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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga

Fire Myth

page 85

Fire Myth

The widespread fire myth associated with the culture hero, Maui, is present in Rakahanga, but it differs somewhat from versions of other areas in that the fire was obtained from Tangaroa-tuhi-mata. According to a manuscript written by Tupou-rahi, Tangaroa-tuhi-mata was the paternal grandfather of Maui and dwelt in the underworld, Hawaiki-i-raro. The underground residence coincides with that of Mahuika in Maori myth and of Mafui'e in Samoan myth. The Rakahangan version has evidently mixed up the names of a widespread legend. Makuai-whare, unable to light her fire, sent her son Maui to his grandfather in the underworld to obtain a lighted piece of firewood (motumotu), instructing him not to go by the forbidden path (ara tapu) but by the common road (ara noa). Maui, true to the mischievous perversity with which he has been credited by all branches of the Polynesians, went by the forbidden path. Tangaroa, seeing a man approach by the path restricted to the gods, commenced to work magic. He raised his right hand, but Maui likewise raised his hand and continued to walk toward Tangaroa. Tangaroa raised his left hand and then both hands, but Maui raised both hands and kept moving. Tangaroa turned one side (koko), but Maui also turned, and approached sideways. Tangaroa turned his other side and Maui followed suit without slowing his progress. Tangaroa turned his back; Maui copied him and walked backwards toward Tangaroa. The various magical movements having failed to impede Maui's progress, Tangaroa desisted and asked Maui who he was and what he wanted. Maui informed his grandfather of their relationship and asked for a light to kindle his mother's fire. Tangaroa proceeded to generate fire while Maui held down (tomi) the lower fire stick. A piece of lighted husk was then given to Maui, who, when he was out of Tangaroa's sight, extinguished (pokia) the brand. Maui returned with the excuse that he had fallen down and accidentally put out the fire. Tangaroa told him to take the kauneti and generate the fire himself. Maui proceeded to do so, but as page 86 Tangaroa did not press down the fire stick, it moved about (hinga-hinga). Maui complained, and Tangaroa said, “Call those birds to fly hither to steady it.” (Uru atu ki na maimua, kia rere mai kia tomia.) Maui perceived two large sea birds (kakave), which, when Maui called, flew down and steadied the fire plough by standing on the far end. Maui, having successfully generated the fire, rewarded his assistants by striking them on the head with the hand stick (kaurima). One flew north and the other south, and to this day the kakave birds bear on their heads the marks (whakairo) of Maui's fire stick. After an interlude, Maui returned to his mother with the lighted husk.

A further mythical incident in the Maui exploits associates fire with the great exploit of snaring the sun. The Maoris, who were agriculturists, say that the reason for the snaring was to retard the speed of the too rapidly moving sun in order that man might have more time to cultivate food. The Rakahangan myth states that there was barely time in the course of the sun's journey across the sky to light one fire. Maui journeyed to the opening (rua) from which the sun emerged and twice snared him with ropes of sennit braid (kaha), but each time the sun broke away. The sun is referred to as “te tama nui a Hina ko te ra” (the great son of Hina was the sun). Hina was the caretaker of the opening through which the sun emerged. After his failures, Maui sought counsel with her. Her advice (wananga) was to make a snare (here) with strands of her hair (iho rauru). With the hair snare, Maui captured the sun and made the following terms before he let him go. The sun was to proceed slowly (haere maria) to enable mankind to light a morning fire (ahi popongi), a day fire (ahi awatea), and an evening fire (ahi ahiahi). The sun consented and has ever since carried out his bargain.