Polynesian Mythology

Date: 1855

Show Summary




Men had but one pair of primitive ancestors; they sprang from the vast heaven that exists above us, and from the earth which lies beneath us. According to the traditions of our race, Rangi, and Papa, or Heaven and Earth, were the source from which in the beginning all things originated. Darkness then rested upon the heaven and upon the earth, and they still both clave together, for they had not yet been rent apart; and the children they had begotten were ever thinking amongst themselves what might be the difference between darkness and light; they knew that beings had multiplied and increased, and yet light had never broken upon them, but it ever continued dark. Hence these sayings are found in our ancient religious services: "There was darkness from the first division of time, unto the tenth, to the hundredth, to the thousandth," that is, for a vast space of time; and these divisions of time were as beings, and were each termed a Po; and on their account there was as yet no world with its bright light, but darkness only for the beings which existed.

At last the beings who had been begotten by Heaven and Earth, worn out by the continued darkness, consulted amongst themselves, saying: "Let us now determine what we should do with Rangi and Papa, whether It would be better to slay them or to rend them apart." Then spoke Tumatauenga, the fiercest of the children of Heaven and Earth: "It is well, let us slay them."

Then spake Tane-mahuta, the father of forests and of all things that inhabit them, or that are constructed from trees: "Nay, not so. It is better to rend them apart, and to let the heaven stand far above us, and the earth lie under our feet. Let the sky become as a stranger to us, but the earth remain close to us as our nursing mother."

The brothers all consented to this proposal, with the exception of Tawhiri-ma-tea, the father of winds and storms, and he, fearing that his kingdom was about to be overthrown, grieved greatly at the thought of his parents being torn apart. Five of the brothers willingly consented to the separation of their parents, but one of them would not agree to it.

Hence, also, these sayings of old are found in our prayers: "Darkness, darkness, light, light, the seeking, the searching, in chaos, in chaos"; these signified the way in which the offspring of heaven and earth sought for some mode of dealing with their parents, so that human beings might increase and live.

So, also, these sayings of old time, "The multitude, the length," signified the multitude of the thoughts of the children of Heaven and Earth, and the length of time they considered whether they should slay their parents, that human beings might be called into existence; for it was in this manner that they talked and consulted amongst themselves.

But at length, their plans having been agreed on, lo, Rongo-ma-tane, the god and father of the cultivated food of man, rises up, that he may rend apart the heavens and the earth; he struggles, but he rends them not apart. Lo, next, Tangaroa, the god and father of fish and reptiles, rises up, that he may rend apart the heavens and the earth; he also struggles, but he rends them not apart. Lo, next, Haumia-tikitiki, the god and father of the food of man which springs without cultivation, rises up and struggles, but ineffectually. Lo, then, Tu-matauenga, the god and father of fierce human beings, rises up and struggles, but he, too, fails in his efforts. Then at last, slowly uprises Tane-mahuta, the god and father of forests, of birds, and of insects, and he struggles with his parents; in vain he strives to rend them apart with his hands and arms. Lo, he pauses: his head is now firmly planted on his mother the earth, his feet he raises up and rests against his father the skies, he strains his back and limbs with mighty effort. Now are rent apart Rangi and Papa, and with cries and groans of woe they shriek aloud: "Wherefore slay you thus your parents? Why commit you so dreadful a crime as to slay us, as to rend your parents apart?" But Tane-mahuta pauses not, he regards not their shrieks and cries; far, far beneath him he presses down the earth; far, far above him he thrusts up the sky,

Hence these sayings of olden times: "It was the fierce thrusting of Tane which tore the heaven from the earth, so that they were rent apart, and darkness was made manifest, and so was the light."

No sooner was heaven rent from earth than the multitude of human beings were discovered whom they had begotten, and who had hitherto lain concealed between the bodies of Rangi and Papa.

Then, also, there arose in the breast of Tawhiri-ma-tea, the god and father of winds and storms, a fierce desire to wage war with his brothers, because they had rent apart their common parents. He from the first had refused to consent to his mother being torn from her lord and children; it was his brothers alone that wished for this separation, and desired that Papa-tu-a-nuku, or the Earth alone, should be left as a parent for them.

The god of hurricanes and storms dreads also that the world should become too fair and beautiful, so he rises, follows his father to the realm above, and hurries to the sheltered hollows in the boundless skies; there he hides and clings, and nestling in this place of rest he consults long with his parent, and as the vast Heaven listens to the suggestions of Tawhiri-ma-tea, thoughts and plans are formed in his breast, and Tawhiri-ma-tea also understands what he should do. Then by himself and the vast Heaven were begotten his numerous brood, and they rapidly increased and grew. Tawhiri-ma-tea despatches one of them to the westward, and one to the southward, and one to the eastward, and one to the northward; and he gives corresponding names to himself and to his progeny, the mighty winds.

He next sends forth fierce squalls, whirlwinds, dense clouds, massy clouds, dark clouds, gloomy thick clouds, fiery clouds, clouds which precede hurricanes, clouds of fiery black, clouds reflecting glowing red light, clouds wildly drifting from all quarters and wildly bursting, clouds of thunder storms, and clouds hurriedly flying. In the midst of these Tawhiri-ma-tea himself sweeps wildly on. Alas! Alas! then rages the fierce hurricane; and whilst Tane-mahuta and his gigantic forests still stand, unconscious and unsuspecting, the last of the breath of the mouth of Tawhiri-ma-tea smites them, the gigantic trees arc snapt off right in the middle; alas! alas! they are rent to atoms, dashed to the earth, with boughs and branches torn and scattered, and lying on the earth, trees and branches all alike left for the insect, for the grub, and for loathsome rottenness.

From the forests and their inhabitants Tawhiri-ma-tea next swoops down upon the seas, and lashes in his wrath the ocean. Ah! ah! waves steep as cliffs arise, whose summits are so lofty that to look from them would make the beholder giddy; these soon eddy in whirlpools, and Tan-garoa, the god of ocean, and father of all that dwell therein, flies affrighted through his seas; but before he fled, his children consulted together how they might secure their safety, for Tangaroa had begotten Punga, and he had begotten two children, Ika-tere, the father of fish, and Tu-te-wehiwehi, or Tu-te-wanawana, the father of reptiles.

When Tangaroa fled for safety to the ocean, then Tu-te-wehiwehi and Ika-tere, and their children, disputed together as to what they should do to escape from the storms, and Tu-te-wehiwehi and his party cried aloud: "Let us fly inland;" but Ika-tere and his party cried aloud: "Let us fly to the sea." Some would not obey one order, some would not obey the other, and they escaped in two parties: the party of Tu-te-wehiwehi, or the reptiles, hid themselves ashore; the party of Punga rushed to the sea. This is what, in our ancient religious services, is called the separation of Tawhiri-ma-tea.

Hence these traditions have been handed down: "Ika-tere, the father of things which inhabit water, cried aloud to Tu-te-wehiwehi: ’Ho, ho, let us all escape to the sea.’"

"But Tu-te-wehiwehi shouted in answer: ’Nay, nay, let us rather fly inland.’"

"Then Ika-tere warned him, saying, ’Fly inland, then; and the fate of you and your race will be, that when they catch you, before you are cooked, they will singe off your scales over a lighted wisp of dry fern.’"

"But Tu-te-wehiwehi answered him, saying: ’Seek safety, then, in the sea; and the future fate of your race will be, that when they serve out little baskets of cooked vegetable food to each person, you will be laid upon the top of the food to give a relish to it.’"

"Then without delay these two races of beings separated. The fish fled in confusion to the sea, the reptiles sought safety in the forests and shrubs."

Tangaroa, enraged at some of his children deserting him, and, being sheltered by the god of the forests on dry land, has ever since waged war on his brother Tane, who, in return, has waged war against him.

Hence Tane supplies the offspring of his brother To-matauenga with canoes, with spears and with fish-hooks made from his trees, and with nets woven from his fibrous plants, that they may destroy the offspring of Tangaroa; whilst Tangaroa, in return, swallows up the offspring of Tane, overwhelming canoes with the surges of his sea, swallowing up the lands, trees, and houses that are swept off by floods, and ever wastes away, with his lapping waves, the shores that confine him, that the giants of the forests may be washed down and swept out into his boundless ocean, that he may then swallow up the insects, the young birds, and the various animals which inhabit them—all which things are recorded in the prayers which were offered to these gods.

Tawhiri-ma-tea next rushed on to attack his brothers Rongo-ma-tane and Haumia-tikitiki, the gods and progenitors of cultivated and uncultivated food; but Papa, to save these for her other children, caught them up, and hid them in a place of safety, and so well were these children of hers concealed by their mother Earth that Tawhiri-ma-tea sought for them in vain.

Tawhiri-ma-tea, having thus vanquished all his other brothers, next rushed against Tu-matauenga, to try his strength against his; he exerted all his force against him, but he could neither shake him or prevail against him. What did Tu-matauenga care for his brother’s wrath? He was the only one of the whole party of brothers who had planned the destruction of their parents, and had shown himself brave and fierce in war; his brothers had yielded at once before the tremendous assaults of Tawhiri-ma-tea and his progeny—Tane-mahuta and his offspring had been broken and torn in pieces—Tangaroa and his children had fled to the depths of the Ocean or the recesses of the shore—Rongo-ma-tane and Haumia-tikitiki had been hidden from him in the earth—but Tu-matauenga, or man, still stood erect and unshaken upon the breast of his mother Earth; and now at length the hearts of Heaven and of the god of storms became tranquil, and their passions were assuaged.

Tu-matauenga, or fierce man, having thus successfully resisted his brother, the god of hurricanes and storms, next took thought how he could turn upon his brothers and slay them, because they had not assisted him or fought bravely when Tawhiri-ma-tea had attached them to avenge the separation of their parents, and because they had left him alone to show his prowess in the fight. As yet death had no power over man. It was not until the birth of the children of Taranga and of Makea-tu-tara, of Maui-taha, of Maui-roto, of Maui-pae, of Maui-waho, and of Maui-tikitiki-o-Taranga, the demi-god who tried to drain Hine-nui-te-po, that death had power over men. If that goddess had not been deceived by Maui-tikitiki, men would not have died, but would in that case have lived forever; it was from his deceiving Hine-nui-te-po that death obtained power over mankind, and penetrated to every part of the earth.

Tu-matauenga continued to reflect upon the cowardly manner in which his brothers had acted, in leaving him to show his courage alone, and he first sought some means of injuring Tane-mahuta, because he had not come to aid him in his combat with Tawhiri-ma-tea, and partly because he was aware that Tane had had a numerous progeny, who were rapidly increasing, and might at last prove hostile to him, and injure him, so he began to collect leaves of the whanake tree, and twisted them into nooses, and when his work was ended, he went to the forest to put up his snares, and hung them up—ha! ha! the children of Tane fell before him; none of them could any longer fly or move in safety.

Then he next determined to take revenge on his brother Tangaroa, who had also deserted him in the combat; so he sought for his offspring, and found them leaping or swimming in the water; then he cut many leaves from the flax-plant, and netted nets with the flax, and dragged these, and hauled the children of Tangaroa ashore.

After that, he determined also to be revenged upon his brothers Rongo-ma-tane and Haumia-tikitiki; he soon found them by their peculiar leaves, and he scraped into shape a wooden hoe, and plaited a basket, and dug in the earth and pulled up all kinds of plants with edible roots, and the plants which had been dug up withered in the sun.

Thus Tu-matauenga devoured all his brothers, and consumed the whole of them, in revenge for their having deserted him and left him to fight alone against Tawhiri-ma-tea and Rangi.

When his brothers had all thus been overcome by Tu, he assumed several names, namely, Tu-ka-riri, Tu-ka-nguha, Tu-ka-taua, Tu-whaka-heke-tangata, Tu-mata-wha-iti, and Tu-matauenga; he assumed one name for each of his attributes displayed in the victories over his brothers. Four of his brothers were entirely deposed by him, and became his food; but one of them, Tawhiri-ma-tea, he could not vanquish or make common by eating him for food, so he, the last-born child of Heaven and Earth, was left as an enemy for man, and still, with a rage equal to that of Man, this elder brother ever attacks him in storms and hurricanes, endeavoring to destroy him alike by sea and land.

Now, the meanings of these names of the children of the Heaven and Earth are as follows:

Tangaroa signifies fish of every kind; Rongo-ma-tane signifies the sweet potato, and all vegetables cultivated as food; Haumia-tikitiki signifies fern root, and all kinds of food which grow wild; Tane-mahuta signifies forests, the birds and insects which inhabit them, and all things fashioned from wood; Tawhiri-ma-tea signifies winds and storms; and Tu-matauenga signifies man.

Four of his brothers having, as before stated, been made common, or articles of food by Tu-matauenga, he assigned for each of them fitting incantations, that they might be abundant, and that he might easily obtain them.

Some incantations were proper to Tane-mahuta; they were called Tane.

Some incantations were for Tangaroa; they were called Tangaroa.

Some were for Rongo-ma-tane; they were called Rongo-ma-tane.

Some were for Haumia-tikitiki; they were called Haumia.

The reason that he sought out these incantations was, that his brothers might be made common by him, and serve for his food. There were also incantations for Tawhiri-ma-tea to cause favorable winds, and prayers to the vast Heaven for fair weather, as also for mother Earth, that she might produce all things abundantly. But it was the great God that taught these prayers to man.

There were also many prayers and incantations composed for man, suited to the different times and circumstances of his life—prayers at the baptism of an infant; prayers for abundance of food, for wealth; prayers in illness; prayers to spirits, and for many other things.

The bursting forth of the wrathful fury of Tawhiri-ma-tea against his brothers was the cause of the disappearance of a great part of the dry land; during that contest a great part of mother Earth was submerged. The names of those beings of ancient days who submerged so large a portion of the earth were Terrible-rain, Long-continued-rain, Fierce-hail-storms; and their progeny were Mist, Heavy-dew, and Light-dew, and these together submerged the greater part of the earth, so that only a small portion of dry land projected above the sea.

From that time clear light increased upon the earth, and all the beings which were hidden between Rangi and Papa before they were separated, now multiplied upon the earth. The first beings begotten by Rangi and Papa were not like human beings; but Tu-matauenga bore the likeness of a man, as did all his brothers, as also did a Po, a Ao, a Kore, to Kimi-hanga and Runku, and thus it continued until the times of Ngainui and his generation, and of Whiro-te-tnpu and his generation, and it has so continued to this day.

The children of Tu-matauenga were begotten on this earth, and they increased, and continued to multiply, until we reach at last the generation of Maui-taha, and of his brothers Maui-roto, Maui-waho, Maui-pae, and Maui-tikitiki-o-Taranga.

Up to this time the vast Heaven has still ever remained separated from his spouse the Earth. Yet their mutual love still continues—the soft, warm sighs of her loving bosom still ever rise up to him, ascending from the woody mountains and valleys, and men call these mists; and the vast Heaven, as he mourns through the long nights his separation from his beloved, drops frequent tears upon her bosom, and men seeing these, term them dew-drops.


The young hero, Maui, had not been long at home with his brothers when he began to think that it was too soon after the rising of the sun that it became night again, and that the sun again sank down below the horizon, every day, every day; in the same manner the days appeared too short to him. So at last, one day he said to his brothers: "Let us now catch the sun in a noose, so that we may compel him to move more slowly, in order that mankind may have long days to labor in to produce subsistence for themselves;" but they answered him: "Why, no man could approach it on account of its warmth, and the fierceness of its heat;" but the young hero said to them: "Have you not seen the multitude of things I have already achieved? Did you not see me change myself into the likeness of every bird of the forest? You and I equally had the aspect and appearance of men, yet I by my enchantments changed suddenly from the appearance of man and became a bird, and then, continuing to change my form, I resembled this bird or that bird, one after the other, until I had by degrees transformed myself into every bird in the world, small or great; and did I not after all this again assume the form of a man? [This he did soon after he was born, and it was after that he snared the sun.] Therefore, as for that feat, O my brothers, the changing myself into birds, I accomplished it by enchantments, and I will by the same means accomplish also this other thing which I have in my mind." When his brothers heard this, they Consented on his persuasions to aid him in the conquest of the sun.

Then they began to spin and twist ropes to form a noose to catch the sun in, and in doing this they discovered the mode of plaiting flax into stout square-shaped ropes (tuamaka), and the manner of plaiting fiat ropes (paharahara), and of spinning round ropes; at last, they finished making all the ropes which they required. Then Maui took up his enchanted weapon, and he took his brothers with him, and they carried their provisions, ropes, and other things with them, in their hands. They travelled all night, and as soon as day broke, they halted in the desert, and hid themselves that they might not be seen by the sun; and at night they renewed their journey, and before dawn they halted, and hid themselves again; at length they got very far, very far, to the eastward, and came to the very edge of the place out of which the sun rises.

Then they set to work and built on each side of this place a long, high wall of clay, with huts of boughs of trees at each end to hide themselves in; when these were finished, they made the loops of the noose, and the brothers of Maui then lay in wait on one side of the place out of which the sun rises, and Maui himself lay in wait upon the other side.

The young hero held in his hand his enchanted weapon, the jawbone of his ancestress—of Muri-ranga-whenua—and said to his brothers: "Mind now, keep yourselves hid, and do not go showing yourselves foolishly to the sun; if you do, you will frighten him; but wait patiently until his head and fore legs have got well into the snare, then I will shout out, haul away as hard as you can on the ropes on both sides, and then I’ll rush out and attack him, but do you keep your ropes tight for a good long time (while I attack him), until he is nearly dead, when we will let him go; but mind, now, my brothers, do not let him move you to pity with his shrieks and screams."

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, and it takes in more and more of his body, until his forepaws pass through; then are pulled tight the ropes, and the monster began to struggle and roll himself about, whilst 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-tikitiki-o-Taranga, with his enchanted weapon. Alas! the sun screams aloud; he roars; Maui strikes him fiercely with many blows; they hold him for a long time. At last they let him go, and then, weak from wounds, the sun crept slowly along its course. Then was learnt by men the second name of the sun, for in its agony the sun screamed out: "Why am I thus smitten by you! O man! do you know what you are doing? Why should you wish to kill Tamanui-te-Ra?" Thus was learnt his second name. At last they let him go. Oh, then, Tamanui-te-Ra wept very slowly and feebly on his course.

Maui-taha and his brothers after this feat returned again to their own house, and dwelt there, and dwelt there, and dwelt there; and after a long time his brothers went out fishing, whilst Maui-tikitiki-o-Taranga stopped idly at home doing nothing, although indeed he had to listen to the sulky grumblings of his wives and children, at his laziness in not catching fish for them. Then he called out to the women, "Never mind, O mothers, yourselves and your children need not fear. Have not I accomplished all things, and as for this little feat, this trifling work of getting food for you, do you think I cannot do that? Certainly; if I go and get a fish for you, it will be one so large that when I bring it to land you will not be able to eat it all, and the sun will shine on it and make it putrid before it is consumed." Then Maui snooded his enchanted fishhook, which was pointed with part of the jaw-bone of Muri-ranga-whenua, and when he had finished this, he twisted a stout fishing-line to his hook.

His brothers in the meantime had arranged amongst themselves to make fast the lashings of the top side of their canoe, in order to go out for a good day’s fishing. When all was made ready they launched their canoe, and as soon as it was afloat Maui jumped into it, and his brothers, who were afraid of his enchantments, cried out: "Come get out again, we will not let you go with us; your magical arts will get us into some difficulty." So he was compelled to remain ashore whilst his brothers paddled off, and when they reached the fishing ground they lay upon their paddles and fished, and after a good day’s sport returned shore.

As soon as it was dark night Maui went down to the shore, got into his brothers’ canoe, and hid himself under the bottom boards of it. The next forenoon his brothers came down to the shore to go fishing again, and they had their canoe launched, and paddled out to sea without ever seeing Maui, who lay hid in the hollow of the canoe under the bottom boards. When they got well out to sea Maui crept out of his hiding place; as soon as his brothers saw him, they said: "We had better get back to the shore again as fast as we can, since this fellow is on board;" but Maui, by his enchantments, stretched out the sea so that the shore instantly became very distant from them, and by the time they could turn themselves around to look for it, it was out of view. Maui now said to them: "You had better let me go on with you, I shall at least be useful to bail the water out of our canoe." To this they consented, and they paddled on again and speedily arrived at the fishing ground where they used to fish upon former occasions. As soon as they got there his brothers said: "Let us drop the anchor and fish here;" and he answered: "Oh, no, don’t; we had much better paddle a long distance farther out." Upon this they paddle on, and paddle as far as the farthest fishing ground, a long way out to sea, and then his brothers at last say: "Come now, we must drop anchor and fish here." And he replies again, "Oh, the fish here are very fine, I suppose, but we had much better pull right out to sea, and drop anchor there. If we go out to the place where I wish the anchor to be let go, before you can get a hook to the bottom, a fish will come following it back to the top of the water. You won’t have to stop there a longer time than you can wink your eye in, and our canoe will come back to shore full of fish." As soon as they hear this they paddle away—they paddle away until they reach a very long distance off, and his brothers then say: "We are now far enough." And he replies: "No, no, let us go out of sight of land, and when we have quite lost sight of it, then let the anchor be dropped, but let it be very far off, quite out in the open sea."

At last they reach the open sea, and his brothers begin to fish. Lo, lo, they had hardly let their hooks down to the bottom, when they each pulled up a fish into the canoe. Twice only they let down their lines, when behold the canoe was filled up with the number of fish they had caught. Then his brothers said: "Oh, brother, let us all return now." And he answered them: "Stay a little; let me also throw my hook into the sea." And his brothers replied: "Where did you get a hook?" And he answered: "Oh, never mind, I have a hook of my own." And his brothers replied again: "Make haste and throw it, then." And as he pulled it out from under his garments, the light flashed from the beautiful mother-of-pearl shell in the hollow of the hook, and his brothers saw that the hook was carved and ornamented with tufts of hair pulled from the tail of a dog, and it looked exceedingly beautiful, Maui then asked his brothers to give him a little bait to bait his hook with; but they replied: "We will not give you any of our bait." So he doubled his fist and struck his nose violently and the blood gushed out, and he smeared his hook with his own blood for bait, and then he cast it into the sea, and it sank down, and sank down, till it reached to the small carved figure on the roof of a house at the bottom of the sea, then passing by the figure, it descended along the outside carved rafters of the roof, and fell in at the doorway of the house, and the hook of Maui-tikitiki-o-Taranga caught first in the sill of the doorway.

Then, feeling something on his hook, he began to haul in his line. Ah, ah!—there ascended on his hook the house of that old fellow Tonga-nui. It came up, up; and as it rose high, oh dear! how his hook was strained with its great weight; and then there came gurgling up foam and bubbles from the earth, as of an island emerging from the water, and his brothers opened their mouths and cried aloud.

Maui all this time continued to chant forth incantations amidst the murmurings and wailings of his brothers, who were weeping and lamenting, and saying, "See now, how he has brought us out into the open sea, that we may be upset in it, and devoured by the fish." Then he raised aloud his voice, and repeated the incantation called Hiki which makes heavy weights light, in order that the fish he had caught might come up easily, and he chanted an incantation beginning thus:

"Wherefore, then, O! Tonganui, Dost thou hold fast so obstinately below there?"

When he had finished his incantation, there floated up, hanging to his line, the fish of Maui, a portion of the earth, of Papa-tu-a-Nuku. Alas! alas! their canoe lay aground.

Maui then left his brothers with their canoe, and returned to the village; but before he went he said to them: "After I am gone, be courageous and patient; do not eat food until I return, and do not let our fish be cut up, but rather leave it until I have carried an offering to the gods from this great haul of fish, and until I have found a priest, that fitting prayers and sacrifices may be offered to the god, and the necessary rites be completed in order. We shall thus all be purified. I will then return, and we can cut up this fish in safety, and it shall be fairly portioned out to this one, and to that one, and to that other; and on my arrival you shall each have your due share of it; and return to your homes joyfully; and what we leave behind us will keep good, and that which we take away with us, returning, will be good too."

Maui had hardly gone, after saying all this to them, than his brothers trampled under their feet the words they had heard him speak. They began at once to eat food, and to cut up the fish. When they did this, Maui had not yet arrived at the sacred place, in the presence of the god; had he previously reached the sacred place the heart of the deity would have been appeased with the offering of a portion of the fish which had been caught by his disciples, and all the male and female deities would have partaken of their portions of the sacrifice. Alas! alas! those foolish, thoughtless brothers of his cut up the fish, and behold the gods turned with wrath upon them, on account of the fish which they had thus cut up without having made a fitting sacrifice. Then indeed, the fish began to toss about his head from side to side, and to lash his tail, and the fins upon his back, and his lower jaw. Ah! ah! well done Tangaroa, it springs about on shore as briskly as if it was in the water.

That is the reason that this island is now so rough and uneven—that here stands a mountain, and there lies a plain; that here descends a vale, that there rises a cliff. If the brothers of Maui had not acted so deceitfully, the huge fish would have lain flat and smooth, and would have remained as a model for the rest of the earth, for the present generation of men. This, which has just been recounted, is the second evil which took place after the separation of Heaven from Earth.

Thus was dry land fished up by Maui after it had been hidden under the ocean by Rangi and Tawhiri-ma-tea. It was with an enchanted fishhook that he drew it up, which was pointed with a bit of the jaw-bone of his ancestress Muri-ranga-whenua; and in the district of Heretaunga they still show the fish-hook of Maui, which became a cape stretching far out into the sea, and now forms the southern extremity of Hawke’s Bay.

The hero now thought that he would extinguish and destroy the fires of his ancestress of Mahu-ika. So he got up in the night, and put out the fires left in the cooking-houses of each family in the village; then, quite early in the morning, he called aloud to the servants: "I hunger, I hunger; quick, cook some food for me." One of the servants thereupon ran as fast as he could to make up the fire to cook some food, but the fire was out; and as he ran round from house to house in the village to get a light, he found every fire quite out—he could nowhere get a light.

When Maui’s mother heard this, she called out to the servants, and said: "Some of you repair to my great ancestress Mahu-ika; tell her that fire has been lost upon earth, and ask her to give some to the world again." But the slaves were alarmed, and refused to obey the commands which their masters, the sacred old people, gave them; and they persisted in refusing to go, notwithstanding the old people repeatedly ordered them to do so.

At last, Maui said to his mother: "Well, then, I will fetch down fire for the world; but which is the path by which I must go?" And his parents, who knew the country well, said to him: "If you will go, follow that broad path that lies just before you there; and you will at last reach the dwelling of an ancestress of yours; and if she asks you who you are, you had better call out your name to her, then she will know you are a descendant of hers; but be cautious; and do not play any tricks with her, because we have heard that your deeds are greater than the deeds of men, and that you are fond of deceiving and injuring others, and perhaps you even now intend in many ways to deceive this old ancestress of yours, but pray be cautious not to do so."

But Maui said: "No, I only want to bring fire away for men, that is all, and I’ll return again as soon as I can do that." Then he went, and reached the abode of the goddess of fire; and he was so filled with wonder at what he saw that for a long time he could say nothing. At last he said: "O lady, would you rise up? Where is your fire kept? I have come to beg some from you."

Then the aged lady rose right up, and said: "Au-e! who can this mortal be?" and he answered, "It’s I." "Where do you come from?" said she, and he answered, "I belong to this country." "You are not from this country," said she; "your appearance is not like that of the inhabitants of this country. Do you come from the northeast?" He replied, "No." "Do you come from the southeast?" He replied, "No." "Are you from the south?" He replied, "No." "Are you from the westward?" He answered, "No." "Come you, then, from the direction of the wind which blows right upon me?" And he said, "I do." "Oh, then," cried she, "you are my grandchild; what do you want here?" He answered, "I am come to beg fire from you." She replied, "Welcome, welcome; here then is fire for you."

Then the aged woman pulled out her nail; and as she pulled it out fire flowed from it, and she gave it to him. And when Maui saw she had drawn out her nail to produce fire for him, he thought it a most wonderful thing! Then he went a short distance off, and when not very far from her, he put the fire out, quite out; and returning to her again, said: "The light you gave me has gone out, give me another." Then she caught hold of another nail, and pulled it out as a light for him; and he left her, and went a little on one side, and put that light out also; then he went back to her again, and said: "O, lady, give me, I pray you, another light, for the last one has also gone out." And thus he went on and on, until she had pulled out all the nails of the fingers of one of her hands; and then she began with the other hand, until she had pulled all the fingernails out of that hand, too; and then she commenced upon the nails of her feet, and pulled them also out in the same manner, except the nail of one of her big toes. Then the aged woman said to herself at last: "This fellow is surely playing tricks with me."

Then out she pulled the one toe-nail that she had left, and it, too, became fire, and as she dashed it down on the ground the whole place caught fire. And she cried out to Maui: "There, you have it all now!" And Maui ran off, and made a rush to escape, but the fire followed hard after him, close behind him; so he changed himself into a fleet-winged eagle, and flew with rapid flight, but the fire pursued, and almost caught him as he flew. Then the eagle dashed down into a pool of water; but when he got into the water he found that almost boiling too: the forests just then also caught fire, so that it could not alight anywhere, and the earth and sea both caught fire too, and Maui was very near perishing in the flames.

Then he called on his ancestors Tawhiri-ma-tea and Whatitiri-mataka-taka, to send down an abundant supply of water, and he cried aloud: "Oh, let water be given to me to quench this fire which pursues after me;" and lo, then appeared squalls and gales, and Tawhiri-ma-tea sent heavy lasting rain, and the fire was quenched; and before Mahuika could reach her place of shelter, she almost perished in the rain, and her shrieks and screams became as loud as those of Maui had been, when he was scorched by the pursuing fire: thus Maui ended this proceeding. In this manner was extinguished the fire of Mahuika, the goddess of fire; but before it was all lost, she saved a few sparks which she threw, to protect them, into the Kaiko-mako, and a few other trees, where they are still cherished; hence, men yet use portions of the wood of these trees for fire when they require a light. . . .

Maui . . . now returned to his parents, and when he had been with them for some time, his father said to him one day: "O, my son, I have heard from your mother and others that you are very valiant, and that you have succeeded in all feats that you have undertaken in your own country, whether they were small or great; but now that you have arrived in your father’s country, you will, perhaps, at last be overcome."

Then Maui asked him: "What do you mean? What things are there that I can be vanquished by?" And his father answered him: "By your great ancestress, by Hine-nui-te-po, who, if you look, you may see flashing, and as it were, opening and shutting there, where the horizon meets the sky." And Maui replied: "Lay aside such idle thoughts, and let us both fearlessly seek whether men are to die or live forever." And his father said: "My child, there has been an ill omen for us; when I was baptizing you, I omitted a portion of the fitting prayers, and that I know will be the cause of your perishing."

Then Maui asked his father: "What is my ancestress Hine-nui-te-po like?" And he answered: "What you see yonder shining so brightly red are her eyes, and her teeth are as sharp and hard as pieces of volcanic glass; her body is like that of a man, and as for the pupils of her eyes, they are jasper; and her hair is like tangles of long seaweed; and her mouth is like that of a barracouta." Then his son answered him: "Do you think her strength is as great as that of Tama-nui-te-Ra, who consumes Man, and the earth, and the very waters, by the fierceness of his heat? Was not the world formerly saved alive by the speed with which he travelled? If he had then, in the days of his full strength and power, gone as slowly as he does now, not a remnant of mankind would have been left living upon the earth, nor indeed, would anything else have survived. But I laid hold of Tama-nui-te-Ra, and now he goes slowly, for I smote him again and again, so that he is now feeble, and long in travelling his course, and he now gives but very little heat, having been weakened by the blows of my enchanted weapon; I then, too, split him open in many places, stud from the wounds so made, many rays now issue forth, and spread in all directions. So, also, I found the sea much larger than the earth, but by the power of the last-born of your children, part of the earth was drawn up again, and dry land came forth." And his father answered him: "That is all very true, O my last born, and the strength of my old age; well, then, he bold, go and visit your great ancestress who flashes so fiercely there, where the edge of the horizon meets the sky."

Hardly was this conversation concluded with his father, when the young hero went forth to look for companions to accompany him upon this enterprise; and so there came to him for companions, the small robin, and the large robin, and the thrush, and the yellow-hammer, and every kind of little bird, and the water-wagtail, and these all assembled together, and they all started with Maui in the evening, and arrived at the dwelling of Hine-nui-te-po, and found her fast asleep.

Then Maui addressed them all, and said: "My little friends, now if you see me creep into this old chieftainess, do not laugh at what you see. Nay, nay, do not I pray you, but when I have got altogether inside her, and just as I am coming out of her mouth, then you may shout with laughter if you please." And his little friends, who were frightened at what they saw, replied: "Oh, sir, you will certainly be killed." And he answered them: "If you burst out laughing at me as soon as I get inside her, you will wake her up, and she will certainly kill me at once, but if you do not laugh until I am quite inside of her, and am on the point of coming out of her mouth, I shall live, and Hine-nui-te-po will die." And his little friends answered: "Go on then, brave sir, but pray take good care of yourself."

Then the young hero started off, and twisted the strings of his weapon tight round his wrist, and went into the house, and stripped off his clothes, and the skin on his hips looked mottled and beautiful as that of a mackerel, from the tattoo marks, cut on it with the chisel of Uetonga, and entered the old chieftainess.

The little birds now screwed up their tiny cheeks, trying to suppress their laughter; at last, the little Tiwakawaka could no longer keep it in, and laughed out loud, with its merry, cheerful note; this woke the old woman up, she opened her eyes, started up, and killed Maui.

Thus died this Maui we have spoken of, but before he died he had children, and sons were born to him; some of his descendants yet live in Hawaiki, some in Aotearoa (or in these islands); the greater part of his descendants remained in Hawaiki, but a few of them came here to Aotearoa. According to the traditions of the Maori,2 this was the cause of the introduction of death into the world (Hine-nui-te-po being the goddess of death: if Maui had passed safely through her, then no more human beings would have died, but death itself would have been destroyed), and we express it by saying: "The water-wagtail laughing at Maui-tikitiki-o-Taranga made Hine-nui-te-po squeeze him to death." And we have this proverb: "Yen make heirs, but death carries them off."

Thus end the deeds of the son of Makeatutara and of Tarana, and the deeds of the sons of Rangi-nui, and of Papa-tu-Nuku; this is the narrative about the generations of the ancestors of the inhabitants of New Zealand, and therefore, we the people of that country, preserve closely these traditions of old times, as a thing to be taught to the generations that come after us, so we repeat them in our prayers, and whenever we relate the deeds of the ancestors from whom each family is descended, and upon other similar occasions.


2 Inhabitants of New Zealand.

Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: Polynesian Mythology

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Polynesian Mythology

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Polynesian Mythology in Source Book in Anthropology, ed. Kroeber, Alfred L., 1876-1960, and Waterman, T. T. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1920), Original Sources, accessed September 22, 2023, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=GZ71R9LJYA4UG5C.

MLA: . Polynesian Mythology, in Source Book in Anthropology, edited by Kroeber, Alfred L., 1876-1960, and Waterman, T. T., Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 1920, Original Sources. 22 Sep. 2023. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=GZ71R9LJYA4UG5C.

Harvard: , Polynesian Mythology. cited in 1920, Source Book in Anthropology, ed. , University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. Original Sources, retrieved 22 September 2023, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=GZ71R9LJYA4UG5C.