Legends of Maui, A Demi-God of Polynesia, by W. D. Westervelt, , at sacred-texts.com
ACCORDING to the New Zealand legends there were six Mauis-the Hawaiians counted four. They were a band of brothers. The older five were known as "the forgetful Mauis." The tricky and quick-witted youngest member of the family was called Maui te atamai-"Maui the skillful."
He was curiously accounted for in the New Zealand under-world. When he went down through the long cave to his ancestor's home to find fire, he was soon talked about. "Perhaps this is the man about whom so much is said in the upper-world." His ancestress from whom be obtained fire recognized him as the man called "the deceitful Maui." Even his parents told him once, "We know you are a tricky fellow-more so than any other man." One of the New Zealand fire legends while recording his flight to the under-world and his appearance as a bird, says: "The men tried to spear him, and to catch him in nets. At last they cried out, 'Maybe you are the man whose fame is great in the upper-world.' At once he leaped to the ground and appeared in the form of a man."
He was not famous for inventions, but he was always ready to improve upon anything which was already in existence. He could take the sun in hand and make it do better work. He could tie the moon so that it had to swim back around the island to the place in the ocean from which it might rise again, and go slowly through the night.
His brothers invented a slender, straight and smooth spear with which to kill birds. He saw the fluttering, struggling birds twist themselves off the smooth point and escape. He made a good light bird spear and put notches in it and kept most of the birds stuck. His brothers finally examined his spear and learned the reason for its superiority. In the same way they learned how to spear fish. They could strike and wound and sometimes kill--but they could not with their smooth spears draw the fish from the waters of the coral caves. But Maui the youngest made barbs, so that the fish could not easily shake themselves loose. The others soon made their spears like his.
The brothers were said to have invented baskets in which to trap eels, but many eels escaped. Maui improved the basket by secretly making an inside partition as well as a cover, and the eels were securely trapped. It took the brothers a long time to learn the real difference between their baskets and his. One of the family made a basket like his and caught many eels. Then Maui became angry and chanted a curse over him and bewildered him, then changed him into a dog.
The Manahiki Islanders have the legend that Maui made the moon, but could not get good light from it. He tried experiments and found that the sun was quite an improvernent. The sun's example stimulated the moon to shine brighter.
Once Maui became interested in tattooing and tried to make a dog look better by placing dark lines around the mouth. The legends say that one of the sacred birds saw the pattern and then marked the sky with the red lines sometimes seen at sunrise and sunset. An Hawaiian legend says that Maui tattooed his arm with a sacred name and thus that arm was strong enough to hold the sun when he lassoed it. There is a New Zealand legend in which Maui is made one of three gods who first created man and then woman from one of the man's ribs.
The Hawaiians dwelling in Hilo have many stories of Maui. They say that his home was on the northern bank of the Wailuku River. He had a strong staff made from, an ohia tree (the native apple tree). With this he punched holes through the lava, making natural bridges and boiling pools, and new channels for its sometimes obstructed waters, so that the people could go up or down the river more easily. Near one of the natural bridges is a figure of the moon carved in the rocks, referred by some of the natives to Maui.
Maui is said to have taught his brothers the different kinds of fish nets and the use of the strong fibre of the olona, which was much better than cocoanut threads.
The New Zealand stories relate the spear-throwing contests of Maui and his brothers. As children, however, they were not allowed the use of wooden spears. They took the stems of long, heavy reeds and threw them at each other, but Maui's reeds were charmed into stronger and harder fibre so that he broke his mother's house and made her recognize him as one of her children. He had been taken away as soon as he was born by the gods to whom he was related. When he found his way back home his mother paid no attention to him. Thus by a spear thrust he won a horne.
The brothers all made fish hooks, but Maui the youngest made two kinds of hooks-one like his brothers' and one with a sharp barb. His brothers' hooks were smooth so that it was difficult to keep the fish from floundering and shaking themselves off, but they noticed that the fish were held by Maui's hook better than by theirs. Maui was not inclined to devote himself to hard work, and lived on his brothers as much as possible--but when driven out by his wife or his mother he would catch more fish than the other fishermen. They tried to examine his hooks, but he always changed his hooks so that they could not see any difference between his and theirs. At such times they called him the mischievous one and tried to leave him behind while they went fishing. They were, however, always ready to give him credit for his improvements. They dealt generously with him when they learned what he had really accom, plished. When they caught him with his barbed hook they forgot the past and called him "ke atamai"--the skillful.
The idea that fish hooks made from the jawbones of human beings were better than others, seemed to have arisen at first from the angle formed in the lower jawbone. Later these human fish hooks were considered sacred and therefore possessed of magic powers. The greater sanctity and power belonged to the bones which bore more especial relation to the owner. Therefore Maui's "magic hook," with which he fished up islands, was made from the jawbone of his ancestress Malmika. It is also said that in order to have powerful hooks for every-day fishing he killed two of his children. Their right eyes he threw tip into the sky to become stars. One became the morning and the other the evening star.
The idea that the death of any members of the family must not stand in the way of obtaining magical power, has prevailed throughout Polynesia. From this angle in the jawbone Maui must have conceived the idea of making a hook with a piece of bone or shell which should be fastened to the large bone at a very sharp angle, thus making a kind of barb. Hooks like this have been made for ages among the Polynesians.
Maui and his brothers went fishing for eels with bait strung on the flexible rib of a cocoanut leaf. The stupid brothers did not fasten the ends of the string. Therefore the eels easily slipped the bait off and escaped. But Maui made the ends of his string fast, and captured many eels.
The little things which others did not think about were the foundation of Maui's fame. Upon these little things he built his courage to snare the sun and seek fire for mankind.
In a New Zealand legend, quoted by Edward Tregear, Maui is called Maui-maka-walu, or "Maui with eyes eight." This eight-eyed Maui would be allied to the Hindoo deities who with their eight eyes face the four quarters of the world-thus possessing both insight into the affairs of men and foresight into the future.
Fornander, the Hawaiian ethnologist, says: "In Hawaiian mythology, Kamapuaa, the demigod opponent of the goddess Pele, is described as having eight eyes and eight feet; and in the legends Maka-walu, 'eight-eyed,' is a frequent epithet of gods and chiefs." He notes this coincidence with the appearance of some of the principal Hindoo deities as having some bearing upon the origin of the Polynesians. It may be that a comparative study of the legends of other islands of the Pacific by some student will open up other new and important facts.
In Tahiti, on the island Raiatea, a high priest or prophet lived in the long, long ago. He was known as Maui the prophet of Tahiti. He was probably not Maui the demigod. Nevertheless he was represented as possessing very strange prophetical powers.
According to the historian Ellis, who previous to 1830 spent eight years in the Society and Hawaiian Islands, this prophet Maui clearly prophesied the coming of an outriggerless canoe from some foreign land. An outrigger is a log which so balances a canoe that it can ride safely through the treacherous surf.
The chiefs and prophets charged him with stating the impossible.
He took his wooden calabash and placed it in a pool of water as an illustration of the way such a boat should float.
Then with the floating bowl before him he uttered the second prophecy, that boats without line to tie the sails to the masts, or the masts to the ships, should also come to Tahiti.
When English ships under Captain Wallis and Captain Cook, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, visited these islands, the natives cried out, "O the canoes of Maui--the outriggerless canoes."
Passenger steamships, and the men-of-war from the great nations, have taught the Tahitians that boats without sails and masts can cross the great ocean, and again they have recurred to the words of the prophet Maui, and have exclaimed, "O the boats without sails and masts." This rather remarkable prophecy could easily have occurred to Maui as he saw a wooden calabash floating over rough waters.
Maui's improvement upon nature's plan in regard to certain birds is also given in the legends as a proof of his supernatural powers.
White relates the story as follows: "Maui requested some birds to go and fetch water for him. The first one would not obey, so he threw it into the water. He requested another bird to go-and it refused, so he threw it into the fire, and its feathers were burnt. But the next bird obeyed, but could not carry the water, and he rewarded it by making the feathers of the fore part of its head white. Then he asked another bird to go, and it filled its ears with water and brought it to Maui, who drank, and then pulled the bird's legs and made them long in payment for its act of kindness."
Diffenbach says: "Maui, the Adam of New Zealand, left the cat's cradle to the New Zealanders as an inheritance." The name "Whai" was given to the game. It exhibited the various steps of creation according to Maori mythology. Every change in the cradle shows some act in creation. Its various stages were called "houses." Diffenbach says again: "In this game of Maui they are great proficients. It is a game like that called cat's cradle in Europe. It is intimately connected with their ancient traditions and in the different figures which the cord is made to assume whilst held on both hands, the outline of their different varieties of houses, canoes or figures of men and women are imagined to be represented." One writer connects this game with witchcraft, and says it was brought from the under-world. Some parts of the puzzle show the adventures of Maui, especially his attempt to win immortality for men.
In New Zealand it was said Maui found a large, fine-grained stone block, broke it in pieces, and from the fragments learned how to fashion stone implements.
White also tells the New Zealand legend of Maui and the winds.
"Maui caught and held all the winds save the west wind. He put each wind into a cave, so that it might not blow. He sought in vain for the west wind, but could not find from whence it came. If he had found the cave in which it stayed he would have closed the entrance to that cave with rocks. When the west wind blows lightly it is because Maui has got near to it, and has nearly caught it, and it has gone into its home, the cave, to escape him. When the winds of the south, east, and north blow furiously it is because the rocks have been removed by the stupid people who could not learn the lessons taught by Maui. At other times Maui allows these winds to blow in hurricanes to punish that people, and also that he may ride on these furious winds in search of the west wind."
In the Hawaiian legends Maui is represented as greatly interested in making and flying kites. His favorite place for the sport was by the boiling pools of the Wailuku river near Hilo. He had the winds under his control and would call for them to push his kites in the direction he wished. His incantation calling up the winds is given in this Maui proverb-
"Strong wind come,
Soft wind come."
White in his "Ancient History of the Maoris," relates some of Maui's experiences with the people whom he found on the islands brought up from the under-world. On one island he found a sand house with eight hundred gods living in it. Apparently Maui discovered islands with inhabitants, and was reported to have fished them up out of the depths of the ocean. Fishing was sailing over the ocean until distant lands were drawn near or "fished up."
Maui walked over the islands and found men living on them and fires burning near their homes. He evidently did not know much about fire, for he took it in his hands. He was badly burned and rushed into the sea. Down he dived under the cooling waters and came up with one of the New Zealand islands on his shoulders. But his hands were still burning, so wherever he held the island it was set on fire.
These fires are still burning in the secret recesses of the volcanoes, and sometimes burst out in flowing lava. Then Maui paid attention to the people whom he had fished up. He tried to teach them, but they did not learn as he thought they should. He quickly became angry and said, "It is a waste of light for the sun to shine on such stupid people." So he tried to hold his hands between them and the sun, but the rays of the sun were too many and too strong; there fore, he could not shut them out. Then he tried the moon and managed to make it dark a part of the time each month. In this way he made a little trouble for the stupid people.
There are other hints in the legends concerning Maui's desire to be revenged upon any one who incurred his displeasure. It was said that Maui for a time lived in the heavens above the earth. Here he had a foster brother Maru. The two were cultivating the fields. Maru sent a snowstorm over Maui's field. (It would seem as if this might be a Polynesian memory of a cold land where their ancestors knew the cold winter, or a lesson learned from the snow-caps of high mountains.) At any rate, the snow blighted Maui's crops. Maui retaliated by praying for rain to destroy Maru's fields. But Maru managed to save a part of his crops. Other legends make Maui the aggressor. At the last, however, Maui became very angry. The foster parents tried to soothe the two men by saying, "Live in peace with each other and do not destroy each other's food." But Maui was implacable and lay in wait for his foster brother, who was in the habit of carrying fruit and grass as an offering to the gods of a temple situated on the summit of a hill. Here Maui killed Maru and then went away to the earth.
This legend is told by three or four different, tribes of New Zealand and is very similar to the Hebrew story of Cain and Abel. At this late day it is difficult to say definitely whether or not it owes its origin to the early touch of Christianity upon New Zealand when white men first began to live with the natives. It is somewhat similar to stories found in the Tonga Islands and also in the Hawaiian group, where a son of the first gods, or rather of the first men, kills a brother. In each case there is the shadow of the Biblical idea. It seems safe to infer that such legends are not entirely drawn from contact with Christian civilization. The natives claim that these stories are very ancient, and that their fathers knew them before the white men sailed on the Pacific.