Primary Source

Polynesian Oral Traditions


This collection compiled by Rawiri Taonui, a professor of Indigenous Studies, includes creation myths and stories about gods, the origin of humanity, and cultural heroes for several Polynesian cultures, such as Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, and numerous others. By having an overview of creation myths and stories and then sectioning off different locations, Taonui focuses on contact and comparing the different cultures and discussing interactions n the islands' traditions. Though not conclusively dated, there is a section on dating oral traditions that states most of them are thousands of years old, maybe as many as 4-6000 years old. 

Many Polynesian cultures also have oral traditions related to the settling of the islands, and discuss migration via canoes. Throughout the discussion of creation stories and stories of arrival, Tanoui also places an emphasis on place-naming and language, including chants in native languages and English translations. This article would be useful for teachers and students alike, as teachers could pick pieces from it to show students information from one island or region, or one type of oral tradition, such as creation and deities, cultural heroes, or migratory traditions. Students could also read the whole piece and pick either a culture or an oral tradition to research further that interests them. Students could also take the chants included in the texts and annotate the translations. 


Rawiri Taonui, "Polynesian Oral Traditions," Vaka Moana: Voyages of the Ancestors: The Discovery and Settlement of the Pacific, University of Hawaii, 2006.