Everything we know about Jason Momoa’s parents

We are used to seeing Jason Momoa play tough characters. Think Aquaman or, better yet, Khal Drogo. However, in Sweet Girl, we get to see Momoa play an ordinary guy seeking revenge against a pharmaceutical company responsible for his wife’s death. His relationship with his daughter (played by Isabela Merced) forms perhaps the most touching storyline in the Netflix film. 

In real life, Momoa is a doting father to Lola and Nakoa-Wolf. Few can forget the kids joining Jason as he performed The Haka during Aquaman’s Los Angeles premiere. 

This piece will look at Jason Momoa’s relationship with his parents and how his ethnicity has shaped his career. 

Momoa lived with his mother for 18 years in Iowa after his parents divorced

Jason Momoa was born on 1st August 1979 in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Coni and Jason Momoa. His parents named him Namakaeha, which is Hawaiian for ‘all knowing eyes.’ Joseph is of Native Hawaiian heritage, and Coni is of Native American, Irish, and German descent. 

Coni and Joseph divorced when Jason was six months old. Momoa moved with Coni to her native Norwalk, Iowa, and stayed there for 12 years before he began spending his summers in Hawaii. Jason remembers his time in Norwalk fondly. He told Star-Advertiser:

“I love the Midwest, and it’s the same people (as in Hawaii) – people who don’t want to leave their land, who are very content where they’re at. They take great pride in being farmers. It’s the same thing; it’s people who love being where they’re from, but there’s just not a lot of diversity.”

“He was stoked,” Joseph described the moment Momoa first met his Hawaiian family. After that meeting, Jason wanted to stay in Hawaii, but Joseph insisted that he complete his education in the mainland before moving back to Hawaii. 

“I told him, you need to go and gain all this knowledge, and when you graduate you can come back here any time you want,” Joseph said. “Hawaii is always here.”

Every summer, Jason learned ‘how to be Hawaiian,’ Joseph said. Jason fell in love with the ocean, and when he went back to Iowa, he took up marine biology to better understand his newfound love. “Even when I was a kid in Iowa I took marine biology courses so I could do that as a profession, that was my passion for the ocean,” Jason said. 

According to Joseph, the most important thing that he and Hawaii taught Jason was how to treat people. Joseph explained:

“Throughout his life I taught him what aloha means, how to… never be higher than anyone else. I told him the cameraman, the grip man, chefs, the people that clean your rooms, these are the true people, so you need to stay near them and give them the time of day and respect, and trust me, everything will come good.”

Momoa feels a strong connection to his native Polynesian heritage

Jason credits his Hawaiian upbringing to not only his father but also to his extended family. “It takes a village to raise a child,” Hawaiian native Brian Keaulana told Star-Advertiser

Momoa learned his water skills from Joseph, who operates canoes for Hawaiian Ocean Adventures. “He [Joseph] sails canoes, paddles, surfs, hydrofoils,” Brian said. 

At age nineteen, Jason moved to Hawaii to attend the University of Hawaii. He learned that his lineage traces back to the native New Zealanders of Aotearoa. He feels a strong connection to the Maori people and their land. He told Newshub:

“When I was a baby I saw pictures of New Zealand. I’ve been just pulled there and the moment I set foot there it was the only place on earth I’ve felt that this is exactly where I’m from – not even Hawaii has done that for me – I’m so connected to Aotearoa, on a higher level. I know I’m from there.”

Nevertheless, Jason considers Hawaii his home. Jason doesn’t visit as much as he wants, but when he does, he makes the most of his stay. “First thing is to go Zippy’s,” Joseph explained. “That’s tradition, that is 100 percent tradition.” Jason then hits the west side and reconnects with his cousins. Brian Keaulana told Star-Advertiser:

“Every time he pops over here, he calls and says, ‘Hey, cuz, we go eat breakfast.’ He orders half the menu. But the great thing is that our community is super respectful. They really give you your space. They’ll wait until you’re finished eating before they come over and introduce themselves.”

Momoa’s biracial ethnicity helped him land roles in Game of Thrones and Aquaman

Momoa earned his casting as Khal Drogo after performing the traditional Maori Haka. Khal didn’t survive past the first season, but the role made Jason a household name. 

Jason’s biracial ethnicity made him the perfect actor to play Aquaman, according to the film’s director James Wan. Momoa’s biracial nature gelled with Aquaman’s half Atlantian, half surface dweller identity.

“He is a superhero character who actually is biracial in that he’s half Atlantian, half surface dweller,” Wan told BET. It’s great for someone like Jason Momoa; with his background, he could really kind of understand that growing up and really sort of playing it up.”

Joseph Momoa agreed with James Wan’s assessment of Jason’s Aquaman similarities. “I think it’s almost the story of Aquaman,” Joseph talked to Star-Advertiser about Jason’s upbringing. “When his mom has to leave him and jumps back in the water, that’s me, I have to leave my son.”

Zack Snyder, the director of Justice League, saw Aquaman in Jason. Snyder modeled Aquaman’s look on Jason’s shark teeth tattoo. The tattoo is designed after his Hawaiian family’s crest and represents his family’s aumakuea, a spirit or animal that dies and reincarnates to protect the family. Jason detailed his meeting with Zack:

“When I walked into the office, he said, ‘I want you to play Aquaman.’ That made no sense to me until he said, ‘Your half white, you’re half Polynesian. Obviously, the Polynesians have their own water gods. Why wouldn’t you take this [points to arm with tattoos] and put it all over.’ And so he put it together that way.”

Momoa confessed that growing up without a father affected his approach to parenthood

Joseph visited Jason as much as he could as he grew up in Iowa. He tried to stay for extended periods but couldn’t endure the homesickness. “I explained to him when he got older that it’s hard for a Hawaii boy to go up there on the mainland, you get so homesick,” Joseph said

“His mom is awesome. I’m so proud of her hanging strong and teaching him things you don’t learn much about here in Hawaii.” 

Joseph’s absence affected Jason after he welcomed his children with Lisa Bonet. “I didn’t know how to be a dad,” Jason told InStyle. “And I don’t want to just tell my son, ‘Because I said so.’”

“I really want to connect, and I want him to be vulnerable and open.”

Jason and his fellow Hawaiians halted the construction of a 30-meter telescope on Hawaii volcano, Mauna Kea

Scientists have erected over a dozen telescopes on Hawaii’s sacred Mauna Kea, but none is as big as the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope. “What’s happening over there was just not right,” Jason told CNN

After learning of the project, Jason joined other Hawaiians in a peaceful protest against the project. Momoa talked to CNN about the cultural significance of the ‘tallest’ mountain on earth:

“It’s kind of the umbilical cord to the earth. You know, if you think about the Hawaiian islands, that’s the biggest mountain in the world, right? All the way up. So Mauna Kea is the most sacred. They call it the belly button, too. That’s like our birth place. You can imagine that in the middle of the ocean. That’s how our islands were formed. So how can that not be sacred?”

On top of desecrating a sacred location, the telescope’s construction will likely affect the island’s water system. In an Instagram post, Jason wrote that the protests aren’t opposed to science but represent an effort to protect Hawaii’s ‘sacred and revered mountain.’

As of mid-2021, construction of the telescope is yet to commence, despite authorities issuing the necessary permits. Jason’s protests have forced astronomers to consider the reservations of Hawaii’s native people.