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The Maori As He Was : A Brief Account of Maori Life as it was in Pre-European Days

The Maui Myths

The Maui Myths

The numerous stories connected with Maui, the famed hero or demi-god of native myth, have been collected and published by the Rev. W. D. Westervelt, of Honolulu. Maui was known far and wide throughout Polynesia. He is assuredly the personified form of some phase of light, and so is connected with, or represents, life; for, in Polynesian concepts, light and life are closely connected. Apparently maui has, in the past, been a vernacular term for “life,” or some similar meaning, as witness the Maori expression whakamaui (=to regain life, to cause to live, as of a person rallying from a severe illness). Moui is but a variant form of maui, and at Niue and Tonga has the meaning of “life alive, to live.” It is quite possible that there is connection between maui and mauri in this sense, for at Rotuma the latter term means “to live,” while at Futuna tamauri means “life.” One of the gods of Egypt representing light was Moui.

In parts of Polynesia Maui is said to have been the husband of Hina (Sina in some dialects), and Hina is the personified form of the moon. He is said to have cured Hina of blindness—that is, to have restored light to the darkened moon; and this looks as if he represented the sun, or the light thereof, as did Moui of Egypt. The most important local myth connected with Maui is that in which he contends with the queen of the underworld, the ex Dawn Maid, over the question of eternal life for mankind, the abolishment of death from the world. This was primarily a contest between light and darkness, but the darkness of death triumphed, though Tane had banished its representative Whiro to the underworld.

It is a curious fact that in Maori myth we have two personified forms of the moon—Rongo and Hina—one male, the other female; though the Hawaiian version assigns both names to one being. In Babylonia the moon seems to have had three personified forms. Sin, the moon-god of Babylonia, reminds us of Sina and Hina, the moon-goddess (personified form of the moon) of Polynesia and New Zealand, though in certain dialects of Melanesia sina denotes the sun, and “to shine.”

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In the myth concerning the origin of fire we again encounter Maui. The sun desired to send a boon to mankind, hence he sent his own son, Auahi-turoa (personified form of comets), down to earth as the bearer of fire. This fire-bringer took to wife one Mahuika, said in one version to be a young sister of the Dawn Maid, and their offspring amounted to five. The names of these young folk are the names of the five fingers of the hand, and they are called the Fire Children. In far-off India, Agni, the fire-god, had ten mothers, who were the ten fingers of the hands. Maui hied him to Mahuika and craved the gift of fire for man. Mahuika, who figures as the personified form of fire, gave him one of the Fire Children (that is, one of her fingers), which she pulled off for that purpose. The deceitful Maui took this fire aside and destroyed it, then returned to beg another. This action he repeated until he asked for the last of the five fingers of Mahuika. This she plucked off and angrily threw at him, whereupon flames of fire sprang forth, and Maui fled, pursued by Fire. So hard-pressed was he that he was forced to call upon Te Ihorangi (personified form of rain) to save him. Then heavy rains came to his aid, and the raging fire was conquered. The remnants of that fire fled to the forest to seek a refuge—fled to Hine-kaikomako and sought shelter within her body. Now, this maid is the personified form of the kaikomako tree (Pennantia corymbosa), and it is the wood of this species that is utilized by the Maori for the purposes of generating fire. Thus the seed of fire ever abides within the body of Hine-kaikomako, the Fire-conserver.

Even so were the Fire Children destroyed by Maui; but those children were the offspring of the sister of Hine-nui-te-po, the ex Dawn Maid, who abides in the underworld of darkness and death. Hereto pertains another story, for Hine of the Underworld resolved to avenge the death of the Fire Children by destroying Maui, and the great contest began between that twain. She did so slay him, though one version states that he regained life.

Another feat performed by Maui was the slaying of Tuna, the so-called eel-god. Tuna had been interfering with Hina (personified form of the moon, and wife of Maui), who here appears under her name of Hina-uri, or Darkened Hina; her other name is Hina-keha, or Pale Hina. The former denotes the dark period of the moon. In studying these myths in which Tuna appears it is not necessary to attribute them to such an eel cultus as that which obtained in India, for there is some evidence in favour of the theory that in Maori myth the eel takes the place of the snake in page 45 Asiatic myths. It is, however, suggestive that Ira, the eel-god of India, is represented by a linga with a lunar crescent on its head. This preservation of the light of the moon by Maui may be compared with the Polynesian story of his restoring the sight of Hina the Blind. In some versions Hina appears as the sister of Maui.