Legends of Maui, A Demi-God of Polynesia, by W. D. Westervelt, , at sacred-texts.com
"Maui became restless and fought the sun
With a noose that he laid.
And winter won the sun,
And summer was won by Maui."
--Queen Liliuokalani's family chant.
A VERY unique legend is found among the widely-scattered Polynesians. The story of Maui's "Snaring the Sun" was told among the Maoris of New Zealand, the Kanakas of the Hervey and Society Islands, and the ancient natives of Hawaii. The Samoans tell the same story without mentioning the name of Maui. They say that the snare was cast by a child of the sun itself.
The Polynesian stories of the origin of the sun are worthy of note before the le end of the change from short to long days is given.
The Tongan Islanders, according to W. W. Gill, tell the story of the origin of the sun and moon. They say that Vatea (Wakea) and their ancestor Tongaiti quarreled concerning a child--each claiming it as his own. In the struggle the child was cut in two. Vatea squeezed and rolled the part he secured into a ball and threw it away, far up into the heavens, where it became the sun. It shone brightly as it rolled along the heavens, and sank down to Avaiki (Hawaii), the nether world. But the ball came back again and once more rolled across the sky. Tonga-iti had let his half of the child fall on the ground and lie there, until made envious by the beautiful ball Vatea made.
At last he took the flesh which lay on the ground and made it into a ball. As the sun sank he threw his ball up into the darkness, and it rolled along the heavens, but the blood had drained out of the flesh while it lay upon the ground, therefore it could not become so red and burning as the sun, and had not life to move so swiftly. It was as white as a dead body, because its blood was all gone; and it could not make the darkness flee away as the sun had done. Thus day and night and the sun and moon always remain with the earth.
The legends of the Society Islands say that a demon in the west became angry with the sun and in his rage ate it up, causing night. In the same way a demon from the east would devour the moon, but for some reason these angry ones could not destroy their captives and were compelled to open their mouths and let the bright balls come forth once more. In some places a sacrifice of some one of distinction was needed to placate the wrath of the devourers and free the balls of light in times of eclipse.
The moon, pale and dead in appearance, moved slowly; while the sun, full of life and strength, moved quickly. Thus days were very short and nights were very long. Mankind suffered from the fierceness of the heat of the sun and also from its prolonged absence. Day and night were alike a burden to men. The darkness was so great and lasted so long that fruits would not ripen.
After Maui had succeeded in throwing the heavens into their place, and fastening them so that they could not fall, he learned that he had opened a way for the sun-god to come up from the lower world and rapidly run across the blue vault. This made two troubles for men-the heat of the sun was very great and the journey too quickly over. Maui planned to capture the sun and punish him for thinking so little about the welfare of mankind.
As Rev. A. O. Forbes, a missionary among the Hawaiians, relates, Maui's mother was troubled very much by the heedless haste of the sun. She had many kapa-cloths to make, for this was the only kind of clothing known in Hawaii, except sometimes a woven mat or a long grass fringe worn as a skirt. This native cloth was made by pounding the fine bark of certain trees with wooden mallets until the fibres were beaten and ground into a wood pulp. Then she pounded the pulp into thin sheets from which the best sleeping mats and clothes could be fashioned. These kapa cloths had to be thoroughly dried, but the days were so short that by the time she had spread out the kapa the sun had heedlessly rushed across the sky and gone down into the under-world, and all the cloth had to be gathered up again and cared for until another day should come. There were other troubles. "The food could not be prepared and cooked in one day. Even an incantation to the gods could not be chanted through ere they were overtaken by darkness."
This was very discouraging and caused great suffering, as well as much unnecessary trouble and labor. Many complaints were made against the thoughtless sun.
Maui pitied his mother and determined to make the sun go slower that the days might be long enough to satisfy the needs of men. Therefore, he went over to the northwest of the island on which he lived. This was Mt. Iao, an extinct volcano, in which lies one of the most beautiful and picturesque valleys of the Hawaiian Islands. He climbed the ridges until he could see the course of the sun as it passed over the island. He saw that the sun came up the eastern side of Mt. Haleakala. He crossed over the plain between the two mountains and climbed to the top of Mt. Haleakala. There he watched the burning sun as it came up from Koolau and passed directly over the top of the mountain. The summit of Haleakala is a great extinct crater twenty miles in circumference, and nearly twenty-five hundred feet in depth. There are two tremendous gaps or chasms in the side of the crater wall, through which in days gone by the massive bowl poured forth its flowing lava. One of these was the Koolau, or eastern gap, in which Maui probably planned to catch the sun.
Mt. Hale-a-ka-la of the Hawaiian Islands means House-of-the-sun. "La," or "Ra," is the name of the sun throughout parts of Polynesia. Ra was the sun-god of ancient Egypt. Thus the antiquities of Polynesia and Egypt touch each other, and today no man knows the full reason thereof.
The Hawaiian legend says Maui was taunted by a man who ridiculed the idea that he could snare the sun, saying, "You will never catch the sun. You are only an idle nobody."
Maui replied, "When I conquer my enemy and my desire is attained, I will be your death."
After studying the path of the sun, Maui returned to his mother and told her that he would go and cut off the legs of the sun so that he could not run so fast.
His mother said: "Are you strong enough for this work?" He said, 'Yes." Then she gave him fifteen strands of well-twisted fiber and told him to go to his grandmother, who lived in the great crater of Haleakala, for the rest of the things in his conflict with the sun. She said: "You must climb the mountain to the place where a large wiliwili tree is standing. There you will find the place where the sun stops to eat cooked bananas prepared by your grandmother.
Stay there until a rooster crows three times; then watch your grandmother go out to make a fire and put on food. You had better take her bananas. She will look for them and find you and ask who you are. Tell her you belong to Hina."
When she had taught him all these things, he went tip the mountain to Kaupo to the place Hina had directed. There was a large wiliwili tree. Here he waited for the rooster to crow. The name of that rooster was Kalauhele-moa. When the rooster had crowed three times, the grandmother came out with a bunch of bananas to cook for the sun. She took off the upper part of the bunch and laid it down. Maui immediately snatched it away. In a moment she turned to pick it up, but could not find it. She was angry and cried out: "Where are the bananas of the sun?" Then she took off another part of the bunch, and Maui stole that. Thus he did until all the bunch had been taken away. She was almost blind and could not detect him by sight, so she sniffed all around her until she detected the smell of a man. She asked--"Who are you? To whom do you belong?" Maui replied: "I belong to Hina." "Why have you come?" Maui told her, "I have come to kill the sun. He goes so fast that he never dries the tapa Hina has beaten out."
The old woman gave a magic stone for a battle axe and one more rope. She taught him how to catch the sun, saying: "Make a place to hide here by this large wiliwili tree. When the first leg of the sun comes up, catch it with your first rope, and so on until you have used all your ropes. Fasten them to the tree, then take the stone axe to strike the body of the sun."
Maui dug a hole among the roots of the tree and concealed himself. Soon the first ray of light-the first leg of the sun-came up along the mountain side. Maui threw his rope and caught it. One by one the legs of the sun came over the edge of the crater's rim and were caught. Only one long leg was still hanging down the side of the mountain. It was hard for the sun to move that leg. It shook and trembled and tried hard to come up. At last it crept over the edge and was caught by Maui with the rope given by his grandmother.
When the sun saw that his sixteen long legs were held fast in the ropes, he began to go back down the mountain side into the sea. Then Maui tied the ropes fast to the tree and pulled until the body of the sun came up again. Brave Maui caught his magic stone club or axe, and began to strike and wound the sun, until he cried: "Give me my life." Maui said: "If you live, you may be a traitor. Perhaps I had better kill you." But the sun begged for life. After they had conversed a while, they agreed that there should be a regular motion in the journey of the sun. There should be longer days, and. yet half the time he might go quickly as in the winter time, but the other half he must move slowly as in summer. Thus men dwelling on the earth should be blessed.
Another legend says that he made a lasso and climbed to the summit of Mt. Haleakala. He made ready his lasso, so that when the sun came lip the mountain side and rose above him he could cast the noose and catch the sun, but he only snared one of the sun's larger rays and broke it off. Again and again he threw the lasso until he had broken off all the strong rays of the sun.
Then he shouted exultantly, "Thou art my captive; I will kill thee for going so swiftly."
Then the sun said, "Let me live and thou shalt see me go more slowly hereafter. Behold, hast thou not broken off all my strong legs and left me only the weak ones?"
So the agreement was made, and Maui permitted the sun to pursue his course, and from that day he went more slowly.
Maui returned from his conflict with the sun and sought for Moemoe, the man who had ridiculed him. Maui chased this man around the island from one side to the other until they had passed through Lahaina (one of the first mission stations in 1828). There on the seashore near the large black rock of the legend of Maui lifting the sky he found Moemoe. Then they left the seashore and the contest raged up hill and down until Maui slew the man and "changed the body into a long rock, which is there to this day, by the side of the road going past Black Rock."
Before the battle with the sun occurred Maui went down into the underworld, according to the New Zealand tradition, and remained a long time with his relatives. In some way he learned that there was an enchanted jawbone in the possession of some one of his ancestors, so he waited and waited, hoping that at last he might discover it.
After a time he noticed that presents of food were being sent away to some person whom he had not met.
One day he asked the messengers, "Who is it you are taking that present of food to?"
The people answered, "It is for Muri, your ancestress."
Then he asked for the food, saying, "I will carry it to her myself."
But he took the food away and hid it. "And this he did for many days," and the presents failed to reach the old woman.
By and by she suspected mischief, for it did not seem as if her friends would neglect her so long a time, so she thought she would catch the tricky one and eat him. She depended upon her sense of smell to detect the one who had troubled her. As Sir George Grey tells the story: "When Maui came along the path carrying the present of food, the old chiefess sniffed and sniffed until she was sure that she smelt some one coming. She was very much exasperated, and her stomach began to distend itself that she might be ready to devour this one when he came near.
Then she turned toward the south and sniffed. and not a scent of anything reached her. Then she turned to the north, and to the cast, but could not detect the odor of a human being. She made one more trial and turned toward the west. Ah! then came the scent of a man to her plainly and she called out, 'I know, from the smell wafted to me by the breeze, that somebody is close to me.'"
Maui made known his presence and the old woman knew that he was a descendant of hers, and her stomach began immediately to shrink and contract itself again.
Then she asked, "Art thou Maui?"
He answered, "Even so," and told her that he wanted "the jaw-bone by which great enchantments could be wrought."
Then Muri, the old chiefess, gave him the magic bone and he returned to his brothers, who were still living on the earth.
Then Maui said: "Let us now catch the sun in a noose that we may compel him to move more slowly in order that mankind may have long days to labor in and procure subsistence for themselves."
They replied, "No man can approach it on account of the fierceness of the heat."
According to the Society Island legend, his mother advised him to have nothing to do with the sun, who was a divine living creature, "in form like a man, possessed of fearful energy," shaking his golden locks both morning and evening in the eyes of men. Many persons had tried to regulate the movements of the sun, but had failed completely.
But Maui encouraged his mother and his brothers by asking them to remember his power to protect himself by the use of enchantments.
The Hawaiian legend says that Maui himself gathered cocoanut fibre in great quantity and manufactured it into strong ropes. But the legends of other islands say that he had the aid of his brothers, and while working learned many useful lessons. While winding and twisting they discovered how to make square ropes and flat ropes as well as the ordinary round rope. In the Society Islands, it is said, Maui and his brothers made six strong ropes of great length. These he called aeiariki (royal nooses).
The New Zealand legend says that when Maui and his brothers had finished making all the ropes required they took provisions and other things needed and journeyed toward the east to find the place where the sun should rise. Maui carried with him the magic jaw-bone which he had secured from Muri, his ancestress, in the under-world.
They traveled all night and concealed themselves by day so that the sun should not see them and become too suspicious and watchful. In this way they journeyed, until "at length they had gone very far to the eastward and had come to the very edge of the place out of which the sun rises. There they set to work and built on each side a long, high wall of clay, with hilts of boughs of trees at each end to hide themselves in."
Here they laid a large noose made from their ropes and Maui concealed himself on one side of this place along which the sun must come, while his brothers hid on the other side.
Maui seized his magic enchanted jaw-bone as the weapon with which to fight the sun, and ordered his brothers to pull hard on the noose and not to be frightened or moved to set the sun free.
"At last the sun came rising up out of his place like a fire spreading far and wide over the mountains and forests.
He rises up.
His head passes through the noose.
The ropes are pulled tight.
Then the monster began to struggle and roll himself about, while the snare jerked backwards and forwards as he struggled. Ah! was not he held fast in the ropes of his enemies.
Then forth rushed that bold hero Maui with his enchanted weapon. The sun screamed aloud and roared. Maui struck him fiercely with many blows. They held him for a long time. At last they let him go, and then weak from wounds the sun crept very slowly and feebly along his course."
In this way the days were made longer so that men could perform their daily tasks and fruits and food plants could have time to grow.
The legend of the Hervey group of islands says that Maui made six snares and placed them at intervals along the path over which the sun must pass. The sun in the form of a man climbed up from Avaiki (Hawaiki). Maui pulled the first noose, but it slipped down the rising sun until it caught and was pulled tight around his feet.
Maui ran quickly to pull the ropes of the second snare, but that also slipped down, down, until it was tightened around the knees. Then Maui hastened to the third snare, while the sun was trying to rush along on his journey. The third snare caught around the hips. The fourth snare fastened itself around the waist. The fifth slipped under the arms, and yet the sun sped along as if but little inconvenienced by Maui's efforts.
Then Maui caught the last noose and threw it around the neck of the sun, and fastened the rope to a spur of rock. The sun struggled until nearly strangled to death and then gave up, promising Maui that he would go as slowly as was desired. Maui left the snares fastened to the sun to keep him in constant fear.
"These ropes may still be seen hanging from the sun at dawn and stretching into the skies when he descends into the ocean at night. By the assistance of these ropes he is gently let down into Ava-iki in the evening, and also raised up out of shadow-land in the morning."
Another legend from the Society Islands is related by Mr. Gill:
Maui tried many snares before he could catch the sun. The sun was the Hercules, or the Samson, of the heavens. He broke the strong cords of cocoanut fibre which Maui made and placed around the opening by which the sun climbed out from the under-world. Maui made stronger ropes, but still the sun broke them every one.
Then Maui thought of his sister's hair, the sister Inaika, whom he cruelly treated in later years. Her hair was long and beautiful. He cut off some of it and made a strong rope. With this he lassoed or rather snared the sun, and caught him around the throat. The sun quickly promised to be more thoughtful of the needs of men and go at a more reasonable pace across the sky.
A story from the American Indians is told in Hawaii's Young People, which is very similar to the Polynesian legends.
An Indian boy became very angry with the sun for getting so warm and making his clothes shrink with the heat. He told his sister to make a snare. The girl took sinews from a large deer, but they shriveled under the heat. She took her own long hair and made snares, but they were burned in a moment. Then she tried the fibres of various plants and was successful. Her brother took the fibre cord and drew it through his lips. It stretched and became a strong red cord. He pulled and it became very long. He went to the place of sunrise, fixed his snare, and caught the sun. When the sun had been sufficiently punished, the animals of the earth studied the problem of setting the sun free. At last a mouse as large as a mountain ran and gnawed the red cord. It broke and the sun moved on, but the poor mouse had been burned and shriveled into the small mouse of the present day.
A Samoan legend says that a woman living for a tinie with the sun bore a child who had the name "Child of the Sun." She wanted gifts for the child's marriage, so she took a long vine, climbed a tree, made the vine into a noose, lassoed the sun, and made him give her a basket of blessings.
In Fiji, the natives tie the grasses growing on a hilltop over which they are passing, when traveling from place to place. They do this to make a snare to catch the sun if he should try to go down before they reach the end of their day's journey.
This legend is a misty memory of some time when the Polynesian people were in contact with the short days of the extreme north or south. It is a very remarkable exposition of a fact of nature perpetuated many centuries in lands absolutely free from such natural phenomena.