Maui 's Home
Maui the Fisherman
Lifting the Sky
Maui Snaring the Sun
Maui Finding Fire
Maui the Skilful
Maui and Tuna
Maui and His
Oahu Legends of Maui
Hina of Hilo
Hina and the Wailuku
The Ghosts of the
Hina, the Woman in
Maui is a demi-god
whose name should probably be pronounced Ma-u-i-, i. e., Ma-oo-e. The
meaning of the words is by no means clear. It may mean "to live, " "to
subsist." It may refer to beauty and strength, or it may have the idea
of "the left hand" or "turning aside." The word is recognized as
belonging to remote Polynesian antiquity. MacDonald, a writer of the New
Hebrides Islands gives the derivation of the name Maui primarily from
the Arabic word, "Mohyi," which means "causing to live" or "life,“
applied sometimes to the gods and sometimes to chiefs as "preservers and
sustainers" of their followers.
The Maui story
probably contains a larger number of unique and ancient myths than that
of any other legendary character in the mythology of any nation. There
are three centers for these legends, New Zealand in the south, Hawaii in
the north, and the Tahitian group including the Hervey Islands in the
east. In each of these groups of islands, separated by thousands of
miles, there are the same legends, told in almost the same way, and with
very little variation in names. The intermediate groups of islands of
even as great importance as Tonga, Fiji or Samoa, possess the same
legends in more or less of a fragmentary condition, as if the three
centers had been settled first when the Polynesians were driven away
from the Asiatic coasts by their enemies, the Malays. From these centers
voyagers sailing away in search of adventures would carry fragments
rather than complete legends. This is exactly what has been done and
there are as a result a large number of hints of wonderful deeds. The
really long legends as told about the demi-god Ma-u-i and his mother
Hina number about twenty.
It is remarkable that
these legends have kept their individuality. The Polynesians are not a
very clannish people. For some centuries they have not been in the habit
of frequently visiting each other. They have had no written language,
and picture writing of any kind is exceedingly rare throughout
Polynesian and yet in physical traits, national customs, domestic
habits, and language, as well as in traditions and myths, the different
inhabitants of the islands of Polynesia are as near of kin as the
cousins of the United States and Great Britain. The Maui legends form
one of the strongest links in the mythological chain of evidence which
binds the scattered inhabitants of the Pacific into one nation. An
incomplete list aids in making clear the fact that groups of islands
hundreds and even thousands of miles apart have been peopled centuries
past by the same organic race. Either complete or fragmentary Maui
legends are found in the single islands and island groups of Aneityum,
Bowditch or Fakaofa, Efate, Fiji, Fotuna, Gilbert, Hawaii, Hervey,
Huahine, Mangaia, Manihiki, Marquesas, Marshall, Nauru, New Hebrides,
New Zealand, Samoa, Savage, Tahiti or Society, Tauna, Tokelau and Tonga.
S. Percv Smith of New
Zealand in his book Hawaiki mentions a legend according to which Mani
made a voyage after overcoming a sea monster, visiting the Tongas, the
Tahitian group, Vai-i or Hawaii, and the Paumotu Islands. Then Maui went
on to U-peru, which Mr. Smith says "may be Peru." It was said that Maui
named some of the islands of the Hawaiian group, calling the island Maui
"Maui-ui in remembrance of his efforts in lifting up the heavens,"
Hawaii was named Vai-i, and Lanai was called Ngangai as if Maui had
found the three most southerly islands of the group.
The Maui legends
possess remarkable antiquity. Of course, it is impossible to give any
definite historical date, but there can scarcely be any question of
their origin among the ancestors of the Polynesians before they
scattered over the Pacific ocean. They belong to the prehistoric
Polynesians. The New Zealanders claim Maui as an ancestor of their most
ancient tribes and sometimes class him among the most ancient of their
gods, calling him "creator of land" and "creator of man." Tregear, in a
paper before the New Zealand Institute, said that Maui was sometimes
thought to be "the sun himself," "the solar fire," "the sun god," while
his mother Hina was called ' ' the moon goddess. The noted greenstone
god of the Maoris of New Zealand, Potiki, may well be considered a
representation of Maui-Tiki-Tiki, who was sometimes called Maui-po-tiki.
It is worth while in this place to quote Sir James Carroll, of New
Zealand, who was for a long time the Government Minister having charge
of native affairs. His high caste native blood and great ability gave
him a place in the highest order of chiefs among the Maoris. He says
that the greenstone charm Potiki (often called Tiki) is the symbol of
the unborn child according to the thought of the chiefs best acquainted
with Maori folk-lore ; and Maui was a demi-god developing life after
being thrown away as a foetus prematurely born, thus representing the
first formed child after whom the Potiki was named.
Whether these legends
came to the people in their sojourn in India before they migrated to the
Straits of Sunda is not certain; but it may well be assumed that these
stories had taken firm root in the memories of the priests who
transmitted the most important traditions from generation to generation,
and that this must have been done before they were driven away from the
Asiatic coasts by the Malays. Several hints of Hindoo connection are
found in the Maui legends. The Polynesians not only ascribed human
attributes to all animal life with which they were acquainted, but also
carried the idea of an alligator or dragon with them, wherever they
went, as in the mo-o of the story Tuna-roa.
The Polynesians also
had the idea of a double soul inhabiting the body. This is carried out
in the ghost legends more fully than in the Maui stories, “and yet the
spirit separate from the spirit which never forsakes man" according to
Polynesian ideas, was a part of the Maui birth legends. This spirit,
which can be separated or charmed away from the body by incantations was
called the "hau." When Maui's father performed the religious ceremonies
over him which would protect him and cause him to be successful, he
forgot a part of his incantation to the "hau, "therefore Maui lost his
protection from death when he sought immortality for himself and all
How much these things
aid in proving a Hindoo or rather Indian origin for the Polynesians is
uncertain, but at least they are of interest along the lines of race
origin. The Maui group of legends is pre-eminently peculiar. They are
not only different from the myths of other nations, but they are unique
in the character of the actions recorded. Maui 's deeds rank in a higher
class than most of the mighty efforts of the demi-gods of other nations
and races, and are usually of more utility. Hercules accomplished
nothing to compare with ”lifting the sky,” "snaring the sun," ''fishing
for islands," "finding fire in his grandmother's fingernails," or
"learning from birds how to make fire by rubbing dry sticks," or
"getting a magic bone" from the jaw of an ancestor who was half dead,
that is dead on one side and therefore could well afford to let the bone
on that side go for the benefit of a descendant. The Maui legends are
full of helpful imaginations, which are distinctly Polynesian.
The phrase "Maui of
the Malo" is used among the Hawaiians in connection with the name Maui a
Kalana, "Maui the son of Akalana." It may be well to note the origin of
the name. It was said that Hina usually sent her retainers to gather sea
moss for her, but one morning she went down to the sea by herself. There
she found a beautiful red malo, which she wrapped around her as a pa-u
or skirt. When she showed it to Akalana, her husband, he spoke of it as
a gift of the gods, thinking that it meant the gift of Mana or spiritual
power to their child when he should be born. In this way the Hawaiians
explain the superior talent and miraculous ability of Maui which placed
him above his brothers.
These stories were
originally printed as magazine articles, chiefly in the Paradise of the
Pacific, Honolulu; therefore there are sometimes repetitions which it
seemed best to leave, even when reprinted in the present form.
Back to Contents
By S. Percy Smith,
F.R.G.S., President, Polynesian Society.
MAUI, the demi-god,
looms very largely in Polynesian myth, tradition, and folk-lore. Mr.
Westervelt does well to call him a demi-god, for god he assuredly was
not. He stands on quite a different plane to the gods of the race, and
might appropriately be called a "hero," because he embodies the
Polynesian idea of a hero a gifted, clever, daring, impudent, rollicking
fellow, endowed moreover with that kind of mana which in this connection
may be translated supernatural power that enabled him to outdo the feats
of ordinary mankind. He also occupies a position in his family of
brothers, which always appeals to the Polynesian (indeed, to other races
as well) in that he was the youngest of them the Cinderella, the
despised and mischievous child who by force of character eventually
became the leader of the family. Many and many a Polynesian tale hinges
on the rise of the youngest of a family to the place of honor and
importance in a tribe.
Maui has several
additional names, all expressive of some of his characteristics; such as
Maui-potiki (Maui-the-youngest), Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga (Maui-topknotof
Taranga, his mother, the origin of which name Mr. Westervelt has given);
Maui-hangarau (Maui-of-themany-schemes), and so on. Each division of the
race has its special pet name for the hero, descriptive of the
achievement that appeals most to the particular branch that originated
the name. As time passed, and the branches of the Polynesian race
separated off into the various islands in which they are now found, the
deeds of Maui became subject to the well known and world-wide processes
of alteration due to local environment and localization, giving rise to
variations from the story as learnt (or invented) in the ancient
"Father-land" of the people. From like causes the deeds of other heroes
are now often accredited to Maui; but these can often be separated out
and assigned to their proper places and periods. Notwithstanding this,
the general agreement of the series of Maui legends wherever obtained
among the Polynesians is somewhat remarkable, as is proved by Mr.
Westervelt 's work. This, of course, means that the legends came into
being before the dispersion of the people to the islands of the Pacific.
And one part but not all of them probably originated during the sojourn
of the Polynesians in Indonesia.
There has been an
overflow of the Maui legends into the islands inhabited by the black, or
very dark, Melansians to the west of Polynesia proper; but with such a
distortion of narratives and names, that we conclude they are not
original with that people they were, in fact, learnt by them from some
of the westward migrations of the Polynesians who have, in many
instances, settled on some of the outlying islands of Melanesia.
A careful study of
the various legends (which has not as yet been undertaken exhaustively),
will clearly lead to the inference that some are immensely older than
others. When we reflect that traces of the most ancient Maui stories are
to be discovered in the literature written and unwritten of Egypt,
Babylonia, Scandinavia, India, and also in North America, we are at once
faced with the fact of the immense antiquity of the early Maui legends.
"We may take as one of the most ancient of these, that relating to
Maui's successful efforts to lengthen the day-light. The only reasonable
interpretation that can be placed on this is, the dimly remembered
period when the people were living in some country where the winter days
were very short, and that the lengthened days were secured to the people
by migrating towards the temperate or tropical regions of the earth;
possibly under the leadership of one named Maui, or, what is more
probable, the deeds of this migratory leader may have been in after
ages, when the legends surrounding the historical Mam became rife,
accredited to him as the national hero. It may be suggested that if the
Polynesians are, as some of us suppose, Proto-Aryans who in very ancient
times led the advance guard of the Aryan migration from let us say, with
Oppert the shores of the Baltic, to south-eastern Asia, then the legends
of Maui's deeds in lengthening the days would, in a measure, be
Another of the Maui
legends is doubtless far more ancient than the period of the historical
Maui. Mr. Westervelt describes the death of the hero as arising through
his endeavour to secure everlasting life to mankind, in which
undertaking he was frustrated and killed by Hine-nui-te-po, the goddess
of Hades. The period of this incident is so ancient, that according to
the esoteric teaching of the priests and teachers of the Maori
Whare-wananga (or college), it occurred not long after the creation of
mankind, in that mysterious "Father-land" of the race named Hawaiki.
Hinenui-te-po was, according to the above teaching, the second woman
created, and was both wife and daughter of Tane, the most celebrated of
the Maori gods. On discovering that Tane was her father she was so
overcome with shame and horror that she departed for Hades, where she
took the name of Hine-nui-te-po, Great-lady-of-Hades, and became the
goddess of those realms, where she ever occupies herself in dragging
down to death the offspring of mankind. This shows how ancient the
legend is, and that it cannot be placed in the period of the historical
Maui he who "fished up" so many lands, or in other words, discovered so
The story of Maui's
acquisition of fire for the use of mankind, belongs probably to the
ancient division of the series (whilst it might also be modern), if the
teaching of the Maori college is considered. In that teaching the fire
is stated to be ”Ahi-komau," or volcanic fire. If so, the interpretation
of the story may be, that Polynesian mankind first obtained fire from
incandescent lava, and the subsequent conflagration of the country Te-ahi-a-Maui
may be the frequent accompaniment of volcanic outbursts as often
experienced when the vegetation is frequently set ablaze.
It is, we submit,
undoubtedly the case that there was a family of the name of Maui who
flourished according to the best Maori genealogies about 50 generations
ago, or, in other words, in the seventh century; a period, which the
most reliable traditions seem to indicate as that when a later migration
of the Polynesian people (known for convenience as the "Tonga-fiti"
branch of the race) were dwelling in Indonesia, and beginning to spread
into the borders of the Pacific. And it was here probably the stories of
Maui's "fishing up" of lands originated, in the discovery of many new
islands by that hero. Or, what is just as likely, many a voyage of
discovery by other leaders has been in the process of time accredited to
the national hero. The Maori descents from the four Maui brothers are in
sufficient accordance to allow of our indicating the seventh century as
the period in which they flourished. Their descendants are to be found
in most of the islands occupied by the Polynesians, excepting perhaps
the western groups of Samoa, Tonga, etc., who do not belong to the
That the legends of
the doings of Maui in Indonesia have been localized in the various
islands of the Pacific, is only what might be expected from what we know
of similar cases in other parts of the world. It would therefore seem
that a distinction must be drawn between the several legends of Maui
that some are of untold antiquity, others of comparatively-speaking
modern date, and historical.
Mr. "Westervelt has
placed students of Polynesian history and traditions under a deep debt
of gratitude by collecting from so many sources the various versions as
handed down by the Polynesians in their scattered homes all over the
Pacific. We are now, for the first time, in a position to deal
comprehensively with the subject, and let us hope, with his book before
us, we shall be enabled to throw a further ray of light on the history
of this most interesting people. Back to
"Akalana was the man;
Hina-a-ke-ahi was the
Maui First was born;
Maui Kiikii was born;
Then Maui of the malo."
Queen Liliuokalani 's Family Chant
FOUR BROTHERS, each
bearing the name of Maui, belong to Hawaiian legend. They accomplished
little as a family, except on special occasions when the youngest of the
household awakened his brothers by some unexpected trick which drew them
into unwonted action. The legends of Hawaii, Tonga, Tahiti, New Zealand
and the Hervey group make this youngest Maui ''the discoverer of fire"
or "the ensnarer of the sun" or "the fisherman who pulls up islands" or
"the man endowed with magic," or "Maui with spirit power." The legends
vary somewhat, of course, but not as much as might be expected when the
thousands of miles between various groups of islands are taken into
Maui was one of the
Polynesian demi-gods. His parents belonged to the family of supernatural
beings. He himself was possessed of supernatural powers and was supposed
to make use of all manner of enchantments. In New Zealand antiquity a
Maui was said to have assisted other gods in the creation of man.
Nevertheless Maui was very human. He lived in thatched houses, had wives
and children, and was scolded by the women for not properly supporting
The time of his
sojourn among men is very indefinite. In Hawaiian genealogies Maui and
his brothers were placed among the descendants of Ulu and "the sons of
Kii," and Maui was one of the ancestors of Kamehameha, the first king of
the united Hawaiian Islands. This would place him in the seventh or
eighth century of the Christian Era. But it is more probable that Maui
belongs to the mist-land of time. His mischievous pranks with the
various gods would make him another Mercury living in any age from the
creation to the beginning of the Christian era.
The Hervey Island
legends state that Maui's father was "the supporter of the heavens" and
his mother "the guardian of the road to the invisible world." In the
Hawaiian chant, Akalana was the name of his father. In other groups this
was the name by which his mother was known. Kanaloa, the god, is
sometimes known as the father of Maui. In Hawai`i Hina was his mother.
Elsewhere Ina, or Hina, was the grandmother, from whom he secured fire.
The Hervey Island
legends say that four mighty ones lived in the old world from which
their ancestors came. This old world bore the name Ava-iki, which is the
same as Hawa-ii, or Hawaii. The four gods were Mauike, Ra, Ru, and Bua-Taranga.
It is interesting to
trace the connection of these four names with Polynesian mythology.
Mauike is the same as the demi-god of New Zealand, Mafuike. On other
islands the name is spelled Mauika, Mafuika, Mafuia, Mafuie, and Mahuika.
Ra, the sun god of Egypt, is the same as Ra in New Zealand and La (sun)
in Hawaii. Ru, the supporter of the heavens, is probably the Ku of
Hawaii, and the Tu of New Zealand and other islands, one of the greatest
of the gods worshipped by the ancient Hawaiians. The fourth mighty one
from Ava-ika was a woman, Bua-taranga, who guarded the path to the
underworld. Talanga in Samoa, and Akalana in Hawaii were the same as
Taranga. Pua-kalana (the Kalana flower) would probably be the same in
Hawaiian as Buataranga in the language of the Society Islands.
Ru, the supporter of
the heavens, married Buataranga, the guardian of the lower world. Their
one child was Maui. The legends of Raro-Tonga state that Maui's father
and mother were the children of Tangaroa (Kanaloa in Hawaiian), the
great god worshipped throughout Polynesia. There were three Maui
brothers and one sister, Ina-ika (Ina, the fish).
The New Zealand
legends relate the incidents of the babyhood of Maui.
Maui was prematurely
born, and his mother, not caring to be troubled with him, cut off a lock
of her hair, tied it around him and cast him into the sea. In this way
the name came to him, Maui-tikitiki, or "Maui formed in the topknot."
The waters bore him safely. The jelly fish enwrapped and mothered him.
The god of the seas cared for and protected him. He was carried to the
god's house and hung up in the roof that he might feel the warm air of
the fire, and be cherished into life. When he was old enough, he came to
his relations while they were all gathered in the great House of
Assembly, dancing and making merry. Little Maui crept in and sat down
behind his brothers. Soon his mother called the children and found a
strange child, who proved that he was her son, and was taken in as one
of the family. Some of the brothers were jealous, but the eldest
addressed the others as follows:
"Never mind; let him
be our dear brother. In the days of peace remember the proverb, 'When
you are on friendly terms, settle your disputes in a friendly way; when
you are at war, you must redress your injuries by violence.' It is
better for us, brothers, to be kind to other people. These are the ways
by which men gain influence by laboring for abundance of food to feed
others, by collecting property to give to others, and by similar means
by which you promote the good of others."
Thus, according to
the New Zealand story related by Sir George Grey, Maui was received in
his home. Maui's home was placed by some of the Hawaiian myths at Kauiki,
a foothill of the great extinct crater Haleakala, on the Island of Maui.
It was here he lived when the sky was raised to its present position.
Here was located the famous fort around which many battles were fought
during the years immediately preceding the coming of Captain Cook. This
fort was held by warriors of the Island of Hawaii a number of years. It
was from this home that Maui was supposed to have
journeyed when he
climbed Mt. Haleakala to ensnare the sun.
Rugged Lava of Wailuku River
And yet most of the
Hawaiian legends place Maui's home by the rugged black lava beds of the
Wailuku river near Hilo on the island of Hawaii. Here he lived when he
found the way to make fire by rubbing sticks together, and when he
killed Kuna, the great eel, and performed other feats of valor. He was
supposed to cultivate the land on the north side of the river. His
mother, usually known as Hina, had her home in a lava cave under the
beautiful Rainbow Falls, one of the fine scenic attractions of Hilo. An
ancient demigod, wishing to destroy this home, threw a great mass
of lava across the
stream below the falls. The rising water was fast filling the cave.
Hina called loudly to
her powerful son Maui. He came quickly and found that a large and strong
ridge of lava lay across the stream. One end rested against a small
hill. Maui struck the rock on the other side of the hill and thus broke
a new pathway for the river. The water swiftly flowed away and the cave
remained as the home of the Maui family.
According to the King
Kalakaua family legend, translated by Queen Liliuokalani, Maui and his
brothers also made this place their home. Here he aroused the anger of
two uncles, his mother's brothers, who were called "Tall Post" and
"Short Post," because they guarded the entrance to a cave in which the
Maui family probably had its home.
"They fought hard
with Maui, and were thrown, and red water flowed freely from Maui's
forehead. This was the first shower by Maui." Perhaps some family
discipline followed this knocking down of door posts, for it is said:
"They fetched the
sacred Awa bush,
Then came the second
shower by Maui;
The third shower was
when the elbow of Awa was broken;
The fourth shower
came with the sacred bamboo."
Haul's mother, so
says a New Zealand legend, had her home in the under-world as well as
with her children. Maui determined to find the hidden dwelling place.
His mother would meet the children in the evening and lie down to sleep
with them and then disappear with the first appearance of dawn. Maui
remained awake one night, and when all were asleep, arose quietly and
stopped up every crevice by which a ray of light could enter. The
morning came and the
sun mounted up far up
in the sky. At last his mother leaped up and tore away the things which
shut out the light.
"Oh, dear; oh, dear!
She saw the sun high in the heavens; so she hurried away, crying at the
thought of having been so badly treated by her own children." Maui
watched her as she pulled up a tuft of grass and disappeared in the
earth, pulling the grass back to its place.
Thus Maui found the
path to the under-world. Soon he transformed himself into a pigeon and
flew down, through the cave, until he saw a party of people under a
sacred tree, like those growing in the ancient first Hawaii. He flew to
the tree and threw down berries upon the people. They threw back stones.
At last he permitted a stone from his father to strike him, and he fell
to the ground. "They ran to catch him, but lo! the pigeon had turned
into a man."
Then his father "took
him to the water to be baptized" (possibly a modern addition to the
legend). Prayers were offered and ceremonies passed through. But the
prayers were incomplete and Maui's father knew that the gods would be
angry and cause Maui's death, and all because in the hurried baptism a
part of the prayers had been left unsaid. Then Maui returned to the
upper world and lived again with his brothers.
Maui commenced his
mischievous life early, for Hervey Islanders say that one day the
children were playing a game dearly loved by Polynesians hide and seek.
Here a sister enters into the game and hides little Maui under a pile of
dry sticks. His brothers could not find him, and the sister told them
where to look. The sticks were carefully handled, but the child could
not be found. He had shrunk himself so small that he was like an insect
under some sticks and leaves. Thus early he began to use enchantments.
Maui's home, at the
best, was only a sorry affair. Gods and demi-gods lived in caves and
small grass houses. The thatch rapidly rotted and required continual
renewal. In a very short time the heavy rains beat through the decaying
roof. The home was without windows or doors, save as low openings in the
ends or sides allowed entrance to those willing to crawl through. Off on
one side would be the rude shelter, in the shadow of which Hina pounded
the bark of certain trees into wood pulp and then into strips of thin,
soft wood-paper, which bore the name of "Kapa cloth." This cloth Hina
prepared for the clothing of Maui and his brothers. Kapa cloth was often
treated to a coat of coco-nut, or candle-nut oil, making it somewhat
waterproof and also more durable.
Here Maui lived on
edible roots and fruits and raw fish, knowing little about cooked food,
for the art of fire-making was not yet known. In later years Maui was
supposed to live on the eastern end of the island Maui, and also in
another home on the large island Hawaii, on which he discovered how to
make fire by rubbing dry sticks together. Maui was the Polynesian
Mercury. As a little fellow he was endowed with peculiar powers,
permitting him to become invisible or to change his human form into that
of an animal. He was ready to take anything from any one by craft or
force. Nevertheless, like the thefts of Mercury, his pranks usually
It is a little
curious that around the different homes of Maui, there is so little
record of temples and priests and altars. He lived too far back for
priestly customs. His story is the rude, mythical survival of the days
when of church and civil government there was none and worship of the
gods was practically unknown, but every man was a law unto himself, and
also to the other man, and quick retaliation followed any injury
Back to Contents
"Oh the great fish
hook of Maui!
fast to the heavens' its name;
An earth-twisted cord
ties the hook.
Engulfed from the
Its bait the red
The bird made sacred
It sinks far down to
Caught is the land
under the water,
Floated up, up to the
But Hina hid a wing
of the bird
And broke the land
under the water.
Below, was the bait
And eaten at once by
The Ulua of the deep
Kualii, about A. D. 1700
Leaping to Swim to Coral Reef
One of Haul's homes
was near Kauiki, a place well known throughout the Hawaiian Islands
because of its strategic importance. For many years it was the site of a
fort around which fierce batties were fought by the natives of the
island Maui, repelling the invasions of their neighbors from Hawaii.
Haleakala (the House
of the Sun), the mountain from which Maui the demi-god snared the sun,
looks down ten thousand feet upon the Kauiki headland. Across the
channel from Haleakala rises Mauna Kea, " The White Mountain "
the snow-capped which
almost all the year round rears its white head in majesty among the
In the snowy breakers
of the surf which washes the beach below these mountains, are broken
coral reefs the fishing grounds of the Hawaiians. Here near Kauiki,
according to some Hawaiian legends, Maui's mother Hina had her grass
house and made and dried her kapa cloth. Even to the present day it is
one of the few places in the islands where the kapa is still pounded
into sheets from the bark of the hibiscus and kindred trees.
Here is a small bay
partially reef-protected, over which year after year the moist clouds
float and by day and by night crown the waters with rainbows the
legendary sign of the home of the deified ones. Here when the tide is
out the natives wade and swim, as they have done for centuries, from
coral block to coral block, shunning the deep resting places of their
dread enemy, the shark, sometimes esteemed divine. Out on the edge of
the outermost reef they seek the shellfish which cling to the coral, or
spear the large fish which have been left in the beautiful little lakes
of the reef. Coral land is a region of the sea coast abounding in
miniature lakes and rugged valleys and steep mountains. Clear waters
with every motion of the tide surge in and out through sheltered caves
and submarine tunnels, according to an ancient Hawaiian song:
"Never quiet, never
failing, never sleeping,
Never very noisy is
the sea of the sacred caves."
Sea mosses of many
hues are the forests which drape the hillsides of coral land and reflect
the colored rays of light which pierce the ceaselessly moving waves.
Down in the beautiful little lakes, under overhanging coral cliffs,
darting in and out through the fringes of seaweed, the purple mullet and
royal red fish flash before the eyes of the fisherman. Sometimes the
many-tinted glorious fish of paradise reveal their beauties, and then
again a school of black and gold
citizens of the reef
follow the tidal waves around projecting crags and through the hidden
tunnels from lake to lake, while above the fisherman follows spearing or
snaring as best he can. Maui's brothers were better fishermen than he.
They sought the deep sea beyond the reef and the larger fish. They made
hooks of bone or of mother of pearl, with a straight, slender,
sharp-pointed piece leaning backward at a sharp angle. This was usually
a consecrated bit of bone or mother of pearl, and was supposed to have
peculiar power to hold fast any fish which had taken the bait.
In the Sea of Sacred
These bones were
usually taken from the body of some one who while living had been noted
for great power or high rank. This sharp piece was tightly tied to the
larger bone or shell, which formed the shank of the hook. The sacred
barb of Maui's hook was a part of the magic bone he had secured from his
ancestors in the under-world the bone with which he struck the sun while
lassooing him and compelling him to move more slowly through the
fibres of vines twisted while growing, was the cord used by Maui in
tying the parts of his magic hook together. Long and strong were the
fish lines made from the olona fibre, holding the great fish caught from
the depths of the ocean. The fibres of the olona vine were among the
longest and strongest threads found in the Hawaiian Islands.
Such a hook could
easily be cast loose by the struggling fish, if the least opportunity
were given. Therefore it was absolutely necessary to keep the line taut,
and pull strongly and steadily, to land the fish in the canoe.
Maui did not use his
magic hook for a long time. He seemed to understand that it would not
answer ordinary needs. Possibly the idea of making the supernatural hook
did not occur to him until he had exhausted his lower wit and magic upon
It is said that Maui
was not a very good fisherman. Sometimes his end of the canoe contained
fish which his brothers had thought were on their hooks until they were
landed in the canoe.
Many times they
laughed at him for his poor success, and he retaliated with his
!" he would cry, when one of his brothers began to pull in, while the
other brothers swiftly paddled the canoe forward. "E ! See we both have
caught great fish at the same moment. Be careful now. Your line is
loose. Look out ! Look out."
All the time he would
be pulling his own line in as rapidly as possible. Onward rushed the
canoe. Each fisherman shouting to encourage the others. Soon the lines
by the tricky manipulation of Maui would be crossed. Then as the great
fish was brought near the side of the boat Maui the little, the
mischievous one, would slip his hook toward the head of the fish and
flip it over into the canoe causing his brother's line to slacken for a
moment. Then his mournful cry
rang out: "Oh, my
brother, your fish is gone. Why did you not pull more steadily? It was a
fine fish, and now it is down deep in the waters." Then Maui held up his
splendid catch (from his brother's hook) and received somewhat
suspicious congratulations. But what could they do? Maui was the smart
one of the family.
Their father and
mother were both members of the household of the gods. The father was
"the supporter of the heavens" and the mother was "the guardian of the
way to the invisible world," but pitifully small and very few were the
gifts bestowed upon their children. Maui's brothers knew nothing beyond
the average home life of the ordinary Hawaiian, and
Maui alone was
endowed with the power to work miracles. Nevertheless the student of
Polynesian legends learns that Maui is more widely known than almost all
the demi-gods of all nations as a discoverer of benefits for his
fellows, and these physical rather than spiritual. After many fishing
excursions Maui's brothers seemed to have wit enough to understand his
tricks, and thenceforth they refused to take him in their canoe when
they paddled out to the deep-sea fishing grounds. Then those who
depended upon Maui to supply their daily needs murmured against his poor
success. His mother scolded him and his brothers ridiculed him.
In some of the
Polynesian legends it is said that his wives and children complained
because of his laziness and at last goaded him into a new effort.
Liliuokalani, in a translation of what is called "the family chant,"
says that Maui's mother sent him to his father for a hook with which to
supply her need.
"Go hence to your
'Tis there you find
line and hook.
This is the hook
'Made fast to the heavens '
' Manaia-ka-lani '
'tis calle d.
When the hook catches
It brings the old
Bring hither the
The bird of Hina."
When Maui had
obtained his hook, he tried to go fishing with his brothers. He leaped
on the end of their canoe as they pushed out into deep water. They were
angry and cried out: "This boat is too small for another, Maui." So they
threw him off and made him swim back to the beach. When they returned
from their day's work, they brought back only a shark. Maui told them if
he had been with them better fish would have been upon their hooks the
Ulua, for instance,
or, possibly, the
Pimoe the king of fish. At last they let him go far out outside the
harbor of Kipahula to a place opposite Ka Iwi o Pele, "The bone of
Pele," a peculiar piece of lava lying near the beach at Hana on the
eastern side of the island Maui. There they fished, but only sharks were
caught. The brothers ridiculed Maui, saying: "W"here are the Ulua, and
where is Pimoe?"
Then Maui threw his
magic hook into the sea, baited with one of the Alae birds, sacred to
his mother Hina. He used the incantation, "When I let go my hook with
divine power, then I get the great Ulua."
The bottom of the sea
began to move. Great waves arose, trying to carry the canoe away. The
fish pulled the canoe two days, drawing the line to its fullest extent.
When the slack began to come in the line, because of the tired fish,
Maui called for the brothers to pull hard against the coming fish. Soon
land rose out of the water. Maui told them not to look back or the fish
would be lost. One brother did look back the line slacked, snapped, and
broke, and the land lay
behind them in
One of the Hawaiian
legends also says that while the brothers were paddling in full
strength, Maui saw a calabash floating in the water. He lifted it into
the canoe, and behold! his beautiful sister Hina of the sea. The
brothers looked, and the separated islands lay behind them, free from
the hook, while Cocoanut Island the dainty spot of beauty in Hilo harbor
was drawn up a little ledge of lava in later years the home of a
The better, the more
complete, legend comes from New Zealand, which makes Maui so mischievous
that his brothers refuse his companionship and therefore, thrown on his
own resources, he studies how to make a hook which shall catch something
worth while. In this legend Maui is represented as making his own hook
and then pleading with his brothers to let him go with them once more.
But they hardened their hearts against him, and refused again and again.
Maui possessed the
power of changing himself into different forms. At one time while
playing with his brothers he had concealed himself for them to find.
They heard his voice in a corner of the house but could not find him.
Then under the mats on the floor, but again they could not find him.
There was only an insect creeping on the floor. Suddenly they saw their
little brother where the insect had been. Then they knew he had been
tricky with them. So in these fishing days he resolved to go back to his
old ways and cheat his brothers into carrying him with them to the great
Sir George Grey says
that the New Zealand Maui went out to the canoe and concealed himself as
an insect in the bottom of the boat so that when the early morning light
crept over the waters and his brothers pushed the canoe into the surf
they could not see him. They rejoiced that Maui did not appear, and
paddled away over the waters.
They fished all day
and all night and on the morning of the next day, out from among the
fish in the bottom of the boat came their troublesome brother.
They had caught many
fine fish and were satisfied, so thought to paddle homeward; but their
younger brother pleaded with them to go out, far out, to the deeper seas
and permit him to cast his hook. He said he wanted larger and better
fish than any they had captured.
So they paddled to
their outermost fishing grounds but this did not satisfy Maui
"Farther out on the
O! my brothers,
I seek the great fish
of the sea."
It was evidently
easier to work for him than to argue with him therefore far out in the
sea they went. The home land disappeared from view; they could see only
the outstretching waste of waters. Maui urged them out still farther.
Then he drew his magic hook from under his malo or loin-cloth. The
brothers wondered what he would do for bait. The New Zealand legend says
that he struck his nose a mighty blow until the blood gushed forth. When
this blood became clotted, he fastened it upon his hook and let it down
into the deep sea.
Down it went to the
very bottom and caught the under world. It was a mighty fish but the
brothers paddled with all their might and main and Maui pulled in the
line. It was hard rowing against the power which held the hook down in
the sea depths but the brothers became enthusiastic over Maui's large
fish, and were generous in their strenuous endeavors. Every muscle was
strained and every paddle held strongly against the sea that not an inch
should be lost. There was no sudden leaping and darting to and fro, no
"give" to the line; no "tremble" as when a great fish would shake itself
in impotent wrath when held captive by a hook. It was simply a struggle
of tense muscle against an immensely heavy dead weight. To the brothers
there came slowly the feeling that Maui was in one of his strange moods
and that something beyond their former experiences with their tricky
brother was coming to pass.
At last one of the
brothers glanced backward. With a scream of intense terror he dropped
his paddle. The others also looked. Then each caught his paddle and with
frantic exertion tried to force their canoe onward. Deep down in the
heavy waters they pushed their paddles. Out of the great seas the black,
ragged head of a large island was rising like a fish it seemed to be
chasing them through the boiling surf. In a little while the water
became shallow around them, and their canoe finally rested on a black
Maui for some reason
left his brothers, charging them not to attempt to cut up this great
fish. But the unwise brothers thought they would fill the canoe with
part of this strange thing which they had caught. They began to cut up
the back and put huge slices into their canoe. But the great fish the
island shook under the blows and with mighty earthquake shocks tossed
the boat of the brothers, and their canoe was destroyed. As they were
struggling in the waters, the great fish devoured them. The island came
up more and more from the waters but the deep gashes made by Haul's
brothers did not heal they became the mountains and valleys stretching
from sea to sea.
White of New Zealand
says that Maui went down into the underworld to meet his great
ancestress, who was one side dead and one side alive. From the dead side
he took the jaw bone, made a magic hook, and went fishing. When he let
the hook down into the sea, he called:
"Take my bait. O
Confused you are. O
And coming upward."
Thus he pulled up
Ao-tea-roa one of the large islands of New Zealand. On it were houses,
with people around them. Fires were burning. Maui walked over the
island, saw with wonder the strange men and the mysterious fire. He took
fire in his hands and was burned. He leaped into the sea, dived deep,
came up with the other large island on his shoulders.
This island he set on
fire and left it always burning. It is said that the name for New
Zealand given to Captain Cook was Te ika o Maui, "The fish of Maui."
Some New Zealand natives say that he fished up the island on which dwelt
"Great Hina of the Night," who finally destroyed Maui while he was
One legend says that
Maui fished up apparently from New Zealand the large island of the
Tongas. He used this chant:
Why art Thou
Beneath the earth
The power is felt,
The foam is seen,
O thou loved
This is an excellent
poetical description of the great fish delaying the quick hard bite.
Then the island comes to the surface and Maui, the beloved grandchild of
the Polynesian god Kanaloa, is praised.
It was part of one of
the legends that Maui changed himself into a bird and from the heavens
let down a line with which he drew up land, but the line broke, leaving
islands rather than a mainland. About two hundred lesser gods went to
the new islands in a large canoe. The greater gods punished them by
making them mortal.
Turner, in his book
on Samoa, says there were three Mauis, all brothers. They went out
fishing from Rarotonga. One of the brothers begged the "goddess of the
deep rocks" to let his hooks catch land. Then the island Manahiki was
drawn up. A great wave washed two of the Mauis away. The other Maui
found a great house in which eight hundred gods lived. Here he made his
home until a chief from Rarotonga drove him away. He fled into the sky,
but as he leaped he separated the land into two islands.
Other legends of
Samoa say that Tangaroa, the great god, rolled stones from heaven. One
became the island Savaii, the other became Upolu. A god is sometimes
represented as passing over the ocean with a bag of sand. Wherever he
dropped a little sand islands sprang up.
Paton, the earnest
and honored missionary of the New Hebrides Islands, evidently did not
know of the name Mauitikitiki, so he spells the name of the fisherman
Ma-tshi-ktshi-ki, and gives the myth of the fishing up of the various
islands. The natives said that Maui left footprints on the coral reefs
of each island where he stood straining and lifting in his endeavors to
pull up each other island. He threw his line around a large island
intending to draw it up and unite it
with the one on which
he stood, but his line broke. Then he became angry and divided into two
parts the island on which he stood. This same Maui is recorded by Mr.
Paton as being in a flood which put out one volcano Maui seized another,
sailed across to a neighboring island and piled it upon the top of the
volcano there, so the fire was placed out of reach of the flood.
In the Hervey Group
of the Tahitian or Society Islands the same story prevails and the
natives point out the place where the hook caught and a print was made
by the foot in the coral reef. But they add some very mythical details.
Maui's magic fish-hook is thrown into the skies, where it continuously
hangs, the curved tail of the constellation which we call Scorpio. Then
one of the gods becoming angry with Maui seized him and threw him also
among the stars. There he stays looking down upon his people. He has
become a fixed part of the scorpion itself.
The Hawaiian myths
sometimes represent Maui as trying to draw the islands together while
fishing them out of the sea. When they had pulled up the island of Kauai
they looked back and were frightened. They evidently tried to rush away
from the new monster and thus broke the line. Maui tore a side out of
the small crater Kaula when trying to draw it to one of the other
islands. Three aumakuas, three fishes supposed to be spirit-gods,
guarded Kaula and defeated his purpose. At Hawaii Cocoanut Island broke
off because Maui pulled too hard. Another place near Hilo on the large
island of Hawaii where the hook was said to have caught is in the
Wailuku river below Rainbow Falls.
Maui went out from
his home at Kauiki, fishing with his brothers. After they had caught
some fine fish the brothers desired to return, but Maui persuaded them
to go out farther. Then when they became tired and determined to go
back, he made the seas stretch out and the shores recede until they
could see no land. Then drawing the magic hook, he baited it with the
Alae or sacred mud hen belonging to his Mother Hina. Queen Liliuokalani
's family chant has the following reference to this myth :
"Maui longed for fish
for Hina-akeahi (Hina of the fire, his mother),
Go hence to your
There you will find
line and hook.
Manaiakalani is the
Where the islands are
The ancient seas are
The great bird Alae
The sister bird,
Of that one of the
hidden fire of Maui."
Maui evidently had no
scruples against using anything which would help him carry out his
schemes. He indiscriminately robbed his friends and the gods alike.
Down in the deep sea
sank the hook with its struggling bait, until it was seized by "the land
under the water. ' '
But Hina the mother
saw the struggle of her sacred bird and hastened to the rescue. She
caught a wing of the bird, but could not pull the Alae from the sacred
hook. The wing was torn off. Then the fish gathered around the bait and
tore it in pieces. If the bait could have been kept entire, then the
land would have come up in a continent rather than as an island. Then
the Hawaiian group would have been unbroken. But the bait broke and the
islands came as fragments
from the under world.
Maui's hook and canoe
are frequently mentioned in the legends. The Hawaiians have a long rock
in the Wailuku river at Hilo which they call Maui's canoe. Different
names were given to Maui's canoe by the Maoris of New Zealand. "Vine of
Heaven," "Prepare for the North," "Land of the Receding Sea." His fish
hook bore the name "Plume of Beauty."
On the southern end
of Hawke's Bay, New Zealand, there is a curved ledge of rocks extending
out from the coast. This is still called by the Maoris "Maui's
fish-hook," as if the magic hook had been so firmly caught in the jaws
of the island that Maui could not disentangle it, but had been compelled
to cut it off from his line.
There is a large
stone on the sea coast of North Kohala on the island of Hawaii which the
Hawaiians point out as the place where Maui's magic hook caught the
island and pulled it through the sea.
In the Tonga Islands,
a place known as Hounga is pointed out by the natives as the spot where
the magic hook caught in the rocks. The hook itself was said to have
been in the possession of a chief-family for many generations.
Another group of
Hawaiian legends, very incomplete, probably referring to Maui, but
ascribed to other names, relates that a fisherman caught a large block
of coral. He took it to his priest. After sacrificing, and consulting
the gods, the priest advised the fisherman to throw the coral back into
the sea with incantations. While so doing this block became Hawaii-loa.
The fishing continued and blocks of coral were caught and thrown back
into the sea until all the islands appeared. Hints of this legend cling
to other island groups as well as to the Hawaiian Islands. Fornander
credits a fisherman from foreign lands as thus bringing forth the
Hawaiian Islands from the deep seas. The reference occurs in part of a
chant known as that of a friend of Paao the priest who is supposed to
have come from Samoa to Hawaii in the eleventh century.
This priest calls for his companions:
Here are the canoes.
"Here are the canoes.
Come along, and dwell
on Hawaii with the green back.
A land which was
found in the ocean, A land thrown up from the sea
From the very depths
The white coral, in
the watery caves,
That was caught on
the hook of the fisherman."
The god Kanaloa is
sometimes known as a ruler of the under-world, whose land was caught by
Maui's hook and brought up in islands. Thus in the legends the thought
has been perpetuated that some one of the ancestors of the Polynesians
made voyages and discovered islands.
In the time of Umi,
King of Hawaii, there is the following record of an immense bone
fish-hook, which was called the ' ' fish-hook of Maui :' '
"In the night of Muku
(the last night of the month), a priest and his servants took a man,
killed him, and fastened his body to the hook, which bore the name
Manai-a-ka-lani, and dragged it to the heiau (temple) as a fish, and
placed it on the altar.
This hook was kept
until the time of Kamehameha I. From time to time he tried to break it,
and pulled until he perspired.
Peapea, a brother of
Kaahumanu, took the hook and broke it. He was afraid that Kamehameha
would kill him. Kaahumanu, however, soothed the King, and he passed the
matter over. The broken bone was probably thrown away.
Back to Contents
MAUI LIFTING THE SKY
MAUI 'S home was for
a long time enveloped by darkness. The heavens had fallen down, or,
rather, had not been separated from the earth. According to some
legends, the skies pressed so closely and so heavily upon the earth that
when the plants began to grow, all the leaves were necessarily flat.
According to other legends, the plants had to push up the clouds a
little, and thus caused the leaves to flatten out into larger surface,
so that they could better rive the skies back and hold them in place.
Thus the leaves became flat at first, and have so remained through all
the days of mankind. The plants lifted the sky inch by inch until men
were able to crawl about between the heavens and the earth, and thus
pass from place to place and visit one another.
After a long time,
according to the Hawaiian legends, a man, supposed to be Maui, came to a
woman and said: "Give me a drink from your gourd cala bash, and I will
push the heavens higher." The woman handed the gourd to him. When he had
taken a deep draught, he braced himself against the clouds and lifted
them to the height of the trees. Again he
hoisted the sky and
carried it to the tops of the mountains; then with great exertion he
thrust it upwards once more, and pressed it to the place it now
occupies. Nevertheless dark clouds many times hang low along the eastern
slope of Maui's great mountain Haleakala and descend in heavy rains upon
the hill Kauwiki ; but they dare not stay, lest Maui the strong come and
hurl them so far away that they cannot come back again.
A man who had been
watching the process of lifting the sky ridiculed Maui for attempting
such a difficult task. When the clouds rested on the tops of the
mountains, Maui turned to punish his critic. The man had fled to the
other side of the island. Maui rapidly pursued and finally caught him on
the sea coast, not many miles north of the town now known as Lahaina.
After a brief struggle the man was changed, according to the story, into
a great black rock, which can be seen by any traveller who desires to
localize the legends of Hawaii.
In Samoa Tiitii, the
latter part of the full name of Mauikiikii, is used as the name of the
one who braced his feet against the rocks and pushed the sky up. The
foot-prints, some six feet long, are said to be shown by the natives.
Another Samoan story
is almost like the Hawaiian legend. The heavens had fallen, people
crawled, but the leaves pushed up a little; but the sky was uneven. Men
tried to walk, but hit their heads, and in this confined space it was
very hot. A woman rewarded a man who lifted the sky to its proper place
by giving him a drink of water from her cocoanut shell.
A number of small
groups of islands in the Pacific have legends of their skies being
lifted, but they attribute the labor to the great eels and serpents of
One of the Ellice
group, Niu Island, says that as the serpent began to lift the sky the
people clapped their hands and shouted "Lift up!" "High!" "Higher!" But
the body of the serpent finally broke into pieces which became islands,
and the blood sprinkled its drops on the sky and became stars.
One of the Samoan
legends says that a plant called daiga, which had one large
umbrella-like leaf, pushed up the sky and gave it its shape.
The Vatupu, or Tracey
Islanders, said at one time the sky and rocks were united. Then steam or
clouds of smoke rose from the rocks, and, pouring out in volumes, forced
the sky away from the earth. Man appeared in these clouds of steam or
smoke. Perspiration burst forth as this man forced his way through the
heated atmosphere. From this perspiration woman was formed. Then were
born three sons, two of whom pushed up the sky. One, in the north,
pushed as far as his arms would reach. The one in the south was short
and climbed a hill, pushing as he went up, until the sky was in its
The Gilbert Islanders
say the sky was pushed up by men with long poles.
The ancient New
Zealanders understood incantations by which they could draw up or
discover. They found a land where the sky and the earth were united.
They prayed over their stone axe and cut the sky and land apart. "Hau-hau-tu"
was the name of the great stone axe by which the sinews of the great
heaven above were severed, and Rangi (sky) was separated from Papa
The New Zealand
Maoris were accustomed to say that at first the sky rested close upon
the earth and therefore there was utter darkness for ages. Then the six
sons of heaven and earth, born during this period of darkness, felt the
need of light and discussed the necessity of separating their parents
the sky from the earth and decided to attempt the work.
Kongo (Hawaiian god
Lono) the "father of food plants," attempted to lift the sky, but could
not tear it from the earth. Then Tangaroa (Kanaloa), the "father of fish
and reptiles," failed. Haumia Tiki-tiki who was the "father of wild food
plants," could not raise the clouds. Then Tu (Hawaiian Ku), the "father
of fierce men," struggled in vain. But Tane (Hawaiian Kane), the "father
of giant forests," pushed and lifted until he thrust the sky far up
above him. Then they discovered their descendants the multitude of human
beings who had been living on the earth concealed and crushed by the
clouds. Afterwards the last son, Tawhiri (father of storms), was angry
and waged war against his brothers. He hid in the sheltered hollows of
the great skies. There he begot his vast brood of winds and storms with
which he finally drove all his brothers and their descendants into
hiding places on land and sea. The New Zealanders mention the names of
the canoes in which their ancestors fled from the old home Hawaiki.
Tu (father of fierce
men) and his descendants, however, conquered wind and storm and have
ever since held supremacy.
The New Zealand
legends also say that heaven and earth have never lost their love for
each other. "The warm sighs of earth ever ascend from the wooded
mountains and valleys, and men call them mists. The sky also lets fall
frequent tears which men term dew drops."
islanders say that Maui desired to separate the sky from the earth. His
father ( Ru, was the supporter of the heavens. Maui persuaded him to
assist in lifting the burden. Maui went to the north and crept into a
place, where, lying prostrate under the sky, he could brace himself
against it and push with great power. In the same way Ru went to the
south and braced himself against the southern skies. Then they made the
signal, and both pressed "with their backs against the solid blue mass."
It gave way before the great strength of the father and son. Then they
lifted again, bracing themselves with hands and knees against the earth.
They crowded it and bent it upward. They were able to stand with the sky
resting on their shoulders. They heaved against the bending mass, and it
receded rapidly. They quickly put the palms of their hands under it;
then the tips of their fingers, and it retreated farther and farther. At
last, "drawing themselves out to gigantic proportions, they pushed the
entire heavens up to the very lofty position which they have ever since
But Maui and Ru had
not worked perfectly together; therefore the sky was twisted and its
surface was very irregular. They determined to smooth the sky before
they finished their task, so they took large stone adzes and chipped off
the rough protuberances and ridges, until by and by the great arch was
cut out and smoothed off. They then took finer tools and chipped and
polished until the sky became the beautifully finished blue dome which
now bends around the earth.
The Hervey Island
myth, as related by "W. W. Gill, states that Ru, the father of Maui,
came from Avaiki (Hawa-iki), the underworld or abode of the spirits of
the dead. He found men crowded down by the sky, which was a mass of
solid blue stone. He was very sorry when he saw the condition of the
inhabitants of the earth, and planned to raise the sky a little.
So he planted stakes
of different kinds of trees. These were strong enough to hold the sky so
far above the earth 'that men could stand erect and walk about without
inconvenience." This was celebrated in one of the Hervey Island songs:
"Force up the
And let the space be
For this helpful deed
Ru received the name "The supporter of the heavens." He was rather proud
of his achievement and was gratified because of the praise received. So
he came sometimes and looked at the stakes and the beautiful blue sky
resting on them. Maui, the son, came along and ridiculed his father for
thinking so much of his work. Maui is not represented, in the legends,
as possessing a great deal of love and reverence for his relatives
provided his affection
interfered with his
mischief; so it was not at all strange that he laughed at his father. Ru
became angry and said to Maui: "Who told youngsters to talk? Take care
of yourself, or I will hurl you out of existence."
Maui dared him to try
it. Ru quickly seized him and "threw him to a great height." But Maui
changed himself to a bird and sank back to earth unharmed.
Then he changed
himself back into the form of a man, and, making himself very large, ran
and thrust his head between the old man's legs. He pried and lifted
until Ru and the sky around him began to give. Another lift and he
hurled them both to such a height that the sky could not come back.
Ru himself was
entangled among the stars. His head and shoulders stuck fast, and he
could not free himself. How he struggled, until the skies shook, while
Maui went away. Maui was proud of his achievement in having moved the
sky so far away. In this self-rejoicing he quickly forgot his father.
Ru died after a time.
"His body rotted away and his bones, of vast proportions, came tumbling
down from time to time, and were shivered on the earth into countless
fragments. These shattered bones of Ru are scattered over every hill and
valley of one of the islands, to the very edge of the sea."
Thus the natives of
the Hervey Islands account for the many pieces of porous lava and the
small pieces of pumice stone found occasionally in their islands. The
"bones" were very light and greatly resembled fragments of real bone. If
the fragments were large enough they were sometimes taken and worshiped
as gods. One of these pieces, of extraordinary size, was given to Mr.
Gill when the natives were bringing in a large collection of idols.
"This one was known as 'The Light Stone,' and was worshiped as the god
of the wind and the waves. Upon occasions of a hurricane,
offerings of food would be made to it."
Thus, according to
different Polynesian legends, Maui raised the sky and made the earth
inhabitable or his fellow-men. Back to
MAUI SNARING THE SUN
"Maui became restless
and fought the sun
With a noose that he
And winter won the
And summer was won by
Liliuokalani 'B Family Chant
A very unique legend
is found among the widely-scattered Polynesians. The story of Maui's
"Snaring the Sun" was told among the Maoris of New Zealand, the Kanakas
of the Hervey and Society Islands, and the ancient natives of
Hawaii. The Samoans
tell the same story without mentioning the name of Maui. They say that
the snare was cast by a child of the sun itself. The Polynesian stories
of the origin of the sun are worthy of note before the legend of the
change from short to long days is given.
according to W. "W. Gill, tell the story of the origin of the sun and
moon. They say that Vatea (Wakea) and their ancestor Tongaiti quarreled
concerning a child each claiming it as his own. In the struggle the
child was cut in two. Vatea squeezed and rolled the part he secured into
a ball and threw it away, far up into the heavens, where it became the
sun. It shone brightly as it rolled along the heavens, and sank down to
Avaiki (Hawaiki), the nether world. But the ball came back again and
once more rolled across the sky. Tonga-iti had let his half of the child
fall on the ground and lie there, until made envious by the beautiful
ball Vatea made.
At last he took the
flesh which lay on the ground and made it into a ball. As the sun sank
he threw his ball up into the darkness, and it rolled along the heavens,
but the blood had drained out of the flesh while it lay upon the ground,
therefore it could not become so red and burning as the sun, and had not
life to move so swiftly. It was as white as a dead body, because its
blood was all gone; and it could not make the darkness flee away as the
sun had done. Thus day and night and the sun and moon always remain with
The legends of the
Society Islands say that a demon in the west became angry with the sun
and in his rage ate it up, causing night. In the same way a demon from
the east would devour the moon, but for some reason these angry ones
could not destroy their captives and were compelled to open their mouths
and let the bright balls come forth once more. In some places a
sacrifice of some one of distinction was needed to placate the wrath of
the devourers and free the balls of light in
times of eclipse.
The moon, pale and
dead in appearance, moved slowly; while the sun, full of life and
strength, moved quickly. Thus days were very short and nights were very
long. Mankind suffered from the fierceness of the heat of the sun and
also from its prolonged absence. Day and night were alike a burden to
men. The darkness was so great and lasted so long that ruits would not
After Maui had
succeeded in throwing the heavens into their place, and fastening them
so that they could not fall, he learned that he had opened a way for the
sun-god to come up from the lower world and rapidly run across the blue
vault. This made two troubles for men the heat of the sun was very great
and the journey too quickly over. Maui planned to capture the sun and
punish him for thinking so little about the welfare of mankind.
As Rev. A. O. Forbes,
a missionary among the Hawaiians, relates, Maui's mother was troubled
very much by the heedless haste of the sun. She had many kapa-cloths to
make, for this was the only kind of clothing known in Hawaii, except
sometimes a woven mat or a long grass fringe worn as a skirt. This
native cloth was made by pounding the fine bark of certain trees with
wooden mallets until the fibres were beaten and ground into a wood pulp.
Then she pounded the pulp into thin sheets from which the best sleeping
mats and clothes could be fashioned. These kapa cloths had to be
thoroughly dried, but the days were so short that by the time she had
spread out the kapa the sun had heedlessly rushed across the sky and
gone down into the under-world, and all the cloth had to be gathered up
again and cared for until another day should come. There were other
troubles. "The food could not be prepared and cooked in one day. Even an
incantation to the gods could not be chanted through ere they were
overtaken by darkness."
Iao Mountain from the Sea
This was very
discouraging and caused great suffering, as well as much unnecessary
trouble and labor. Many complaints were made against the thoughtless
Maui pitied his
mother and determined to make the sun go slower that the days might be
long enough to satisfy the needs of men. Therefore, he went over to the
northwest of the island on which he lived. This was Mt. lao, an extinct
volcano, in which lies one of the most beautiful and picturesque valleys
of the Hawaiian Islands. He climbed the ridges until he could see the
course of the sun as it passed over the island. He saw that the sun came
up the eastern side of Mt. Haleakala. He crossed over the plain between
the two mountains and climbed to the top of Mt. Haleakala. There he
watched the burning sun as it came up from Koolau and passed directly
over the top of the mountain. The summit of Haleakala is a great extinct
crater twenty miles in circumference, and nearly twenty-five hundred
feet in depth. There are two tremendous gaps or chasms in the side of
the crater wall, through which in days gone by the massive bowl poured
forth its flowing lava. One of these was the Koolau, or eastern gap, in
which Maui probably planned to catch the sun.
Hale-a-ka-la (House of the Sun)
Mt. Hale-a-ka-la of
the Hawaiian Islands means House-of-the-sun. "La," or "Ra," is the name
of the sun throughout parts of Polynesia. Ra was the sungod of ancient
Egypt. Thus the antiquities of Polynesia and Egypt touch each other, and
today no man knows the full reason thereof.
The Hawaiian legend
says Maui was taunted by a man who ridiculed the idea that he could
snare the sun, saying, "You will never catch the sun. You are only an
Maui replied, "When I
conquer my enemy and my desire is attained, I will be your death. ' '
After studying the
path of the sun, Maui returned to his mother and told her that he would
go and cut off the legs of the sun so that he could not run so fast.
His mother said: "Are
you strong enough for this work?" He said, "Yes." Then she gave him
fifteen strands of well-twisted fiber and told him to go to his
grandmother, who lived in the great crater of Haleakala, for the rest of
the things in his conflict with the sun. She said: "You must climb the
mountain to the place where a large wiliwili tree is standing.
There you will find
the place where the sun stops to eat cooked bananas prepared by your
grandmother. Stay there until a rooster crows three times; then watch
your grandmother go out to make a fire and put on food. You had better
take her bananas. She will look for them and find you and ask who you
are. Tell her you belong to Hina."
When she had taught
him all these things, he went up the mountain to Kaupo to the place Hina
had directed. There was a large wiliwili tree. Here he waited for the
rooster to crow. The name of that rooster was Kalauhele-moa. When the
rooster had crowed three times, the grandmother came out with a bunch of
bananas to cook for the sun. She took off
the upper part of the
bunch and laid it down. Maui immediately snatched it away. In a moment
she turned to pick it up, but could not find it. She was angry and cried
out: "Where are the bananas of the sun?" Then she took off another part
of the bunch, and Maui stole that. Thus he did until all the bunch had
been taken away. She was almost blind and could not detect him by sight,
so she sniffed all around her until she detected the smell of a man. She
asked: "Who are you? To whom do you belong?" Maui replied : "I belong to
Hina." '"Why have you come ?" Maui told her, "I have come to kill the
sun. He goes so fast that he never dries the kapa Hina has beaten out."
The old woman gave a
magic stone for a battle axe and one more rope. She taught him how to
catch the sun, saying: "Make a place to hide here by this large wiliwili
tree. When the first leg of the sun comes up, catch it with your first
rope, and so on until you have used all your ropes. Fasten them to the
tree, then take the stone axe to strike the body of the sun."
Maui dug a hole among
the roots of the tree and concealed himself. Soon the first ray of light
the first leg of the sun came up along the mountain side. Maui threw his
rope and caught it. One by one the legs of the sun came over the edge of
the crater's rim and were caught. Only one long leg was still hanging
down the side of the mountain. It was hard for the sun to move that leg.
It shook and trembled and tried hard to come up. At last it crept over
the edge and was caught by Maui with the rope given by his grandmother.
When the sun saw that
his sixteen long legs were held fast in the ropes, he began to go back
down the mountain side into the sea. Then Maui tied the ropes fast to
the tree and pulled until the body of the sun came up again. Brave Maui
caught his magic stone club or axe, and began to strike and wound the
sun, until he cried:
"Give me my life."
"If you live, you may
be a traitor. Perhaps I had better kill you."
But the sun begged
for life. After they had conversed a while, they agreed that there
should be a regular motion in the journey of the sun. There should be
longer days, and yet half the time he might go quickly as in the winter
time, but the other half he must move slowly as in summer. Thus men
dwelling on the earth should be blessed.
Another legend says
that he made a lasso and climbed to the summit of Mt. Haleakala. He made
ready his lasso, so that when the sun came up the mountain side and rose
above him he could cast the noose and catch the sun, but he only snared
one of the sun's larger rays and broke it off. Again and again he threw
the lasso until he had broken off all the strong rays of the sun.
Then he shouted
exultantly, "Thou art my captive; I will kill thee for going so
Then the sun said,
"Let me live and thou shalt see me go more slowly hereafter. Behold,
hast thou not broken off all my strong legs and left me only the weak
So the agreement was
made, and Maui permitted the sun to pursue his course, and from that day
he went more slowly.
Maui returned from
his conflict with the sun and sought for Moemoe, the man who had
ridiculed him. Maui chased this man around the island from one side to
the other until they had passed through Lahaina (one of the first
mission stations in 1828). There on the seashore near the large black
rock of the legend of Maui lifting the sky he found Moemoe. Then they
left the seashore and the contest raged up hill and down until Maui slew
the man and "changed the body into a long rock, which is there to this
day, by the side of the road going past Black Rock."
Before the battle
with the sun occurred Maui went down into the underworld, according to
the New Zealand tradition, and remained a long time with his relatives.
In some way he learned that there was an enchanted jawbone in the
possession of some one of his ancestors, so he waited and waited, hoping
that at last he might discover it.
After a time he
noticed that presents of food were being sent away to some person whom
he had not met.
One day he asked the
messengers, "Who is it you are taking that present of food to?"
The people answered,
"It is for Muri, your ancestress."
Then he asked for the
food, saying, "I will carry it to her myself."
But he took the food
away and hid it. "And this he did for many days," and the presents
failed to reach the old woman.
By and by she
suspected mischief, for it did not seem as if her friends would neglect
her so long a time, so she thought she would catch the tricky one and
eat him. She depended upon her sense of smell to detect the one who had
troubled her. As Sir George Grey tells the story: "When Maui came along
the path carrying the present of food, the old chiefess sniffed and
sniffed until she was sure that she smelt some one coming. She was very
much exasperated, and
her stomach began to
distend itself that she might be ready to devour this one when he came
Then she turned
toward the south and sniffed and not a scent of anything reached her.
Then she turned to the north, and to the east, but could not detect the
odor of a human being. She made one more trial and turned toward the
west. Ah! then came the scent of a man to her plainly and she called out
'I know, from the smell wafted to 'me by the breeze, that somebody is
close to me.' "
Maui made known his
presence and the old woman knew that he was a descendant of hers, and
began immediately to
shrink and contract itself again.
Then she asked, "Art
He answered, "Even
so," and told her that he wanted "the jaw-bone by which great
enchantments could be wrought.”
Then Muri, the old
chiefess, gave him the magic bone and he returned to his brothers, who
were still living on the earth.
Then Maui said: "Let
us now catch the sun in a noose that we may compel him to move more
slowly in order that mankind may have long days to labor in and procure
subsistence for themselves."
They replied, "No man
can approach it on account of the fierceness of the heat."
According to the
Society Island legend, his mother advised him to have nothing to do with
the sun, who was a divine living creature, "in form like a man,
possessed of fearful energy," shaking his golden locks both morning and
evening in the eyes of men. Many persons had tried to regulate the
movements of the sun, but had failed completely.
But Maui encouraged
his mother and his brothers by asking them to remember his power to
protect himself by the use of enchantments.
The Hawaiian legend
says that Maui himself gathered cocoanut fibre in great quantity and
manufactured it into strong ropes. But the legends of other islands say
that he had the aid of his brothers, and while working learned many
useful lessons. While winding and twisting they discovered how to make
square ropes and flat ropes as well as the ordinary round rope. In the
Society Islands, it is said, Maui and his brothers made six strong ropes
of great length. These he called aeiariki (royal nooses).
The New Zealand
legend says that when Maui and his brothers had finished making all the
ropes required they took provisions and other things needed and
journeyed toward the east to find the place where the sun should rise.
Maui carried with him the magic jaw-bone which he had secured from Muri,
his ancestress, in the under-world.
They travelled all
night and concealed themselves by day so that the sun should not see
them and become too suspicious and watchful. In this way they journeyed,
until "at length they had gone very far to the eastward and had come to
the very edge of the place out of which the sun rises. There they set to
work and built on each side a long, high wall of clay, with huts of
boughs of trees at each end to hide themselves in."
Here they laid a
large noose made from their ropes and Maui concealed himself on one side
of this place along which the sun must come, while his brothers hid on
the other side.
Maui seized his magic
enchanted jaw-bone as the weapon with which to fight the sun, and
ordered his brothers to pull hard on the noose and not to be frightened
or moved to set the sun free.
"At last the sun came
rising up out of his place like a fire spreading far and wide over the
mountains and forests.
He rises up.
His head passes
through the noose.
The ropes are pulled
Then the monster
began to struggle and roll himself about, while the snare jerked
backwards and forwards as he struggled. Ah! was not he held fast in the
ropes of his enemies.
Then forth rushed
that bold hero Maui with his enchanted weapon. The sun screamed aloud
and roared. Maui struck him fiercely with many blows. They held him for
a long time. At last they let him go, and then weak from wounds the sun
crept very slowly and feebly along his course."
In this way the days
were made longer so that men could perform their daily tasks and fruits
and food plants could have time to grow.
The legend of the
Hervey group of islands says that Maui made six snares and placed them
at intervals along the path over which the sun must pass. The sun in the
form of a man climbed up from Avaiki (Hawaiki). Maui pulled the first
noose, but it slipped down the rising sun until it caught and was pulled
tight around his feet.
Maui ran quickly to
pull the ropes of the second snare, but that also slipped down, down,
until it was tightened around the knees. Then Maui hastened to the third
snare, while the sun was trying to rush along on his journey. The third
snare caught around the hips. The fourth snare fastened itself around
the waist. The fifth slipped under the arms, and yet the sun sped along
as if but little inconvenienced by Maui's efforts.
Then Maui caught the
last noose and threw it around the neck of the sun, and fastened the
rope to a spur of rock. The sun struggled until nearly strangled to
death and then gave up, promising Maui that he would go as slowly as was
desired. Maui left the snares fastened to the sun to keep him in
"These ropes may
still be seen hanging from the sun at dawn and stretching into the skies
when he descends into the ocean at night. By the assistance of these
ropes he is gently let down into Ava-iki in the evening, and also raised
up out of shadow-land in the morning."
Another legend from
the Society Islands is related by Mr. Gill:
Maui tried many
snares before he could catch the sun. The sun was the Hercules, or the
Samson, of the heavens. He broke the strong cords of cocoanut fibre
which Maui made and placed around the opening by which the sun climbed
out from the under-world. Maui made stronger ropes, but still the sun
broke them every one.
Then Maui thought of
his sister's hair, the sister Inaika, whom he cruelly treated in later
years. Her hair was long and beautiful. He cut off some of it and made a
strong rope. With this he lassoed or rather snared the sun, and caught
him around the throat. The sun quickly promised to be more thoughtful of
the needs of men and go at a more reasonable pace across the sky.
A story from the
American Indians is told in Hawaii's Young People, which is very similar
to the Polynesian legends.
An Indian boy became
very angry with the sun for getting so warm and making his clothes
shrink with the heat. He told his sister to make a snare. The girl took
sinews from a large deer, but they shriveled under the heat. She took
her own long hair and made snares, but they were burned in a moment.
Then she tried the fibres of various plants and was successful. Her
brother took the fibre cord and drew it through his lips. It stretched
and became a strong red cord. He pulled and it became very long. He went
to the place of sunrise, fixed his snare, and caught the sun. When the
sun had been sufficiently punished, the animals of the earth studied the
problem of setting the sun free. At last a mouse as large as a mountain
ran and gnawed the red cord. It broke and the sun moved on, but the poor
mouse had been burned and shriveled into the small mouse of the present
A Samoan legend says
that a woman living for a time with the sun bore a child who had the
name " Child of the Sun." She wanted gifts for the child's marriage, so
she took a long vine, climbed a tree, made the vine into a noose,
lassoed the sun, and made him give her a basket of blessings.
In Fiji, the natives
tie the grasses growing on a hilltop over which they are passing, when
traveling from place to place. They do this to make a snare to catch the
sun if he should try to go down before they reach the end of their day's
This legend is a
misty memory of some time when the Polynesian people .were in contact
with the short days of the extreme north or south. It is a very
remarkable exposition of a fact of nature perpetuated many centuries in
lands absolutely free from such natural phenomena.
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