BIONICLE was a line of toys and a storyline made by the LEGO Group that is marketed towards those in the 7-16 year-old range. The line was launched in January 2001 in Europe and June/July 2001 in the United States.
The year 1997 was an absolutely horrid time for the LEGO company. For the first time in the history of the company, it had posted a loss. The LEGO Company needed a change in order for it to appeal to this new generation of youngsters. They realized that kids in this fast-paced modern world wanted something cool to play with that would encompass more than building blocks. Kids wanted a story behind those blocks, and to go with that story they wanted neat pieces that they could use to create their own play fantasies.
No, this was not the start of BIONICLE as one may expect it to be, this was the birth of the Star Wars line. Star Wars was a smash hit, and it almost took LEGO out of the red for 1999. However, although the sales for the sets were outstanding, a large number of royalties had to be paid to Lucasfilm in order to retain the licensing agreement for Star Wars. LEGO now knew that bricks with a story and focus worked, but the licensing agreement with Lucasfilm kept LEGO out of the black.
- Characters - Factions, Toa, Matoran
- Books - BIONICLE Chronicles, BIONICLE Adventures, BIONICLE Legends
- BIONICLE Sets
For a time, the BIONICLE franchise used words out of Polynesian languages, most noticeably the New Zealand Māori language.
However, after some controversy (see below) regarding LEGO’s use of words from other cultures, many of their names now either have no root word, or are based on English or Latin words.
- "Mata Nui" is the New Zealand Maori words for "Great Eye" and is the name of the being who watches the Matoran Universe.
- "Toa" is the New Zealand Maori word for "Warrior", and in-universe is a title given to the main heroes of the series.
- "Kopaka" is the New Zealand Māori word for “cold” or “ice” and is the name of a Toa of Ice.
- “Onewa” is the New Zealand Māori word for "basalt" and is the name of a Turaga of Stone.
- "Pohatu" is the New Zealand Māori word for "stone" or "rock" and is the name of a Toa of Stone.
- "Tahu" is the New Zealand Māori word for “burn” and is the name of a Toa of Fire.
- "Kapura" is the New Zealand Māori word for “fire” or “flashlight” and is the name of a Ta-Matoran.
- "Whenua" is the New Zealand Māori word for "earth" and is the name of a Turaga of Earth.
- "Onepu" is the New Zealand Māori word for "sand" and is the name of an Onu-Matoran.
- "Jala" is the Rotuman (the language spoken in the fijian island of Rotuma) word for "to set fire to" or "to burn" and it was used as the name of a fire character whose name changed to "Jaller".
- "Maku" means "wet"; it was used as the name of a water character and changed to "Macku".
- "Kahu", meaning "cape" or "cloak", and "Kewa" were used for types of birds; they became one and the same as "Gukko birds". (However, an advertisement for the Toa Mahri mistakenly listed Kongu as a "Kahu" bird rider.)
- "Nui" is the New Zealand Maori word for "Great" and was used as a prefix/suffix of many things e.g. Nui Stone, Karda Nui.
- "Malum is a Latin word that means "bad," or "evil."
- "Metus" is a Latin word that means "fear".
- "Fero" can come from the Latin word "wild, savage" (n) or "I carry" (v).
- "Umbra" is Latin word that means "shadow".
- "Koro" is a Fijian word for "village" and is used similarly.
- "Turaga" is a Fijian title for village chief and is used similarly in BIONICLE.
- "Suva" -not likely a Māori Word- the BIONICLE name of shrines to Toa. It is the capital and largest city of Fiji.
- "Puku" means "stomach", "belly", etc.; it was used as the name of a pet Ussal crab belonging to Takua. The crab's name was changed to "Pewku".
- "Tohunga" means "priest", "expert", etc.; it was used for the race of villagers and replaced with the term "Matoran"
- "Kanohi" is the Māori word for "face" and is used to mean mask.
- "Kakama" is the Māori word for "active" and it used as the name for the Kanohi of Speed.
- "Kaukau" is the Māori word for "swimming" and is used as the name for the Kanohi of Water-Breathing.
- "Pakari" is the Māori word for "strong" and is used as the name for the Kanohi of Strength.
- "Huna" is the Māori word for "hide" or "conceal" and is used as the name for the Kanohi of Concealment.
- "Ruru" is the Māori word for "owl" and is used as the name for the Kanohi of Night-Vision.
After the BIONICLE toy line was released in 2001, Māori activists criticized Lego for the use of Māori words, saying that they were illegally patenting aspects of their culture for their recently released video game based on the toys. A lawyer, Maui Solomon, had written to Lego on behalf of three Māori tribes, demanding that sales of the game halt. Solomon later added that it was a trivialization of their culture, such as the use of Tohunga (meaning "Priest") as a word for the common people of the BIONICLE world, that brought up cultural and moral issues. Eva Lykkegaard, a spokeswoman for Lego, denied allegations of interfering with their cultural heritage, saying, "On the contrary, we have a deep respect for the history of the Polynesian people and for the richness and cultural diversity of the universe," adding that Lego had only registered BIONICLE for a trademark, but none of the other words. Lego would not use any more Māori words from then on, however they could not change many words that were already incorporated in the BIONICLE universe.