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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

Some of Maui's Feats Explained

Some of Maui's Feats Explained

(23) But his exploit in noosing the sun and compelling him to go slower, and so to lengthen the day, is best attributed to the North Pacific immigrants. There would not be much difference made in the day by sailing from South Asia into Polynesia (and the episode belongs to Polynesia, and not to New Zealand alone); the migration from the north to the tropics offers a natural and easy rationale of the seemingly absurd story. The only other tribes that have this story of noosing the sun in their mythology are the North American Indians, though there are traces of it in North Germany and Hungary; and the peoples of these regions all migrated from the north. In spite of Maui's phase as a fire-bringer, that must date far back in palaeolithic times; he is best looked on as a culture-hero and migration leader of the northern element in the Polynesian race. The story of his mischievous and humorous exploits would be as welcome to the children in the households of the conquerors as it would be ready to the lips of the conquered women.

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(24) His feat in fishing the various islands out of the depths of the sea is natural to a people that lives in archipelagoes of volcanic origin, where an island may appear and disappear within a short period. But this feature belongs to Indonesia and the Japanese Archipelago alike, as it does to parts of Polynesia itself. So the story of his effort to obtain immortality for man by re-entrance into the womb of Hine-nui-te-po, or The Great Lady of Darkness, has close kinship with similar descents into Hades or hell in Greek and in Teutonic mythology. And it might have come either route, though its absence from Hindoo mythology in any comparable form might indicate that it belongs to the northern immigration.

(25) It is generally taken as a much-obliterated sun-myth, as most of those stories of descents into the darkness of the under-world are, and they are frequent in many branches of Aryan-speaking peoples. What seems especially to mark it as a sun-myth is the laughter of the piwakawaka, or pied fantail, that by waking The Great Lady of Darkness caused the failure of Maui's effort to gain immortality: he is the bird that welcomes the night. All these sun-myths have doubtless their origin in the north, where the long winter makes the coming of the sun in his strength so welcome. A tropical or even sub-tropical origin is difficult to understand; for in hot climates the sun is perhaps the greatest commonplace of life; it is ever with the inhabitants, and is no more likely to be specially singled out for beneficence than the air they breathe. The Sanskrit-speaking Aryans reached the Punjaub with Varuna, the Heavens, as the highest of their deities, and all the gods that had originated in sun-worship high in their pantheon. In India these fell gradually into the background, and the gods of the thunder and the rainshower and the storm took their place, to be thrust out in their turn by the new local gods like Vishnu and Siva.