Besides taming the sun and raising the Pacific Islands, Maui's other great feat is bringing fire to the people. In the Maori version he tricks the fire goddess Mahuika into giving it, to which she responds with enraged fire across land, sea, and sky. Thankfully his ancestors send rain to douse the flames and save his life. The fire-god is male in Samoa, and dwells in the underworld, where Ti'iti'i journeyed to obtain fire. He did so, but Mafui'e the fire-god blew on it and broke up the oven in which he placed the fire for safekeeping. The two wrestled and Ti'iti'i emerged victorious. The price of defeat for Mafui'e was to surrender the secret of making fire.
|Hawaiian fire dancer. Photo: Mynameisben123.|
Thankfully, the Hawaiian version of Maui did not have to confront Pele to obtain fire. His adventure was far more comic. Once more we turn to the Hawaiian legends transcribed by Rev. A.O. Forbes:
Maui and Hina dwelt together, and to them were born four sons, whose names were Maui-mua, Maui-hope, Maui-kiikii, and Maui-o-ka-lana. These four were fishermen. One morning, just as the edge of the Sun lifted itself up, Maui-mua roused his brethren to go fishing. So they launched their canoe from the beach at Kaupo, on the island of Maui, where they were dwelling, and proceeded to the fishing ground. Having arrived there, they were beginning to fish, when Maui-o-ka-lana saw the light of a fire on the shore they had left, and said to his brethren: “Behold, there is a fire burning. Whose can this fire be?”
And they answered: “Whose, indeed? Let us return to the shore, that we may get our food cooked; but first let us get some fish.”
So, after they had obtained some fish, they turned toward the shore; and when the canoe touched the beach Maui-mua leaped ashore and ran toward the spot where the fire had been burning. Now, the curly-tailed alae (mud-hens) were the keepers of the fire; and when they saw him coming they scratched the fire out and flew away. Maui-mua was defeated, and returned to the house to his brethren.
Then said they to him: “How about the fire?”
“How, indeed?” he answered. “When I got there, behold, there was no fire; it was out. I supposed some man had the fire, and behold, it was not so; the alae are the proprietors of the fire, and our bananas are all stolen.”
When they heard that, they were filled with anger, and decided not to go fishing again, but to wait for the next appearance of the fire. But after many days had passed without their seeing the fire, they went fishing again, and behold, there was the fire! And so they were continually tantalized. Only when they were out fishing would the fire appear, and when they returned they could not find it.
This was the way of it. The curly-tailed alae knew that Maui and Hina had only these four sons, and if any of them stayed on shore to watch the fire while the others were out in the canoe the alae knew it by counting those in the canoe, and would not light the fire. Only when they could count four men in the canoe would they light the fire. So Maui-mua thought it over, and said to his brethren: “To-morrow morning do you go fishing, and I will stay ashore. But do you take the calabash and dress it in kapa, and put it in my place in the canoe, and then go out to fish.”
They did so, and when they went out to fish the next morning, the alae counted and saw four figures in the canoe, and then they lit the fire and put the bananas on to roast. Before they were fully baked one of the alae cried out: “Our dish is cooked! Behold, Hina has a smart son.”
And with that, Maui-mua, who had stolen close to them unperceived, leaped forward, seized the curly-tailed alae and exclaimed: “Now I will kill you, you scamp of an alae! Behold, it is you who are keeping the fire from us. I will be the death of you for this.”
Then answered the alae: “If you kill me the secret dies with me, and you won’t get the fire.” As Maui-mua began to wring its neck, the alae again spoke, and said: “Let me live, and you shall have the fire.”
So Maui-mua said: “Tell me, where is the fire?”
The alae replied: “It is in the leaf of the a-pe plant” (Alocasia macrorrhiza).
So, by the direction of the alae, Maui-mua began to rub the leaf-stalk of the a-pe plant with a piece of stick, but the fire would not come. Again he asked: “Where is this fire that you are hiding from me?”
The alae answered: “In a green stick.”
And he rubbed a green stick, but got no fire. So it went on, until finally the alae told him he would find it in a dry stick; and so, indeed, he did. But Maui-mua, in revenge for the conduct of the alae, after he had got the fire from the dry stick, said: “Now, there is one thing more to try.” And he rubbed the top of the alae’s head till it was red with blood, and the red spot remains there to this day.
In Maori tradition, the last act of Maui also explains why humankind must die.
After many exploits, he returned to the land of his father, where he was told that he may meet his end. It seemed that his father omitted a very important prayer when dedicating Maui as a child, and as a consequence, he would be killed by Hine-nui-te-po, his ancestor and the goddess of the night. Back at the dawn of creation, the children of the Earth and Sky were all male. Tāne was the first to feel the need for a wife and so fashioned a woman from red clay. She was only the means to an end. Tāne mated with her and they had a daughter, Hine-nui-te-po, whom Tāne took as a wife. At that point she was the goddess of the flashing dawn, to whom the red colour of sunrise and sunset is owed.
After producing a few children of her own, Hine began to wonder who her own father was. When she found out that it was her husband, she fled, disgusted and ashamed. She fled all the way to the underworld, and when Tāne pursued her, she stopped him. In her new role as goddess of the underworld and the night, she ordered Tāne to take care of their children - humanity - and she would "gather them in."
Rashly, Maui recounted how he brought up the islands, secured the secret of fire, and roped the sun, then set off to obtain immortality. Along the way he was joined by some birds of the forest. Eventually they found Hine-nui-te-po, who was now a fearsome old woman with jeweled eyes and a barracuda-like mouth. She was sleeping, but lightly. Maui told his companions that to become immortal he must crawl through her, from her opened thighs to her mouth. If he succeeds, she will die and he will live forever. But to succeed, he needed them to remain silent. He then stripped down and entered Hine-nui-te-po.
|Maui entering Hine-nui-te-po,|
Maori carving c.1900.
Photo: Charles Lloyd
The birds puckered their lips to stop from laughing, but finally the Fantail bird couldn't hold it in any more. He burst out laughing, Hine-nui-te-po woke up, and with the obsidian embedded in her nethers sliced Maui in half. Immortality was lost to humankind and death entered the world.