Updated: Jun 3, 2020
"I wanna see..."
Where You Are - Moana
Composers: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa'i & Mark Mancina
I recently started referring to Where You Are as the "coconut song" during discussions with my children. Near the beginning of the song Moana's father, Chief Tui, sings, "Consider the coconut. Consider the tree. We use each part of the coconut. It's all we need." Chief Tui uses the coconut as a metaphor for the island and its people who work together, using traditions passed down from their ancestors. He uses it as a tool to discourage Moana from her desire to leave the island of Motunui and explore what's in the ocean beyond the horizon.
"This tradition is our mission ... That's all we need ... and no one leaves."
Chief Tui, and Moana's mother Sina, love her very much. The desire for her to stay on Motunui does not come from a place of abuse or harm, it is their love that drives their message. Moana is clearly well cared for and adored. She is safe. She is loved.
Besides tradition and love, trauma also plays a role in staying safe on the shore and not exploring the ocean. We learn that when he was younger Chief Tui and his best friend took a canoe into the ocean, crossing Motunui's barrier reef. The canoe capsized and his best friend perished. Chief Tui took responsibility for his friend's death and lives with the fear that it will happen again. He set boundaries for fishing in an attempt to protect those he loves and avoid another death. As the leader he feels that death would be on his hands. In the movie we see him work for his island family with all of his life experiences including tradition, love, and trauma. We do the same. That is important to recognize and process through. Some of the measures we attempt to require of others come from our own, or collective, trauma and may no longer be necessary to hold on to.
Moana is called to the sea. She is called to explore. She loves "the sea and her people." Her grandmother, Gramma Tala, sees this. She understands this. She has a key role in Moana's development and the coconut song.
The song is lively and catchy. Filled with love. The villagers are happy and content with their traditions and roles and join in. Moana is surrounded by people who love her and want her to share their song; their way of life. Briefly near the end of the song Gramma Tala quietly sings to Moana:
I like to dance with the water. The undertow and the waves. The water is mischievous, ha! I like how it misbehaves. The village may think I'm crazy, Or say that I drift too far. But once you know what you like, Well, there you are. You are your father's daughter. Stubbornness and pride. Mind what he says but remember You may hear a voice inside. And if the voice starts to whisper To follow the farthest star Moana, that voice inside is who you are.
The song quickly picks up tempo again and the villagers and Chief Tui begin singing the praises of tradition and staying on Motunui. The song ends with Moana capitulating to stay and lead her people.
This song is a representation of everyday life. All around us we have people singing their coconut songs. Our family's coconut song. Our church's coconut song. Celebrities have their own coconut songs. Movements shout their coconut songs through megaphones. We can find coconut songs in meme form. (I make them all the time. There are two on this post.) Geek culture is rife with them. They're catchy. We get caught up in them. It can be comforting to sing as a group. To belong. To blend in. To have community.
Coconut songs are loud even when they're quiet. I'm remembering LDS (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints/Mormon) hymns. They're reverent and even the boisterous ones are reserved. However, they are compelling. Anyone who's been moved by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir can attest to this. They are intoxicating and though serene, carry the same power as a more boisterous call. The message of community, rules/guidelines, hope, direction, etc. are all there. Same messages, different delivery. "Join us. We have the answers. We hold the happiness. Be the same as us and you can be happy too."
Then there's the soft, yet powerful, message of Gramma Tala that almost gets lost amongst the excitement of community. These messages and songs are all around us yet they get drowned out by the myriad of coconut songs sounding around us. We have to listen for them. Seek them out. Gramma Tala has found her own coconut song. She "dances to the beat of her own drum." She doesn't expect or want anyone to dance or sing HER SONG with her. She shares her song. She lives her song. She invites others to sing THEIR OWN song in harmony with her. Above all, she invites others to find their own song. That is the message of the movie. Thankfully, that has recently become and is now my life goal. That is the message I'm sharing with my children and anyone who wishes to listen.
Life is loud with millions of coconut songs competing for our attention and allegiance. They want our time, talents, money, resources. They want our lives for their cause. The more people singing their song the louder it is and the more compelling it is for others to join. Even if it's a reverent song. They want our voices to promote their songs and messages. This last year this concept has really hit home with me. I've removed myself from every group I was in that shouted coolness, prosperity, salvation, community, etc. but only if the members conformed and sang their song exactly the way they required it be sung.
I've named my innermost voice 'my quiet.' My kids didn't connect with that so for now, until they name their own, we call their's their nougat selves. That's the place I/we share with no one. The parts others get to see I'm now calling my/their coconut song. Naming it that will recall Where You Are and remind us that it's easy to get caught up in the songs around us. The only places I want to be, and the people I want to share time with, are the places and people that allow me to sing and dance to my song, and either I join with them or they join with me in harmony. Not domination. Not asking me to change my core musical structure. Playing together in harmony. That's what I seek for myself, my children, and you.