USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘aboriginal’
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The Origins of New Zealand (Maui Origin Story

Piece:

The origins of new Zealand – myth (Maui)

“So, Maui is the son of Rangi (sky father) and Papa (mother). He wanted to fishing one day, but his brothers wouldn’t let him. So he made a hook out of, like, a magic jawbone or something and then he hid in a boat. I’m not sure why he hid, but his brothers were mean to him or something. Then he caught a really, really, really big fish that is the North Island. It’s so big that they fall out of the boat or something and the boat is the south island. And his brothers don’t wait to pray to someone before cutting up the fish. And that’s why there are mountains and rivers and gullies in the North Island.”

Informant & Context:

My informant for this piece is a USC student from New Zealand who lived in Auckland for 18 years. The story she is telling is a Maui origin story about how New Zealand came into existence.

Thoughts:

This is a very relaxed approach to storytelling. The unabridged Maui origin story can be found here: http://www.newzealand.com/us/feature/the-legend-of-new-zealand/. The vast majority of the points match, but a lot of the details of the story have been removed in my informants version.  I find it incredibly interesting to hear a white person from New Zealand telling aboriginal origin stories. To me this indicates a more concrete sense of heritage in the country, and a more collective sense of identity for the country.

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A Taiwanese aboriginal story about two suns

The following story was told to me by the informant while talking about the things she learned while studying abroad in Taiwan.

“An aboriginal story from Taiwan… There’s a lot of different versions of it (the aboriginal story) and actually different tribes have the same story but different versions, but the one that I heard was told by a man of the Atyal tribe, he’s probably about sixty. So, It’s the story of two suns, and in the story, they’re living a long time ago, and the tribe is having a huge problem because there’s two suns in the sky, and it gets too hot, and it’s never dark, and it’s destroying the plants, and the people can’t live because they can’t sleep and they can’t produce any food for themselves, and I think the plant that they grow is millet. And so they want to select a hero from the tribe to go and shoot one of the suns with a bow and arrow, and so they keep on choosing the strongest man, and they have him go out. But every time he goes out, by the time he gets close enough to the sun to shoot it down, he’s become an old man, and he’s no longer the strong warrior of the tribe that could do it, and so they go on for a long time and they can’t… they have no way to solve the problem, and so then one time there’s a wise man and he’s strong, but he’s not the strongest, but he’s a smart young man and he says, ‘I’m going to take a young boy from the village, and I’m going to carry him on my back with me, and I’m gonna train him, and I’m gonna take him on my quest with me to take down the sun.’ and so by the time they get close enough to the sun, the wise young man is no longer a young man; he’s an old man. But he’s brought up a new young man who’s now strong enough pull the arrow and to shoot down the sun, and so he shoots down the sun and saves the tribe, and that’s how the story of two suns goes.”

The informant learned about this story because she was studying the ancient Taiwanese aboriginal language of the Atyal tribe. Their language is almost extinct, with only about 200 remaining native speakers. However, as the informant points out, this same legend is shared by some of the other aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, in different versions. When I asked about the origins of the Atyal people and other aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, the informant said that they are indeed related to the same Polynesian peoples who also inhabited New Zealand and/or Australia (she couldn’t remember which).

By examining aboriginal cultures where they are at risk of going extinct, we can learn more about ancient culture, and perhaps draw conclusions as to how modern cultures came to be. Unfortunately, aboriginal peoples like those belonging to the Atyal tribe are dwindling and being forgotten, a pattern that shows no signs of reversal. It’s important to document legends and myths such as the above before they disappear, so they can be examined and studied and perhaps teach us something about our modern society.

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