Te Fiti meaning explained: What does the island from Moana represent?

Bruno Cooke July 21, 2021


Following the launch of a new Moana room at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort – plus the resurgence of a fan theory about the titular character’s relationship to the island of Te Fiti – interest in all things Moana has gone through the roof. What is the meaning in English of the island’s name, Te Fiti, in the movie Moana? 

The meaning of Te Fiti

In the 2016 Disney feature Moana, Te Fiti is a fundamental and magical character. She used her life-giving heart to create the multitude of Polynesian islands among which the action of the story takes place.

Her sole purpose is to spread life across the ocean – she is a creator. In this sense, Te Fiti the island, which Te Fiti the goddess inhabits, is akin to heaven itself.

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Mt Rotui and Opunohu bay at sunset, Moorea, French Polynesia

In terms of appearance, Te Fiti takes a feminine form with a human face. Luscious flora and flowers cover her body like a blanket; her head and shoulders graze the sky. On seeing her – the island – one might think of the biblical Garden of Eden, the Terrestrial Paradise.

When Maui steals her heart, she becomes Te Kā, a demon of earth and fire, an evil force. When she takes the form of Te Kā, the islands she created slowly lose their vitality. The island of Te Fiti falls into darkness, just as Eden loses its glimmer upon the entry of sin into the world.

Does Te Fiti have a direct translation in English?

The plot of Moana is carefully unbound to any specific group of islands. 

As others have pointed out, the Hawaiian language does not contain the letters T or F. So, Te Fiti does not have a direct meaning in Hawaiian.


Contributions to the name’s entry on Names.org suggest that it has Maori origin, and means “far off place”. Another suggestion is that it is of African origin, and means “giver of life”.

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Variety wrote following the film’s release that, topographically, the island of Te Fiti was based on Tahiti, in French Polynesia.

Meanwhile, Smithsonian scholar and student of Pacific Island sea voyaging Doug Herman wrote in December of that year that Tahiti, “in its various linguistic forms, including Tafiti, is a pan-Polynesian word for any faraway place”.

Fan theory suggests Te Fiti is otherworldly by nature

A persistent and popular theory about Moana’s plot, posted on Reddit a year ago, holds that Moana actually died during the storm at the beginning of the film.

While the movie’s suggestion is that the storm carries Moana to her destination – Maui’s island – this fan theory posits that in order to reach the “otherworld” is by being “part of it”, i.e., being dead.

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“At the very end,” writes the OP, “Te Fiti not only fixes Moana’s boat (which had been wrecked to bits), but also brings her back to life, so she can go back to the human world.”

This, plus the linguistic roots of Te Fiti, and the fact that the island is inhabited by a life-giver, or god, suggests that its meaning in English is indeed something like “heaven”.

Bruno is a postgraduate student studying global journalism, with research interests in the intersection of the media, storytelling, culture and politics. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Packs Light and Forge Press, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com. He is a Student Ambassador for Tortoise Media, a big fan of Freddie Mercury and a novelist – his debut novel, Reveries, is available on Amazon.