During BIONICLE's development, The LEGO Group used several words from the Māori language (Te Reo Māori) in naming the characters and locations in the story. In May 2001, before the official North American launch of BIONICLE, The LEGO Company received a legal challenge from representatives of several Māori iwi (tribes), alleging that their use of certain words were disrespectful to Māori culture. LEGO ultimately acknowledged that they had utilized words and terms from the Māori language, and agreed to change several of them in future usage, as well as begin developing a code of conduct that would avoid similar mistakes in the future. This resulted in many names being changed, both from Māori and from other Polynesian languages.
Multiple in-universe explanations were created to explain the changes, though they have since lost most applicability. At the time of the change, The LEGO Group initially stated that the Tohunga changed their species name after realizing they were all one people. However, this explanation was only relevant at the time, and has been completely dropped from continuity, along with the name itself. The characters who had to be given new names were done so under the explanation of Naming Day, wherein characters receive new names for acts of valor; while the concept of Naming Day still exists in the story, any materials set in a time period prior to the change still refer to the characters by their new names. Despite this, most Māori words continued to be used.
List of Māori Words used in BIONICLE Canon
- The Māori words used within the BIONICLE universe are often pronounced vastly differently than their real-world counterparts. For example, Whenua's name is pronounced wen-NOO-ah in BIONICLE, while the word it is derived from is actually pronounced fen-OO-ah. Aside from the combination of "WH" making the same sound the letter "F" makes in English, the rest of the differences in pronunciation come from the vowel and vowel combination sounds, which are similar to that of Asian languages, such as Japanese.
- Nuhrii, Orkahm, and Tehutti were originally called "Nuri", "Orkan", and "Tehuti", respectively, in the Mata Nui Online Game II: The Final Chronicle, but their names were changed in all following media. This was not a result of the lawsuits, but rather because their original names were never legally approved. Those names are considered non-canon.
- The usage of several words in the landscape of the island of Mata Nui serve as early hints to the true nature of the island covering the face of the Great Spirit Robot.
- A being mentioned on the Polish version of the 2001 Bionicle website. Io is referred to as the "Great Creator" who gave the six heroes the name "Toa" and placed them in the world to guard it and maintain the balance of the elements. The name does not appear in any other BIONICLE media.
- For a long time, this Rahi was not considered to be a part of the official BIONICLE canon, having been completely replaced by the Gukko. It has since been reapproved by Greg Farshtey not only as a canon Rahi, but also a subspecies of the regular Gukko.
- In the Mata Nui Online Game II: The Final Chronicle, Maha were referred to as "Mahi", which can mean "work" in Māori. It is unclear if this was an intentional use of a Māori word or a coincidence. The English translation is potentially relevant, since Matoran sometimes use Mahi as beasts of burden. However, if the former is true, it marks the only time a Māori word was introduced into the BIONICLE canon in years following the lawsuit.
- One of two beings mentioned in the Mata Nui Online Game. Their names were derived from Rangi and Papa, figures in the Māori creation myth. The names do not appear in any other BIONICLE media.
- In Māori, "puku" can mean "drive". Much like "mahi", it is unclear if this was an intentional use of a Māori word or just coincidence. The English translation is potentially relevant, since Matoran often use Ussals as a form of transport.
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