One day, a canoe carrying an infant boy washes up on the shores of a remote island. Hailed as a good omen, the boy, Tama, is adopted by Malio, the island chief. Malio grooms Tama to be his successor, but a string of bad luck causes Malio to rethink his decision. Tama is passed from family to family until he winds up with Mahana and her drunken father. When Tama eventually decides to leave the island, he vows to come back for Mahana, whom he loves.