USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘fire’
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Myth – Hawaii

Maui is a legendary demi-god of ancient Hawaii. He was a half man and half god and did many things—he is known as the hawaii superman. One day, Maui’s mother wanted to eat fish, so she sent her sons out to fish in the oceans. Her sons caught fish and returned to the shore, where they saw a fire burning in the mountainside. For a long time, people had not cooked with fire since Haleakala (the mountain on the island of Maui) went dormant and was not producing hot coals to cook with. Basically, everyone was eating raw food. Maui ran up to the fire and when he approached, he saw a family of birds tending to the fire. As he went closer, however, he saw that the birds extinguished the fire, hiding the secret from Maui. The birds were a type of bird named Alae. For days, Maui tried to get close to the fire but the birds would always extinguish the fire when they saw him. One day, Maui told his brothers to go out fishing in the canoe—he was going to sneak up on the birds. However, Alae saw that there were only 3 brothers in the canoe so she told the birds not to make the fire. One day, Maui got kapa (cloth) and rolled it up to look like a human and put it in the canoe. Then, he snuck up on the birds who actually built the fire and grabbed Alae by the throat. Maui initially wanted to kill Alae for not being cooperative but Alae reminded him that if he killed her, the fire would be lost forever. Alae finally agreed and told Maui that if he rubbed the stalks of water plants together, fire would start. However, Maui did not want Alae to be let go so easily, so Maui guarded Alae while he tried the idea. However, only water came out when he rubbed the stalks together. He squeezed the bird’s throat harder, and the bird screamed that he needed to use a green stick for fire. The sticks became warm, but still there was no fire. Maui squeezed the bird’s throat even harder until she finally screamed the real secret. Maui grabbed Alae and rubbed a fire stick against her head so that the feathers on her head burned off. To this day, Alae birds are bald and the people of Maui have fire.

My informant is from Hawaii, and came to California for college. This story is a very popular one from where he comes from. Although the people of Hawaii know that this story is not true, they still celebrate Maui’s achievements. There is even a song called “Maui Hawaiian Sup’pa Man” by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. My informant says that in Hawaii, there are many stories like this to explain many things of the modern world. For example, there are also similar stories that tell the story of the beginning of the Hawaiian Islands. These are all very traditional stories, and almost everyone where my informant comes from knows of them. Many of the children hear the stories from their parents, and friends will also often pass the stories around. Schools also tell of these stories during “story time.” This story reminds me of many of the Greek and Roman stories for explaining things, such as how the flute was made, or how fire was discovered. It is clear that cultures often like to have explanations for why things are the way they are.

Annotation: This myth with a slight variation was found on:
Kamakau, Samuel. “Gets Fire from ‘Alae (Mud Hen).” Traditions of O’ahu. APDI. 26 Apr 2007             <http://apdl.kcc.hawaii.edu/~oahu/stories/waianae/maui/gettingfire.htm>.

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