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Legends of Maui, A Demi-God of Polynesia, by W. D. Westervelt, [1910], at



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 drive 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 calabash, 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 traveler 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 raw 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 the sea.

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 proper place.

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 Langi (sky) was separated from, Papa (earth).

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.

Rongo (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 (Maui Kiikii), 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."

The Manihiki 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 occupied."

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 heavens,
O, Ru!
And let the space be clear."

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, incantations and offerings of food would be made to it."

Thus, according to different Polynesian legends, Maui raised the sky and made the earth inhabitable for his fellow-men.

Next: IV. Maui Snaring the Sun