Māui (Hawaiian mythology)

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Māui Snaring the Sun, pen and ink drawing by Arman Manookian, circa 1927, Honolulu Academy of Arts.

In Hawaiian mythology, Māui is a culture hero and ancient chief who appears in several different genealogies. In the Kumulipo he is the son of ʻAkalana and his wife Hina-a-ke-ahi (Hina). This couple has four sons, Māui-mua, Māui-waena, Māui-kiʻikiʻi and Māui-a-kalana. Māui-a-kalana's wife is named Hinakealohaila; his son is Nanamaoa. Māui is one of the Kupua. His name is the same as that of the Hawaiian island Maui.

Hauling up Islands[edit]

The great fish-hook of Māui is called Manaiakalani and it is baited with the wing of Hina's pet bird, the ʻalae. Māui is said to have created the Hawaiian Islands by tricking his brothers. He convinces them to take him out fishing, but catches his hook upon the ocean floor. He tells his brothers that he has caught a big fish, and tells them to paddle as hard as they can. His brothers paddle with all their might, and being intent with their effort, did not notice the island rising behind them. Māui repeats this trick several times, creating the Hawaiian Islands (Tregear 1891:236).

Another tradition states that as Māui plants his hook at Hamakua, to fish up the god of fishes, Pimoe, Māui orders his brethren not to look back, or the expedition will fail. Hina, in the shape of a baling-gourd, appears at the surface of the water, and Māui, unwittingly, grasps the gourd and places it in front of his seat. Suddenly there appears a beautiful woman whose beauty none can resist; and so the brothers look behind them to watch the beautiful water-goddess. The line parts, Hina disappears, and the effort to unite the chain of islands into one solid unit fails.

Restraining the Sun[edit]

Māui’s next feat is to stop the sun from moving so fast. His mother Hina complains that her kapa (bark cloth) is unable to dry because the days are so short. Māui climbs to the mountain Hale-a-ka-lā (house of the sun) and lassoes the sun’s rays as the sun comes up, using a rope made from his sister's hair.[1] The sun pleads for life and agrees that the days shall be long in summer and short in winter (Pukui, Elbert, & Mookini 1974:36).

In another version, Hina sends him to a big wiliwili tree where he finds his old blind grandmother setting out bananas and steals them one by one until she recognises him and agrees to help him. He sits by the trunk of the tree to rope the sun (Beckwith 1970:230). The Island of Maui and the constellation Māui's fishhook (known in the West as Scorpio) are named after this.

Māui the Fisherman[edit]

Māui would go fishing in the broken coral reefs below Haleakala with his brothers. Māui was not a very talented fisherman, even though he had a magical hook that could catch anything, he did not use it for ordinary tasks. Māui's brothers would sometimes tease him for the small amount of fish that he would bring in, but Māui would get them back by playing tricks on them.[2]

"Oh the great fish hook of Māui!

Manai-i-ka-lani 'Made fast to the heavens'--its name;

An earth-twisted cord ties the hook.

Engulfed from the lofty Kauiki.

Its bait the red billed Alae,

The bird made sacred to Hina.

It sinks far down to Hawaii,

Struggling and painfully dying.

Caught is the land under the water,

Floated up, up to the surface,

But Hina hid a wing of the bird

And broke the land under the water.

Below, was the bait snatched away

And eaten at once -by the fishes,

The Ulua of the deep muddy places."

Chant of Kualii, about A. D. 1700.[3]

Lifting the Sky[edit]

Māui realized one day that some men were being constrained by the Sky. The sky was too low and people were not able to stand upright, stopping them from doing anything. Māui felt terrible when he saw the people of Earth suffering from this and wanted to help. So Māui searched for his father in order to help him raise the sky so that the men could not suffer from the falling of the sky.

Māui traveled to the town Lahaina in order to meet his father and push the sky up. Māui then laid parallel to the sky in order to brace himself and push the sky up with his great power. Māui then gave the signal to his father to start pushing the sky up as well, and the strength of father and son together was able to push the sky up high enough for the people of the earth to be able to continue doing daily tasks. Some say if Māui and his father, Ru, had not worked together, the sky would have fallen completely and made the earth uninhabitable for humans. Thus, they saved mankind.[4]

Māui and the Long Eel[edit]

After Māui had fished up the islands, he began to wonder what was actually on these islands. He then traveled to the different islands and realised that they were all inhabitable. There were kapa houses but with no one living inside of them. Complete Ahupua'a with no one inhabiting it at all.

Māui learned a lot of new lessons while visiting these new islands, so he decided to return home and live with respect to the fashion of the new houses he had seen on the islands. Māui then pursued Hina and made her his wife, she was living in a thatched house at the time in which she took very good care of.

One day Hina went down to the river bank to fetch some water for Māui and herself. Hina encountered the Long Eel Tuna at the bank, and Tuna struck her and covered her with slime. Hina was able to escape back to the house but did not tell Māui what had just happened. But the next day it happened again and Hina told Māui. Māui then ventured to the banks to find and kill Tuna.

Māui was very flustered and was going to punish the long eel, so then he laid out traps in order for the Eel to come out of hiding. When Tuna came out of hiding, Māui pulled out his stone axe and killed Tuna. The Long Eel had been causing trouble to a lot of the townsfolk, but thanks to Māui they were all safe now.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Maui Hi! - Culture on Maui
  2. ^ W. D. Westervelt, Legends of Maui, A Demi-God of Polynesia(Hawaii: Evinity Publishing Inc, 2009), II.
  3. ^ Lyons, Curtis J.; Alexander, W.D. "THE SONG OF KUALII, OF HAWAII, SANDWICH ISLANDS". The Journal of the Polynesian Society. Retrieved 4 December 2015. 
  4. ^ W. D. Westervelt, Legends of Maui, A Demi-God of Polynesia(Hawaii: Evinity Publishing Inc, 2009), III.
  5. ^ W. D. Westervelt, Legends of Maui, A Demi-God of Polynesia(Hawaii: Evinity Publishing Inc, 2009), VII.


  • E.R. Tregear, Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (Lyon and Blair: Lambton Quay, 1891).
  • M. Beckwith, Hawaiian Mythology (University of Hawaii Press: Honolulu, 1970).
  • M.K. Pukui, S.H. Elbert, and E.T. Mookini, Place Names of Hawaii (University of Hawaii Press: Honolulu, 1974).

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