Hawaiki and Sanasai, mythical Austronesian home islands

Throughout the South Pacific, most Polynesian societies shares the legend of a mythical home island named Hawaiki. That name is the etymology of the 50th State of the United Sates of America, Hawai’i. The Maori people of the last Austronesian settled island, New Zealand, also attributes their ancestor Kahutia-te-rangi arriving to New Zealand with the assistance of Paikea (whales) from Hawaiki.

I’ve read today that the word Hawaiki derives from a reconstructed Austronesian root word for homeland, *sawaiki. French Polynesians refers to the afterworld as Avaiki. The Rapa Nui people of Easter island refers to their mythical home island as Hiva.

At the same time, most Taiwanese aboriginals have a flood origin story.

For example, the Altayal people’s origin legend had a pair of siblings being the sole survivors of the giant flood. After their life saving gourd landed on what used to be a peak of a mountain, they waited until the flood subsides. After a while the older sister realized they were the only two people alive. She told her brother that she has found another woman who is willing to marry him, and told him to meet her under a tree couple of days later. When the brother arrived to that tree, he found a well dressed woman with facial tattoos. Unable to recognize the older sister, the brother married the woman and became the ancestor of all others.

The Tafalong Pancah Amis’s legend has it that their ancestor was a god named Arapanapanayan, living somewhere in the south. After a while, a decedent of Arapanapanayan, named Tiyamacan, was so beautiful the ocean god became infatuated with her and wanted to force a marriage. To escape from this forced marriage, Tiyamacan and her family went into hiding. When the ocean god couldn’t find Tiyamacan, he became furious and caused a huge flood, which carried Tiyamacan into the ocean. A pair of Tiamacan’s brother and sister survived the flood while hiding inside a wooden mortar. Their mortar landed in Cilangasan. They were forced to married each other (notice similarity with the Altayal myth). The brothers and sisters tried to have children, but instead they gave birth to snakes, turtles, lizards and frogs. In their despair they prayed to the sun, and the sun blessed them, and they give birth to 3 normal girls and one son. They changed their familial name to Cidal (the sun).

The Saisiyat’s Walo’ tribal family’s myth has it their ancestors lived on flat land. When the ancient flood came, a pair of brother and sister from the Bo:ong (some say Titijun) family, the brother name ‘oepoeh, the sister named Maya’, survived the flood by riding on a hoko’ (a wooden cylinder for weaving). Their makeshift craft landed on Papak (Dabajianshan 大霸尖山). Not long after their arrived on the mountain, the sister passed away. ‘oepoeh was very sad and cried over the body of his last remaining family. When he proceeded with her burial, he chopped Maya’‘s body up into little pieces, wrapped them in leaves, and stuffed them into the hoko’ that saved them. He prayed for the gods to give him a companion and sank the hoko’ into a pond. The gods had mercy on him and turned the hoko’s and the body of Maya’ into a woman. 'oepoeh was overjoyed, and gave the woman a name called Tawnay, with the last name of Tawtawazay. 'oepoeh repeated the trick and created the rest of the Saisiyat ancestors.

Taotao is people in Austronesian languages. Notice this version avoided the uncomfortable incest. Another version (9years.mlc.edu.tw/9yearsFiles/9y … html1.html) of the Saisiyat origin myth is almost exactly the same with the Altayal one, where the sister deceived the brother by tattooing her face. They instead chopped up their first child, and threw his body into the flood, and created more people that way.

The Tsou’s flood myth had them landing on top of Jade mountain, no incest this time. The survivors tried to appease the gods by putting a dog’s head on a pike. They then put a monkey’s head on a pike, and the flood subsided. That’s when they get the idea that they should put people’s heads on pikes to appease the gods. This version explains the origin of head hunting.

Actually the Bunun and the Amis also have similar stories flood and origin of fire myth. The Bunun legend had a bird carry back the seed of fire, the others had some type of deer. I’ll tell Rukai’s version first.

The ancient flood came and Rukai’s ancestors fled up the mountain. When the rain stopped and the water stopped raising, the surviving people and animals were crammed atop the mountain. They desperately needed fire to warm themselves. They noticed a fire going on another peak over the water. So they sent a pig on a log across the water to get the fire. The pig failed because the distance was too large for it to swim across. The Rukai then sent a muntjac. They waited and waited, and when everyone lost faither and awaited their fate of freezing to death, the muntjac swam back, carrying a smoldering branch fire in its mouth.

ok, back to the Amis brothers and sisters and the point of this post.

After the brother Sera and sister Nakaw arrived at Cilangasan on their motar, they first looked for fire. For a while they used flint to start fires, but eventually they exhausted all the flint on Cilangasan. After the lost of fire, Sera and Nakaw and their children sent animals to Sanasay to retrieve fire. First they sent a sambar deer. The fire carried by the sambar deer was doused by a giant wave. They then sent a goat and was met with the same fate. Finally they sent the Formosan sika deer, and the sika deer carried the fire back safely. The people rushed to pet the sika deer, giving the deers their smooth coat.

The Amis legend mentioned this place called Sanasay. This Sanasai legend is shared by all Aboriginals that oncedlived in northern Taiwan. The Basay who once dominated Taipei and Kavalan who onced dominated Yilan placed special significance on Sanasai being where their ancestors lived. Different spellings of the mythical home island included Sunasai (Kaliawan), Shi-nasai (Torobiawan), Sainasai (Torobiawan), Sansai (Santiago 三貂角), Soansai (Kitaparri 金包里), Sansai (Kipataw 北投) and even Vasai (Central and Coastal Amis). Besides Sanasai, Takalis and Mariryan are either the second home island or the original home island. Another name for Kitaparri was Quimaurij (Dutch spelling for Kimauri), probably derived from Mariryan. In Japanese era surveys, Sanasai increasingly became the only home island as surveyor traveled North along the east coast.

In Dutch’s 1650 record of non-tributary tribes north of Puyuma, there were two tribes by the name of Basey and Takalis. The Dutch and the Spanish documented that Takalis in present day Hualien had gold. They sent Basay over to Takalis to retrieve gold. Many aboriginal tribal villages were named their legendary home, or their legendary ancestor. For example, Kavalan’s legendary ancestor is Avan, and they derived tribal name from Ki-Avan-an to Kavalan. Some linguist concludes Basay of Northern Taiwan got their name the same way from Sanasai. Because Sanaisai is probably fromed as Sa-vasay-an (Sa(instrumental case)-Vasay-an(Locative focus), or Na(of, or in the past)-savay-an(Locative focus), that means the name Basay is similar to Hawaiians naming the island Hawai’i. It’s a way of remembering their origin.

All that said, it makes me wonder about the relations between sanasai and *sawaiki. According to Generalization, Lexical Statistics, and Typologically Rare Systems, and some other journals that I once browsed, it is possible to have a *s>kʰ sound change in Austronesian languages. I am guessing s>c>kʰ. So maybe Sa-Vasay-an eventually became sawaiki. Perhaps there never was such an home island. The legend of the homeland and the great flood probably existed before the Austronesians reaching Taiwan. Perhaps the story came from one or many tsunamis, and rising sea levels during the last glacial period, where plains became the sea floor. It just lived on in oral traditions and evolved as Austronesians tried to make sense of their new surroundings as they explored the Pacific.

I don’t know what I’m talking about, and hopefully if you make it this far, you are as fascinated by legends and linguistics as I am…


@hansioux Do you have a source for this? A researcher wrote us yesterday asking about it


This post was basically pieced together from many sources that I found online. There’s a brief one from the Academia Sinica’s School of Institute of Ethnology

A slightly longer one from National Digital Archive


One from the museum of Kavalan

One from the National Library

After I wrote this, there’s a proper academic paper from 2017. There are probably more papers from before this


By the way, someone has been writing about the legends and deities of every Taiwanese indigenous tribe on wikipedia. I don’t know who is writing them or how accurate they are. However they are very fascinating to read about.

For example, in the Pancah (Amis) legends, the world has been destroyed twice and we are currently living in the third rebirth of the world, and in each epoch there are different gods, usually related to one another.


One of the Pancah legends is incredibly similar to the Māori myth of the separation of Ranginui (Sky father) and Papatūānuku (Earth mother) by their children, Tūmatauenga, Tāne, Rongo and other atua.

In the Pancah myth, after the second rebirth, the sky father Arayang and his sister, earth mother Mahalengo, married and recreated the world. Arayang couldn’t spend a second away from Mahalengo, and the world stayed cramped and dark. Their sons decided they must separate their parents, and the youngest son Lopalangau decided to create mountains. After raising 5 mountains, Arayang finally let go of Mahalengo.

If you look at the etymology, Arayang shares a root with Rangi.


Wow, post it in 2016 and just came reading today.
Thank you.


Saw a 6-year-old hansioux post about linguistics, history, mythology, etc. and immediately put everything else on hold. Am not disappointed at all. Curse you hansioux, now I won’t be productive at all this afternoon!


I was not much interested in this kind of stories, but now I am searching and reading them…


You guys are too kind. I too am always dropping everything when I found something new about linguistics, history and mythology. I’m no expert, and most of my assumptions are probably wrong. I just figured I could take some people along for the ride. Glad to know there are people who get a kick out of it as much as I do. If only Taiwan’s education system could get most Taiwanese people as fascinated by the Indigenous culture, history, and language…


Thank you for the sources. I have collected over 100 Formosan Aboriginal flood myths and I always careful about citing my sources.

I’m still looking for English translations of flood myths for the Hla’alua Tribe, Sakizaya Tribe and Seediq Tribe (all Formosan tribes).

Also, do you know the defining difference between Atayal and Seediq Flood myths? The best I have found so far is in Ralph Covell’s “Pentecost of the Hills in Taiwan” (p. 45) which vaguely suggests that the “coming out from the manure” myth may uniquely Seediq (as opposed to Atayal - which Covell transliterates as “Tayal”)


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Re: Saisiyat Walo’ Flood myth

“The gods had mercy on him and turned the hoko’s and the body of Maya’ into a woman.”

If the hoko was turned into a body, how could 'oepoeh “repeat the trick”?


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I’d like to point out that even within what we consider was the same tribal group, such as Altayal, Seediq or Hla’alua, there are regional cultural and linguistic variations and slightly different legends.

I think there are books on the subjects, but I don’t have physical copies of them.

Based on what I can find online, this is the basic outline of the legend. I had a difficult time figuring out place names in the legends.

There are two main stories on the origin of the Hla’alua tribe.

First, the flood legen:
Once upon a time, the great flood swept across the land. Everyone traveled up the what we call Jade mountain today for shelter. While they were stranded on the mountain top, people realized that in their rush to safety, they didn’t bring along tinder to start a fire. They saw fire on the mountain top across the torrents, and wanted to retrieve it. The sambar deer volunteered to help, swam across the torrent to the other side, and tied the tinder to its horns. However, as it was swimming back, the tinder was too hot for the sambar deer to bear. It dove into the water and doused the smoldering tinder, and the sambar deer was washed away by the torrent. Witnessing this, the small muntjac also volunteered. People stroked its fur in appreciation and to cheer it on. The muntjac successfully brought back the tinder.

With a fire to keep them warm, the people were safe for a while. However, after a while the flood still would not subside. A giant boar volunteered to destroy the landslide dam so that the flood could dissipate. In return the boar wanted the people to promise feeding her children sweet potato until they are fully grown. The people agreed. The boar dove into the flood water and broke the dam, and the flood finally subsided.

After the flood subsided, people left the Jade mountain following three different rivers. Those who traveled down today’s Zhuosui river to Alisan established Tapangʉ and became the ancestors of the Tsou tribe. Those who traveled down the Namasia river became the ancestors of the Kanakanavu. Our ancestor, the ancestors of the Hla’alua, first traveled East to hlasʉnga, and lived with the Negrito people called the Kavurua.

The population of the Hla’alua recovered quickly and hlasʉnga wasn’t large enough to support everyone, so the ancestors decided to leave. The Kavurua people was saddened to see the Hla’alua go, and gifted them the treasure shell takiarʉ, which is commemorated in the miatungusu celebration.

The ancestors eventually moved to the plains and lived around present day Tainan. However, fighting broke out when the Dutch came, and the ancestors of the Hla’alua retraced their route back into the mountains.

I am by no means a good source on the matter. It’s probably best to find a more comprehensive book on Indigenous legends.


Like I’ve mentioned, there are regional variations.

By the way, I found this paper all about Indigenous flood myths

The Atayal actually seems to have many flood myths.

Some legends give different reasons to why the flood occurred. Some versions, such as the one from Ma’ao (Dahu county, Miaoli) says it’s incurred by Utux (ancestral spirits) punishing incest between siblings.

Some say it’s caused by a evil giant Denamai (similar to Seediq’s mythical giant Tnamay), who raped a woman to death, and her husband took an axe to the giant’s penis. The giant was furious, transformed into a storm and flooded the world.

People hid from the flood on the peak of Papak Waqa (Mount Sylvania). There are some versions that included an animal fetching fire part. Most directly go into human sacrifice. Some versions threw a dog in the flood first, some threw an old lady, some dressed up an ugly couple and threw them in. All failed to appease Utux or the giant. In the end either the chief threw in his own daughter, or people threw the siblings who committed incest into the flood, or they picked a random good looking couple to go into the flood.

The Seediq version I found is from a very well known Seediq ethnographer Dakis Pawan, told by an elder Pastor Siyac Nabu.


No reason for the flood was given.

People hid on Mount Dgiyaq Rqeda (North Peak of Nenggao mountain). When their food started to run out, they desperately needed the flood to subside. They first dressed up a pair of unmated chicken (rodux giyas) and threw then in the flood. When that failed, they threw in a pair of unmated pigs (babuy). Finally they decided they needed human sacrifice to appease Utux, and asked for volunteers. A beautiful young couple step forward and they drifted away on a bluku (a circular dustpan). That’s when the flood finally subsided.

When they returned to their village, they hear the music of a mouth harp. An elderly couple were drying the fish left from the flood. When asked if they had evacuated to the mountains, they said they simple hid under a bluku and survived.

Many of the Taiwan’s indigenous flood myths had something to do with incest. Some caused the flood, some were the result of being the only survivors after a flood. Many of them could almost be linked together to form a more complete story.

For example, the young couple boarding a crude vessel in the Seediq myth, could have drifted on to the sea and lead into the Pangcah Falangaw story, where brother and sister were all alone, drifting on the sea. When they flood subsided they found themselves to be the only survivors.

After a while, they asked the sun if they could get married and got permission. They were devastated when they realized their first children were all bizarre creatures. They threw these creatures into the river and they became the first fish and crustaceans. During the night, the moon informed them that incest is forbidden, and to have normal children, they cannot see each other when they procreate. So the sister weaved a curtain and cut a hole into it and gave it another try. This time she gave birth to a large white rock. The couple thought the moon played a mean joke on them and wanted to throw the rock into the river. The moon stopped them and told them to safeguard the rock if they wish to have children.

After a long while, the brother died and the sister thought she would die all alone. That’s when children were born from the white rock.

That story then tied back into the Atayal and Seediq story of a sibling being born from a white rock, and after they grew up, they realized they were the only people in the world. The sister realized they need to procreate to populate the world, but the brother refuse to commit incest. So the sister told the brother that she has discovered another woman, and she would bring her to him. Then she tattooed her own face so her brother would recognize her. That’s when they got married and repopulated the world. It’s like these legends can seamlessly go into the next one like an infinite loop.

Some other indigenous flood myths tried to get around the incest by weird ways, such as chopping up the body of the dead sister and throw pieces of her into the river, and children were created, like the Saisiyat myth. Or two brothers rubbing knees against one another, and children were born from the knees. That last one I think is Tao?

I think that’s the most I’ve used the word incest in my entire life…


Very fascinating, definitely being taken on a great ride. Hanks a lot!

Thank you so much for your help with my research! I really appreciate your help BIG TIME.

I’m a little confused about the Hla’alua myth that you translated. The motif of being stuck on the top of Jade Mountain and sending a Deer for fire that fails, a Muntjac that succeeds and a Boar that breaks the flood dam in exchange for caring for its orphaned young is Kankavanu… not Hla’alua. See Pu, Zhongchen (2012). Literary History of Taiwanese Indigenous Peoples (Volume I). Le Jin Books Ltd. Taipei, Taiwan. p. 78 (The English version - its on a different page in the Mandarin version)

Could you please confirm your source for the Hla’alua myth in question? Thanks so much!

Based on the Taiwan’s Indigenous People’s Portal website, the motif of being stuck on the Jade Mountain is definitely Hla’alua.





From other resources I saw, these two Hla’alua origin stories can be linked together with the flood happening first, and afterwards people first went to hlasunga, and eventually move to where they live now.

It would seem to me that the details of the flood myth, such as the sambar, muntjac and boar, aren’t always told the same way.

I based my translation on the version I found on wikipedia, since it is the most detailed one. Wikipedia also has a separate page on Kanakanavu flood myth:

Same details are different from the one in the Hla’alua page:

  1. Kanakanavu version gave a reason for the flood. A giant eel blocked the rivers.

  2. The Kanakanavu people escaped to mount naüsurana (Tengbao mountain 藤包山) or mount tanugintsu

  3. The sambar deer acquired fire in one try

  4. After the boar made a pact with the survivors, it killed the giant eel, instead of just simply breaking the dam.


There is also a version of living with the Hla’alua somewhere before bring separated. The Kanakanavu version called the place natsunga (looks to be a cognate of hlasʉnga). In their version, they lived together first, then the flood came. The Kanakanavu people evacuated to mount naüsurana, and then moved to na-tanasa (natʉrʉsa?) after the flood subsided.

Based on this interview of the Kanakanavu elders from Namasia, their version had a young boy named Namasia who lived 450 years ago, while the Kanakanavu were still living in natʉrʉsa, discovering a giant eel blocking the river to let her children play in the pool she created.

Upon seeing this, the boy suffered immense head pain and fainted. After waking up, he went back to natʉrʉsa and told the elders of the impending flood if they do not kill the eel. The boar volunteered to kill the giant eel, and the flood was averted. The boy soon died and to thank him for preventing a flood, they named the place after Namasia.

So in this Kanakanavu version, there’s no flood at all.

So I’d say there are regional difference to these myths, and it may differ more between village and village than tribe to tribe.


Is it possible to cite your source on linking the evil giant “Denamai” to the flood myth of the Atayal? I haven’t found that name anywhere. Thanks so much!

Saw an 1890 German map of Asia. The map was published during the Kaiserreich period, by Andrees Allgemeiner Handatlas.

(from the Austronesian history facebook group)

On the map there is an island next to Taiwan recorded as Sanasana. It seems like today’s Green Island. I guess that is the name for the island prior to the Japanese getting here.

There are also plenty of old place names on the map worth digging into.


In case anyone would need some help with the few German descriptions in that map, several German speakers are on Forumosa. Of course I expect one can generally use Google translate, but maybe in some cases that would be harder due to (nowadays?) uncommon abbreviations. Or due to needing to distinguish German words from transcriptions of local names.

I expect that much more knowledgeable German speakers already jumped on this map, but just in case not, I’d be happy to help. Give back a tiny bit, after all I’m very grateful for lots of interesting stories shared here on this site.

220 Formosan flood myths translated into English. Academic Book: The Formosan Great Flood Myths: An Analysis of the Oral Traditions of Ancient Taiwan