Hawaiian Mythology
by Martha Beckwith 1940



The deeds of Maui, the well-known trickster hero of Polynesia, are reported sporadically in Hawaii, always minutely localized for each island, and centering especially about a point above Kahakuloa for West Maui, Kauiki for East Maui, a cave on the Wailuku river above Hilo for Hawaii, Waianae on Oahu, Wailua on Kauai. Most of the principal episodes of the Maui cycle found in other groups occur, but sometimes with considerable or complete variation from forms familiar in the south. The search for eternal life and the transformation of the sister-wife's lover into a dog are absent and there is no report of culture traits invented by Maui except perhaps that of the kite. Only in the Kumulipo chant is there any indication of a complete legendary cycle. That such a cycle existed in connection with the Kane-Kanaloa legend is evident from such fragments as we have. Maui is made a direct ancestor from Wakea on the Ulu line; a list of his adventures or "strifes" (ka ua) occurs in the fifteenth era of the Kumulipo. Except for a series of encounters with Kane and Kanaloa for possession of the awa drink, these correspond closely with the well-known series from the south. It is unfortunate that early collectors neglected these stories, which today have probably been much toned down from forms more nearly approaching the primitive versions obtained by Stimson from the Tuamotus, and whose connection with the mythology has been lost.

That in spite of the fragmentary and modernized form in which it survives the story is very old is evident from its wide localization. Besides the Kauiki references, the particular place is pointed out on East Maui near Kailua on the wind-ward side of Kaumakanai above the beach of Pokihale where the oven of the alae bird kupua was not long ago still visible. Not far off, the print of Maui's knee is still to be seen where he stooped to drink at a stream. The reference to Hina's cave home connects the story with an early period, as do the allusions to Kane and Kanaloa as banana eaters and kava drinkers. Maui's connection as a trickster and sorcerer with the Kane group is clearly demonstrated.

Setting aside for the moment the Kumulipo series, the following motives occur in Hawaiian versions:

(A) Mysterious birth (In every case the supernatural father is a stranger, variously named as Hina-lau-ae, Makali‘i from the heavens, "a man named Malo." The reputed father is Akalana.)

(B) Pushing up the heavens

(C) Getting fire

(D) Fishing up islands

(E) Snaring the sun

(F) Rescue of mother from water monster; wife from bat; Maui's own rescue by an owl child

(G) Death

1. Kumulipo version (after Ho‘olapa).

Waolena was the husband, Mahuie was the wife,
Akalana was the husband, Hina-a-ke-ahi was the wife,
Maui-the-firstborn was born, Maui-the-middle-child was born,
Maui-the-littlest (ki‘iki‘i) was born, Maui-of-the-loincloth was born,
Girded with the loincloth of Akalana.
Hina-of-the-fire was pregnant and bore a cock,
Hina delivered her child in the form of an egg;
She had not lived with a cock
But a cock was born to her.
The cock crowed "alala!" Hina was puzzled,
She had not lived with a man but a child was born,
A mysterious child for Hina-of-the-fire.
Kia-loa and Kia-a-ka-poko were both angry,
The brothers of Hina,
Two of the four Kia.
Maui fought, those Kia fell,
Red blood flowed from the forehead of Maui,
That was Maui's first strife.
He fetched the bunch of black-stemmed awa from Kane and Kanaloa,
That was Maui's second strife.
The third strife was the quarrel over the strainer;
The fourth was that over the bamboo of Kane and Kanaloa;
The fifth strife was that at the gathering for the wrist-turning contest.
The sixth had to do with his descent;
Maui asked who was his father,
Hina denied that he had a father,
The loincloth (malo) of Kalana was his father.
Hina-of-the-fire wanted fish;
He learned fishing; Hina commanded,
"Go fetch your father,
There is the line, the hook,
Come-here-from-the-heavens (Manai-a-ka-lani), that is the hook
For grappling the islands together, out of the ocean."
He seized the great alae bird of Hina,
The bird sister of Pimoe;
This was the seventh strife of Maui.
The mischievous kupua it was whom he hooked,
The jaw, the mouth as it opened, of Pimoe,
The fish that was lord of the island that shakes the ocean.
Pimoe was pulled ashore dead by Maui.
He had pity for Mahanauluehu,
The child of Pimoe,
Maui brought him ashore and devoured all but the tail,
Pimoe lived through his tail,
Mahanauluehu was the tail he lived through.
Kane and Kanaloa were shaken from their foundation,
With the ninth strife of Maui.
Pe‘ape‘a carried away Hina-ke-ka,
The bat god was this Pe‘ape‘a,
This was the last strife of Maui,
He scratched out the eyes of the eight-eyed bat;
The strife ended with Moemoe.
Everyone knows of the strife of Maui with the Sun,
With the loop of the snaring cord of Maui;
Summer became the Sun's,
Winter became Maui's.
He drank the muddy waters of the plain
Of Kane and Kanaloa,
Strove by trickery,
Around Hawaii, around Maui,
Around Kauai, around Oahu;
At Kahalu‘u is the afterbirth buried, at Waikane the navel string,
He died at Hakipu‘u at Kualoa, Maui-of-the-loincloth,
The famous kupua of the island, A chief indeed. 

2. East Maui versions: (A) Birth, (C) Finding fire, (D) Fishing up islands, (E) Snaring the sun. Maui is not the child of Hina by Akalana in the natural way but is begotten one day when she has a longing for seaweed, goes out to the beach at Kaanomalo to gather some, and, finding a man's loincloth on the beach, puts it on and goes to sleep. The child born from this adventure is named Maui-a-Akalana and her husband says, "We have found our lord!"

Maui's first feat is getting fire from the mud hens while they are roasting bananas. Hina teaches him to catch the littlest one. He finds them at Waianae on Oahu. Each time he approaches they scratch out the fire. When he finally succeeds in seizing the littlest mud hen she tries to put him off by naming first the taro stalk, then the ti leaf as the secret of fire. That is why these leaves have hollows today, because Maui rubbed them to try to get fire. At last the mud hen tells him that fire is in the water (wai), meaning the tree called "sacred water" (wai-mea),and shows him how to obtain it. So Maui gets fire, but he first rubs a red streak on the mud hen's head out of revenge for her trickery before letting the bird escape.

Maui's next feat is stopping the sun from moving so fast. Hina sends him to a big wiliwili tree where he finds his old blind grandmother cooking bananas and steals them one by one until she recognizes him and agrees to help him. He sits by the trunk of the tree and lassoes the sun's rays as the sun comes up. The sun pleads for life and agrees that the days shall be long in summer and short during the six winter months.

While Maui is still a child he goes fishing with his brothers and gets them to go far out to the fishing ground called Po‘o directly seaward from Kipahulu and in a line with the hill called Ka-iwi-o-Pele. Here with his hook called Manai-a-ka-lani (Come from heaven) he catches the big ulua of Pimoe. For two days they pull at it before it comes to the surface and is drawn close to the canoe. The brothers are warned not to look back. They do so. The cord breaks, and the fish vanishes. That is why the islands are not united into one. 

(B) Pushing up the heavens. The sky presses down over the earth. A man "supposed to be Maui" says to a woman that if she will give him a "drink from her gourd" [a euphemistic expression] he will push up the sky for her. She complies and the man [standing on Kauiki] thrusts the sky upward. Today, although the clouds may hang low over the mountain of Haleakala, they refrain from touching Kauiki.  

3. West Maui versions: (A) Birth. Maui is the son of Hin-alau-ae and Hina. The family lives at Makalia above Kahakuloa. While Maui is still unborn, some men out fishing see a handsome child diving from a high cliff into the sea, and they pursue. The child makes for home and returns to his mother's womb. Thus they know that a magician is to be born. 

Lanai variant. Pu‘upehe is the supernatural son of Kapokoholua the father, Kapoiliili the mother, who live on the island of Lanai, which goes at this time by the name of Ka-ulu-laau. For thirteen months Pu‘upehe lives unborn and frightens his mother by speaking to her from her womb and playing the ghost as a spirit abroad, in which form he sends fish to his father's line through his god Pua-iki and learns the arts of warfare by over-hearing an expert teaching others how to kill Pu‘upehe's father. He demands awa to chew and tobacco, both of which seem to be new customs to his parents. When he leaves his mother's body it becomes flat; when he returns it is again swollen. 

Maori variant. Whakatau, son of Apakura, is formed by the god Rongo out of Apakura's apron when she leaves it one day on the sand. Kites are seen flying in the air but no one is visible because Whakatau is under the sea. One day he comes out on shore and is pursued, but no one can catch him but his mother Apakura. 

(E) Snaring the sun. The sun goes so fast that Hina has trouble in drying her strips of bark cloth. Maui observes the sun from Wailohi and sees where it rises. He fashions strong cord of coconut fiber from Peeloko (Paeloko) at Waihee. The sun is rendered tractable and Maui then turns to punish Moemoe, who has derided his effort. Moemoe flees until overtaken north of Lahaina, where he is transformed into the long rock beside the road today. 

(F3) Maui's rescue. While Maui is away snaring the sun, his mother bears an owl-child. Maui is kind to the owl. Once he is taken prisoner and is to be offered in sacrifice at Moali‘i. Hina and the owl, hearing of his danger, follow him. The owl releases him and Hina sits down, covers him with her clothing and pretends to pick fleas. Thus he is saved. 

4. Kauai versions: (A) Birth. Hina, the mother of Maui, dreams in Kahiki of surf riding at Wailua on Kauai with a handsome man. Her brother Nu-lo-hiki turns himself into a canoe in which Hina sails to Wailua and takes for her husband the man of her dreams. This man is Makali‘i who has come from the skies, to which he returns after the birth of Maui and his eight brothers. The canoe is left at Molokua and becomes the first coconut tree on the island. Up this tree Maui climbs to visit his father.

(D) Fishing. If Maui can hook the fish Luehu on the night of Lono, he can draw the islands together. The nine alae birds (mud hens) give warning to Luehu of his approach. His mother teaches him to make an image in his place and himself hide and seize the youngest alae. The place where he catches the bird is shown in a taro patch near the navel stone of Holoholoku. He now catches the big fish, and the islands would have drawn together had he not, contrary to his mother's warning, taken into his canoe a bailer that comes floating on the water and which turns into a beautiful woman. The crowds cheer the wonder, the brothers turn to look, and the big fish escapes the hook and the islands slide apart again. 

5. Hilo (Hawaii) versions: (F1) Rescue of mother. Hina, mother of Maui, lives in a cave by the Wailuku river in Hilo on Hawaii where she beats bark cloth. While Maui is away at Aleha-ka-la (now called Hale-a-ka-la) snaring the sun, Lonokaeho (some say Kuna the eel) comes to woo her and when she refuses him he almost drowns her. She calls to Maui for help and he throws about Lono-kaeho the snares with which he has overcome the sun and turns him into a rock which stands there today. The stone image of Hina could in old days be seen with water dripping from its breasts, but a landslide has covered it. 

6. Waianae (Oahu) versions: (A) Birth. Akalana is the father, Hina-kawea the mother of Maui-a-ka-lana and his two brothers, Maui-mua, Maui-ikiiki. Maui and his mother live in a cave on the south side of Waianae on Oahu where Hina makes her tapa. The fishhook Manai-a-ka-lani, the snare with which Maui snared the sun, the places where he made his adzes, are to be seen there to this day. The father of Maui goes to Kahiki and his descendants people all the lands of the southern ocean as far as New Zealand. 

(D) Fishing. Maui-kupua, his mother and brothers live at Ulehawa, Maui and his mother in a cave called Kane-ana, in Waianae district. Maui wishes to unite the islands. His mother sends him to Ka-alae-nui-a-hina, who tells him he must hook Uniho-kahi at the fishing station of Ponaha-ke-one off Ulehawa. Maui and his brothers paddle out to the fishing ground with the hook Manai-a-ka-lani. He tells his brothers to catch the bailer (kaliu) they will see floating by, and himself takes it into the canoe. When they reach the fishing station the bailer has become transformed into a beautiful woman. She accompanies Maui's hook into the sea and bids Uniho-kahi open his mouth, as she and Maui have been disputing about the number of his teeth. When he obeys she hooks him fast. The brothers paddle. Maui bids them not look back; but they disobey, the hook comes loose, and the islands separate again.

(F2) Rescue of wife from bat. On another occasion the brothers go fishing. All catch sharks except Maui, who hooks a moi fish and an ulua. He has taken these to the heiau Lua-eha and has swallowed half of a fish, beginning at the head, when he looks up and sees Pe‘ape‘a-maka-walu (Eight-eyed bat) making off with his wife Kumulama. He drops the fish but is unable to over-take the abductor. His mother Hina sends him to his grand-father Ku-olo-kele in the land of Ke-ahu-moa, where he sees a humpbacked man coming, hurls a stone at him, and straightens out his back. The stone may be seen today at Waipahu where Ku-olo-kele hurled it. The grateful grandfather shows Maui how to fashion a bird-shaped ship (a kite) out of feathers, ti leaves, and ieie vine, in which he flies through the air to Moanaliha and sees "the houses of Limaloa" and the people gathered on the shore. The chief Pe‘ape‘a orders the strange bird brought into the house. When the chief sleeps, Maui waits until all eight eyes are closed and then cuts off the chief's head and flies away with his wife to Oahu, where he drains all eight of the bat's eyes in a cup of awa.

(G) Death. Maui goes to live in Hilo on Hawaii and makes himself unpopular with his tricks. He one day visits the home of Kane and Kanaloa and their party at Alakahi in Waipio valley and attempts to spear with a sharp stick the bananas they are roasting by the fire. He is detected and his brains dashed out. They color the side of Alakahi peak and tinge red the shrimps in the stream. A rainbow is formed of his blood. 

No comprehensive study of Maui variants can here be attempted. An interesting comparison with Stimson's findings from the Tuamotus will be useful as containing some fresh and striking similarities with Hawaiian myth, either in the Maui cycle itself or in other connections which link with it.

Tuamotus. (a) Composite version. Maui-tikitiki-a-Ataraga is the child of Ataraga by Huahega whom Ataraga seeks at her bathing place. He snares the sun; gains his real father's recognition; slays Mahuika; fishes up Tahiti and Little Tahiti; rescues Hina from Tuna the eel and, when Tuna follows with a flood, stays the water by exposing his phallus, then kills Tuna, from whose head springs the first coconut; when Peka steals Hina, he gets into the body of a golden pheasant and, flying to Peka's home, gets taken in as a pet in spite of the mother's warning, cuts off Peka's head, and flies away with Hina; transforms Hina's lover Ri, and his friend who comes to seek vengeance, into dogs; when he sees Huahega's hair turning gray, goes to exchange stomachs with Rori the sea slug in order that men may not die, but his brothers raise a shout and he vomits it up again and hence men die. 

(b) Anaa version. Maui-tikitiki (Wonder worker the vigorous) is fifth son of Ataraga and the chiefess Huahega, daughter of the magician Mahuike who controls fire, to whose home Huahega retires after the birth of her fifth son. He gains recognition by his father, seeks his mother and gains recognition by her family, but, refused by Mahuike a house like his older brothers, he kills Mahuike in a tossing contest. He snares the sun with a rope made from the hairs of his mother's head. With the help of his brothers he fishes up the land of Havaiki from the ocean bottom. He takes to wife the daughter of Tiki, who is Tuna's wife, and kills Tuna, from whose head springs the coconut tree named Niu-roa-i-Havaiki. Peka-nui (Great bat) carries off Hina and Maui changes into a snipe, follows "the road of the bird," slays Peka as in the other version, and recovers his wife. He falls ill and is told to crawl into the shell of Tupa the crab so that he may change his skin and go on living like the crab. In order to do so he must swallow Rori-tau's entrails, but as he is doing this his brothers come along and cause him to vomit them up. He turns Hina's lover Ri and Ri's friend Togio into dogs. Maui's brothers go to the sun; one is killed in the sun's heat, the other returns and Maui goes to get his brother's body (or pretends to go) to bury it in the heavens. He makes his marae tapu while pretending absence on an errand to the sun, so that he may enjoy, without his mother's knowledge, the two girls (from the heavens), the Dawn-maid and the Maid-of-the-Moon. He sends home the Dawn-maid but keeps the Maid-of-the-Moon as his wife. 

All the familiar incidents of the Polynesian Maui cycle except that of pushing up the sky are contained in these Tuamotu versions. The parallel to the Hawaiian story of Maui and the eight-eyed bat is very close. The incident in the Tuamotu story of the religious tapu imposed in order to conceal an amorous affair is to be compared with the Hawaiian Wakea and Papa infidelity episode in which Wakea imposes tapu nights in order to embrace his daughter Ho‘ohoku-ka-lani. A close parallel also occurs at the conclusion of the Laieikawai romance, where the sun-god husband pretends an errand to earth in order to gratify his passion for his wife's sister. Hina-nui-a-(ka)lana is named in the chant of the birth of islands as mother of the priestly island Molokai, called Molokai-a-Hina, whom Kulu-waiea (Wakea), husband of Haumea (Papa), takes during his wife's absence. This is the Hina called Hina-kawea, says Thrum, who is named as the mother of the Maui brothers and wife of Akalana on the Ulu genealogy. The Kipahulu story of the malo, through wearing which Hina conceives the wonder child, is an obvious version of the Tuamotu story of Tiki hiding his phallus in a heap of sand in order to beget a child by Hina. The final curious scene in the Maui Tuamotu story with its allusion to the life of the crab as symbol of rebirth has also a parallel form in the Hawaiian. Kepelino writes: "According to the Hawaiian story, man lived like the crab, he came out of the first shell and lived in that soft condition until he grew hard again. Thus man lived, became old, creeping, yellow like the yellowed hala leaf, eyelashes few like a rat's, then he returned again to youth, became beautiful once more, the body grew as it had before, became old, and so on." 

Maui stories from other groups lack any reference to the "strifes" of Maui over the kava, and the killing of the Kia (post) brothers of Hina, with which the Kumulipo series opens. A close parallel occurs in the opening scenes of the legend of Iro (Hilo) from Rarotonga, not only of the assertion of rights in the kava feast but also to the mysterious birth of Maui.

Iro-ma-oata is son of Moe-tara-uri of Vavau and his cousin, the beautiful Akimano, wife of Pou-ariki of Kuporu. Moe-tarauri seeks her out during the absence of her husband and leaves her before the child is born. In their games the child shows magical powers above those of his older brothers. When they go to learn the sacred chants, he follows and gets them so readily that his teachers marvel. Hearing his teachers sigh for the good food, kava, and pig which are denied them, he takes up the spear of his real father, of whose identity he is as yet unaware, and attacks with it and kills the keepers of these foods. When his supposed father Pou(post)-ariki is angry and uses words of insult, he obtains from his mother the secret of his birth and goes forth to make himself known to Moe-tara-uri. Although Maui is not here named and Iro's further adventures have little to do with the strifes of Maui, it is to be noted that Tongan Maui stories are much concerned, like this Iro story, with encounters with monsters, such as the dragging up of a great eel and the killing of a biting tree. The Maui fishing tale from Kauiki tells of fishing up Pimoe, a legend which is handed down today in the story of Kuula, god of fishing stations, and which is evidently closely connected with the tale of Tuna the eel, husband of Hina, and with the Tuamotu Turi story. The "biting tree" uprooted by Maui, or by some other hero of the South Seas, may be the kava strife noted in the Kumulipo series.




Source: http://www.sacred-texts.com


1. Coming of the Gods
2. Ku Gods
3. The God Lono
4. The Kane Worship
5. Kane and Kanaloa
6. Mythical Lands of the Gods
7. Lesser Gods
8. Sorcery Gods
9. Guardian Gods
10. The Soul after Death
11. The Pele Myth
12. The Pele Sisters
13. Pele Legends

14. Kamapua`a
15. Hina Myths
16. Maui The Trickster
17. Aikanaka-Kaha`iI
18. Wahieloa-Laka
19.  Haumea
20. Papa and Wakea
21. Genealogies
22. Era of Overturning
23. Mu and Menehune
24. Runners, Man-Eaters, Dog Men
25. Moikeha-la`a Migration
26. Hawaiiloa and Paao
27. Ruling Chiefs
28. Usurping Chiefs
29. Kapua Stories
30. Trickster Stories
31. Voyage to the Land of the Gods
32. Riddling Contests
33. The Kana Legends
34. The Stretching-Tree Kupua
35. Romance of the Swimmer
36. Romance of the Island of Virgins
37. Romances of Match-Making
38. Romances of the Dance
39. Wooing Romances
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