What Does the Whale Tooth Necklace in Moana Signify?

Even if you don’t have kids, it would have been difficult for you to have missed the cultural phenomenon that was Disney’s Moana in 2016. The movie was a smash hit and introduced many people to aspects of Polynesian culture. Amid the many different Polynesian symbols and references throughout the film, one that stands out is demigod Maui’s whale tooth necklace. Of course being from the dental field and living in Hawaii, we were particularly interested!

moana whale tooth necklace

Here are some facts you might not have known about the necklace in Moana:

History of Whale Tooth Necklaces

Maui’s necklace of assorted whale teeth may just look like interesting decoration for a colorful character, but it actually references an actual part of Polynesian history. Fijians had whale’s teeth ornaments, called tabua, and would string them together to form a necklace, called sisi or wàseisei. These sisi would be worn by those of high status, including chiefs.

While different in appearance, the Hawaiian’s lei niho palaoa is a neck ornament made from a whale tooth carved into a hook shape. This necklace would also be worn by chiefs, and was considered one of the most valuable objects someone could have.

Relationship to Whales

Many Polynesian cultures have a strong tie to whales. For example, in both Hawaiian and Maori mythology whales are believed to be sacred, supernatural descendents of the god of the ocean, and they were also viewed as spiritual protectors or guides. There is even a Maori proverb that says, “to have a whale’s tooth, you must also have a whale’s jaw to wield it.” Since whales were held in such high regard, you can see why their teeth would hold such importance!

With this historical and cultural background in mind, you might not look at Maui’s necklace the same way. It’s a nice added touch that reinforces even more just how important he was.

At Laulani Dental Care, we are proud of the heritage of our state, and we are proud to serve our community. Feel free to contact us if you have any dental questions! We’d love to help.

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