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Legends of Maui, A Demi-God of Polynesia, by W. D. Westervelt, [1910], at



WHEN Maui returned from the voyages in which he discovered or "fished up" from the ocean depths new islands, he gave deep thought to the things he had found. As the islands appeared to come out of the water he saw they were inhabited. There were houses and stages for drying and preserving food. He was greeted by barking dogs. Fires were burning, food cooking and people working. He evidently had gone so far away from home that a strange people was found. The legend which speaks of the death of his brothers, "eaten" by the great fish drawn up from the floor of the sea, may very easily mean that the new people killed and ate the brothers.

Maui apparently learned some new lessons, for on his return he quickly established a home of his own, and determined to live after the fashion of the families in the new islands.

Maui sought Hina-a-te-lepo, "daughter of the swamp," and secured her as his wife. The New Zealand tribes tell legends which vary in different localities about this woman Hina. She sometimes bore the name Rau-kura--"The red plume."

She cared for his thatched house as any other Polynesian woman was in the habit of doing. She attempted the hurried task of cooking his food before he snared the sun and gave her sufficient daylight for her labors.

They lived near the bank of a river from which Hina was in the habit of bringing water for the household needs.

One day she went down to the stream with her calabash. She was entwined with wreaths of leaves and flowers, as was the custom among Polynesian women. While she was standing on the bank, Tuna-roa, "the long eel," saw her. He swam up to the bank and suddenly struck her and knocked her into the water and covered her with slime from the blow given by his tail.

Hina escaped and returned to her home, saying nothing to Maui about the trouble. But the next day, while getting water, she was again overthrown and befouled by the slime of Tuna-roa.

Then Hina became angry and reported the trouble to Maui.

Maui decided to punish the long eel and started out to find his hiding place. Somie of the New Zealand legends as collected by White, state that Tuna-roa was a very smooth skinned chief, who lived on the opposite bank of the stream, and, seeing Hina, had insulted her.

When Maui saw this chief, he caught two pieces of wood over which he was accustomed to slide his canoe into the sea. These he carried to the stream and laid them from bank to bank as a bridge over which he might entice Tuna-roa to cross.

Maui took his stone axe, Ma-Tori-Tori, "the severer," and concealed himself near the bank of the river.

When "the long eel" had crossed the stream, Maui rushed out and killed him with a mighty blow of the stone axe, cutting the head from the body.

Other legends say that Maui found Tuna-roa living as an eel in a deep water hole, in a swamp on the seacoast of Tata-a, part of the island Ao-tea-roa. Other stories located Tuna-roa in the river near Maui's home.

Maui saw that he could not get at his enemy without letting off the water which protected him.

Therefore into the forest went Maui, and with sacred ceremonies, selected trees from the wood of which he prepared tools and weapons.

Meanwhile, in addition to the insult given to Hina, Tuna-roa had caught and devoured two of Maui's children, which made Maui more determined to kill him.

Maui made the narrow spade (named by the Maoris of New Zealand the "ko," and by the Hawaiians "o-o") and the sharp spears, with which to pierce either the earth or his enemy. These spears and spades were consecrated to the work of preparing a ditch by which to draw off the water protecting "the long eel."

The work of trench-making was accomplished with many incantations and prayers. The ditch was named "The sacred digging," and was tabooed to all other purposes except that of catching Tuna-roa.

Across this ditch Maui stretched a strong net, and then began a new series of chants and ceremonies to bring down an abundance of rain. Soon the flood came and the overflowing waters rushed down the sacred ditch. The walls of the deep pool gave way and "the long eel" was carried down the trench into the waiting net. Then there was commotion. Tuna-roa was struggling for freedom.

Maui saw him and hastened to grasp his stone axe, "the severer." Hurrying to the net, he struck Tuna-roa a terrible blow, and cut off the head. With a few more blows, he cut the body in pieces. The head and tail were carried out into the sea. The head became fish and the tail became the great conger-eel. Other parts of the body became sea monsters. But some parts which fell in fresh water became the common eels. From the hairs of the head came certain vines and creepers among the plants.

After the death of Tuna-roa the offspring of Maui were in no danger of being killed and soon multiplied into a large family.

Another New Zealand legend related by White says that Maui built a sliding place of logs, over which Tuna-roa must pass when coming from the river.

Maui also made a screen behind which he could secrete himself while watching for Tuna-roa.

He commanded Hina to come down to the river and wait on the bank to attract Tuna-roa. Soon the long eel was seen in the water swimming near to Hina. Hina went to a place back of the logs which Maui had laid down.

Tuna-roa came towards her, and began to slide down the skids.

Maui sprang out from his hiding place and killed Tuna-roa with his axe, and cut him in pieces.

The tail became the conger-eel. Parts of his body became fresh-water eels. Some of the blood fell upon birds and always after marked them with red spots. Some of the blood was thrown into certain trees, making this wood always red. The muscles became vines and creepers.

From this time the children of Maui caught and ate the eels of both salt and fresh water. Eel traps were made, and Maui taught the people the proper chants or incantations to use when catching eels.

This legend of Maui and the long eel was found by White in a number of forms among the different tribes of New Zealand, but does not seem to have had currency in many other island groups.

In Turner's "Samoa" a legend is related which was probably derived from the Maui stories and yet differs in its romantic results. The Samoans say that among their ancient ones dwelt a woman named Sina. Sina among the Polynesians is the same as Hina--the "h" is softened into "s". She captured a small eel and kept it as a pet. It grew large and strong and finally attacked and bit her. She fled, but the eel followed her everywhere. Her father came to her assistance and raised high mountains between the eel and herself.

But the eel passed over the barrier and pursued her. Her mother raised a new series of mountains. But again the eel surmounted the difficulties and attempted to seize Sina. She broke away from him and ran on and on. Finally she wearily passed through a village. The people asked her to stay and eat with them, but she said they could only help her by delivering her from the pursuing eel. The inhabitants of that village were afraid of the eel and refused to fight for her. So she ran on to another place. Here the chief offered her a drink of water and promised to kill the eel for her. He prepared awa, a stupefying drink, and put poison in it. When the eel came along the chief asked him to drink. He took the awa and prepared to follow Sina. When he came to the place where she was the pains of death had already seized him. While dying he begged her to bury his head by her home. This she did, and in time a plant new to the islands sprang up. It became a tree, and finally produced a cocoanut, whose two eyes could continually look into the face of Sina.

Tuna, in the legends of Fiji, was a demon of the sea. He lived in a deep sea cave, into which he sometimes shut himself behind closed doors of coral. When he was hungry, he swam through the ocean shadows, always watching the restless surface. When a canoe passed above him, he would throw himself swiftly through the waters, upset the canoe, and seize some of the boatmen and devour them. He was greatly feared by all the fishermen of the Fijian coasts.

Roko-a mo-o or dragon god-in his journey among the islands, stopped at a village by the sea and asked for a canoe and boatmen. The people said: "We have nothing but a very old canoe out there by the water." He went to it and found it in a very bad condition. He put it in the water, and decided that he could use it. Then he asked two men to go with him and paddle, but they refused because of fear, and explained this fear by telling the story of the water demon, who continually sought the destruction of this canoe, and also their own death. Roko encouraged them to take him to wage battle with Tuna, telling them he would destroy the monster. They paddled until they were directly over Tuna's cave. Roko told them to go off to one side and wait and watch, saying: "I am going down to see this Tuna. If you see red blood boil up through the water, you may be sure that Tuna has been killed. If the blood is black, then you will know that he has the victory and I am dead."

Roko leaped into the water and went down-down to the door of the cave. The coral doors were closed. He grasped them in his strong hands and tore them open, breaking them in pieces. Inside he found cave after cave of coral, and broke his way through until at last he awoke Tuna. The angry demon cried: "Who is that?" Roko answered: "It is I, Roko, alone. Who are you?"

Tuna aroused himself and demanded Roko's business and who guided him to that place. Roko replied: "No one has guided me. I go from place to place, thinking that there is no one else in the world."

Tuna shook himself angrily. "Do you think I am nothing? This day is your last."

Roko replied: "Perhaps so. If the sky falls, I shall die."

Tuna leaped upon Roko and bit him. Then came the mighty battle of the coral caves. Roko broke Tuna into several pieces--and the red blood poured in boiling bubbles upward through the clear ocean waters, and the boatmen cried: "The blood is red the blood is red--Tuna is dead by the hand of Roko."

Roko lived for a time in Fiji, where his descendants still find their home. The people use this chant to aid them in difficulties:

My load is a red one.
It points in front to Kawa (Roko's home).
Behind, it points to Dolomo--(a village on another island)."

In the Hawaiian legends, Hina was Maui's mother rather than his wife, and Kuna (Tuna) was a mo-o, a dragon or gigantic lizard possessing miraculous powers.

Hina's home was in the large cave under the beautiful Rainbow Falls near the city of Hilo. Above the falls the bed of the river is along the channel of an ancient lava flow. Sometimes the water pours in a torrent over the rugged lava, sometimes it passes through underground passages as well as along the black river bed, and sometimes it thrusts itself into boiling pools.

Maui lived on the northern side of the river, but a chief named Kuna-moo-a dragon-lived in the boiling pools. He attacked Hina and threw a dam across the river below Rainbow Falls, intending to drown Hina in her cave. The great ledge of rock filled the river bed high up the bank on the Hilo side of the river. Hina called on Maui for aid. Maui came quickly and with mighty blows cut out a new channel for the river--the path it follows to this day. The waters sank and Hina remained unharmed in her cave.

The place where Kuna dwelt was called Wai-kuna -the Kuna water. The river in which Hina and Kuna dwelt bears the name Wailuku--"the destructive water." Maui went above Kuna's home and poured hot water into the river. This part of the myth could easily have arisen from a lava outburst on the side of the volcano above the river. The hot water swept in a flood over Kuna's home. Kuna jumped from the boiling pools over a series of small falls near his home into the river below. Here the hot water again scalded him and in pain he leaped from the river to the bank, where Maui killed him by beating him with a club. His body was washed down the river over the falls under which Hina dwelt, into the ocean.

The story of Kuna or Tuna is a legend with a foundation in the enmity between two chiefs of the long ago, and also in a desire to explain the origin of the family of eels and the invention of nets and traps.

Next: VIII. Maui and His Brother-In-Law