The Mermaid Legend, Danielle Ryan (Bluebottle Films)

By: Danielle Ryan, Bluebottle Films

Children playing in the ocean, Palau. 

Children playing in the ocean, Palau. 

We bonded with the President of Palau over Disney’s legend of Moana. 

I never intended to walk straight up to a global leader and say 'how are you', but President Tommy Remengesau’s charisma can reach the other side of the room, and it lured us to him. 

He knows how to tell a tale that makes people smile and laugh. He sees his nation’s journey in the tale of Moana in the way that they must go on a tumultuous quest to protect their island home and the sea they live in. 

It was President Tommy Remengesau's speech about Moana at a special side event at the United Nations’ Oceans Conference that gave me the courage to approach him. (This side-event had been hosted by his country, celebrating their unique achievement of protecting 80 per cent of their waters). 

I soon discovered that we had something quite unusual in common - we were both obsessed with the moral meaning of a child's cartoon.

The brilliant underwater coral gardens of Limasawa, Philippines. 

The brilliant underwater coral gardens of Limasawa, Philippines. 


'Why' do you ask am I so obsessed with a Disney cartoon?  

Only about a month before, I was sitting on a flight back from the Philippines, pen in hand, writing up some stories about some new friends we made on Apo Island. Their charisma, chirpy souls and the big dreams they carried in their hearts and heads were utterly infectious. The young islanders were always talking about singing Moana songs in karaoke, and how much they loved Moana. However, I had no idea what ‘Moana’ was until I saw the Disney cartoon pop up on the back of my aeroplane seat in the film library. As I watched this bright tropical ocean film, it occurred to me that, The Map to Paradise (film) shared the same fairy-tale roots and themes. 

I was now obsessed with Moana too. I watched the cartoon three times.

I suspected that a part of my obsession was because I grew up with the fantasy of living on a secluded tropical island paradise and Moana's island was certainly representative of my dream.

However, my connection to Moana was far more powerful than that. In my eyes, the island girl that I had just been writing about, Mary Jean, was ‘Moana’ (see her story here).

Like Moana, Mary Jean had set herself a quest to save her own island and I could see that the Disney's Goddess Tafiti was Mother Nature. When Tafiti’s heart is restored in Moana, the goddess turns from being a destructive monster into a vibrant, flowering, green mountain. (I wondered whether the legend of Moana is indeed a metaphor for climate change and nature’s rage, and whether the act of stealing Tafiti’s heart - Mother Nature’s heart - is a symbol of human greed).

Disney's Moana seems to have a conservation message which resonates with the islanders we have met in Micronesia and the Pacific. 

Disney's Moana seems to have a conservation message which resonates with the islanders we have met in Micronesia and the Pacific. 

Thinking in this way, I was able to see why both the ocean conservationists of the Philippines and Palau loved Moana.

They could all see a bit of themselves in this ocean legend.

So that is why, when I found myself deep in a conversation with the President of an island nation about the meaning of Moana, I felt instantly connected and inspired by his culture and what he stood for. 


We mused over the power of legends and fairytales, and how the moral meanings behind these stories not only resonated with us when we were all children, but as adults too. 

The President told us that if we came to Palau, he would tell us the Palau legend of a mermaid - a tale that was symbolic of his peoples’ quest to protect nature. 

However, he said he wouldn’t tell me that evening - that I would have to wait. 

That was the hook for me. 

I wanted to know what this story was about. 

However, as I have mentioned before, I knew the idea of going to Palau was crazy. 

We just did not have the money. Nether-the-less, the more we talked, the more we thought about it; that growing sense of attachment to a developing story got stronger. 

The people of Palau shared the same spirit as the Filipino conservationists, and we wanted to share their enthusiasm with the world - they had a powerful tale to tell about the birth of the movement to protect the sea.

A coral garden from Danjugan Island, Philippines.

A coral garden from Danjugan Island, Philippines.

Although I was logically against the idea of going to Palau (because we just didn’t have the money), I knew that the story of Palau would complement The Map to Paradise (film) in terms of historical significance and in terms of the fairy-tale and legend themes coming through in the narrative.  Also, Mike Sutton (see the blog, A Bird’s Eye View) would be there in the second week of July 2017, so we had less than a month to decide. 

It was a tough call to make. At some point we had to put an end to this filming quest; we knew that the deeper we delved into the story, the further we would get from reestablishing any sense of stability in life. 

Was the legend of a mermaid just that important to the greater good of the world that we should cripple ourselves financially?

Was chasing the fantasy-tale of a Moana-like mermaid legend a reckless thing to do? 

Many people might view the idea of us going on such a trip as an exciting thing to do but, for us, it meant holding our breath and wondering whether it was the right thing to do. 



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