to return from their travels. To protect their people, the ancient chiefs established a law that forbade anyone from crossing the island's barrier reef. As Te Fiti's heart was never returned, the law would remain intact for generations.
Centuries later, though the law remained, the supernatural reasonings behind it would be regarded as nothing more than folklore; instead, rough seas were the reason the people of Motunui stayed within the reef. Around this time, the young chief-to-be, Tui, found himself drawn to the sea despite the supposed danger. One night, Tui and a friend took a canoe out to sea and went beyond the reef. Unfortunately, they were greeted by an unforgiving sea. In their attempt to escape, the boat was destroyed, and Tui's friend was killed. This left Tui with a deep fear of the ocean. He also became a strict enforcer of the law forbidding his people from venturing passed the reef.
Tui's daughter, Moana, was born with a pure, selfless heart. As a result, the ocean chose her as the individual capable of returning Te Fiti's heart and saving the world from the growing darkness. During Moana's teenaged years, said darkness had finally reached Motunui, creating a blight throughout the island. Fortunately, by working with Maui, Moana successfully restored the heart and saved the world. Following her accomplishment, the dying islands were revived, and the law keeping Motunui's villagers within the reef, was lifted. As a result, a new era of voyagers set sail to traverse the world, led by their new chief: Moana
Places of Interest
Village: Home of the island's populace.
Cavern of Wayfinders: Where the ancient chiefs hid their voyaging canoes when the ocean became too dangerous for travel. It is located behind a waterfall.
Place of Chiefs: A sacred mountain where a tower of stones is located. Each stone was placed upon the mountain by Motunui's previous chiefs to signify the start of their respective rule.
The name of the island can be from Maori origin, coming from the Motunui settlement in northern Taranaki, in the North Island of New Zealand, or from Rapa Nui origin, coming from the Motu Nui islet in the south of Easter Island, Chile.
Although the name of the island is indeed of Polynesian origin (see trivia above), there is no Motunui island in real life. The filmmakers chose to create a fictional island in order to equally represent and honor the Polynesian peoples and their cultures without giving clear preference to just one in particular. This way, Motunui embodies the culture and traits of many Polynesian peoples and their islands.
The people of Motunui might have been inspired by inhabitants of the real-life islands of Samoa, which are frequently referred to as the "Navigator Islands".