[Editor's note: This article is a reprint from "Legends of Ma-Ui, a Demi God of Polynesia and of his Mother Hina" by W. D. Westervelt. It was published in 1910. ]
Maui is a demi god. 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. 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.
Rugged Lava of Wailuku River
"Akalana was the man;
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 consideration.
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 his household.
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 Hawaii 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 worshiped 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 Bua-taranga in the language of the Society Islands.
Ru, the supporter of the Heavens, married Bua-taranga, 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 worshiped 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-Tiki-Tiki, 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.
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.
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 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."
Maui'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.
Maui’s Hut and Home
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 demigods 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 "Tapa cloth." This cloth Hina prepared for the clothing of Maui and his brothers. Tapa cloth was often treated to a coat of cocoa-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 benefited mankind.
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 received.
|Revisited - Maui's Home|
|Writer:||W. D. Westervelt|
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|Letter From The Editor - Why Polynesian?|
|Rongorongo - Island Chants|
|Otto Dempwolff - Islands of Language|
|At the Cinema - Whale Rider|
|Celebrations - Pasifika Festival|
|Special Feature - Avoiuli|
|Languages in Peril - The Island Invasion|
|Revisited - Legends of Maui - Maui's Home|
|Word on the Streets - Malay Masters|
|Where Are You?|
|Revisited - Legends of Maui - Maui Snaring the Sun|
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