USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Maui’

Maui and the creation of the islands

The informant, T, is 19 years old. He was born and raised on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. His parents were also born and raised on Oahu. His grandparents on his mom’s side came from Japan and from his dad’s side were raised on Oahu. He is majoring as an Industrial and Systems Engineer. He considers himself American and is full Japanese.

T- “There was this regular boy named Maui who went out with his teacher and they went out on a boat and his teacher told Maui to throw his fishing line into the water and hold it but not look at it. So he would pull at stuff but he would not look at it. He would pull at heavy things and he would fight it and fight it but he would not look, and then like after a while he gave in and looked back and realized he pulled out the islands”

Where did you hear this story?

T-“I’ve heard it many times. I think the first time was in fourth grade we had Hawaiian history class and I think this is one of the histories they went over”

Where do you think the story came from?

T-“There is a lot of fishing in Hawaii and that’s one of the biggest sources of food that they had before the westerners came.”

Is this story more common than other myths about the creation of the islands?

T- “Yea this one is more common. I think so”

Analysis- As mentioned by the informant, Hawaii consists of a lot of fishing, which provides food to the people. During the earlier times, when the stories were beginning to be told, fish would have been a main supply of food. The figure of the child Maui is originally known to be a trickster demigod figure in Hawaiian mythology. The form of the teacher in Hawaii is very common, especially as hula teachers. This is mirrored in the myth combined with the idea of fishing to explain a natural event, the creation of the islands.

For more information see:

Westervelt, W.D. (1910). Legends of Maui, A Demi-God of Polynesia. Retrieved from

Folk Beliefs

Pele and the Legend of Maui

Pele is the goddess of the volcano I’m pretty sure there’s like… there are white rock beaches… that… if you remove rocks it’s really really bad.

Well somehow Maui is a god that is related to Pele because they’re all related… and he is younger and there’s like… he did all these things that had to do with ropes. His mom was Hina the moon and like… she, the moon, couldn’t get all her work done in one day, so Maui tied a noose around the sun to keep it from rising so that the moon could get all her work done that day. And then, he also went fishing with his brothers one day, and caught some fish and he had always been ridiculed for not being a good fisherman, and this one day whatever he caught was really big, and they were pulling for a long time and an island popped out and that’s why it’s called Maui.


Background: This interview was conducted live, so this story was given to me in person. The informant has learned this piece by hearing bits and pieces of the original story over the years from many people, as she is from Maui. She knows this piece because it is one of the famous myths about how Maui came to be, which is important for a small island to find some sort of national identity or to figure out how or why they came to be as a small island in the middle of the sea. I think this piece is really interesting and I had no idea that this was the reason the island was called Maui. I had heard about Pele before and how if you stole things from Hawaii like rocks or flowers or anything that one would be cursed or something, but I did not know there was a whole accompanying back story where all these gods were related and that that is how the name of Maui came to be.


The Legend of Maui


I was once again wandering the streets and perusing the shops on Front St in Lahaina, HI with my mother. I was looking at some fishhooks that were carved from bone when the shopkeeper came to me. We got to talking, and I told her that I had heard of one possible origin to the practice of wearing fishhooks, when she offered up another reason for the practice, and told me the legend, the myth, of how the Hawaiian Islands came to be.



Maui, a demigod, was out fishing one day with his brothers. They paddled far beyond their usual fishing grounds. Maui then flung his fishhook, one that was similar to these [see picture above for a decorative example] that he had carved from bone. When he got a bite, he instructed his brothers, who were earthly, to paddle as hard as they could but not to look back behind them. His brothers, who were jealous of Maui’s status as a demigod, turned around and saw that Maui was pulling up, not a fish, but land out of the sea. As soon as they looked, they were amazed, and they stooped paddling. Because they stopped paddling, the land stopped rising out of the sea, so instead of getting a great continent, all Maui got was a small chain of islands in the Pacific. Maui was furious at his brothers, as he wanted a great continent. Thus the Hawaiian Islands came to be.



This myth reveals several things about the Hawaiian people. First is that they are a fishing people. They rely on the sea, and thus their fishhooks are incredibly important. Second is the fact that the fishhook is made from bone. Bone, especially whalebone, was considered to be able to become an extremely lucky fishhook. Also, Maui is not just a Hawaiian mythical figure. He features in myths and legends from New Zealand – such as the legend that tells of how New Zealand’s terrain formed; why it is so hilly – and from other areas of Oceania. This can be key in discovering the migration patterns of people into Oceania – how the ancient peoples spread from mainland Asia and Australia into such far-flung and isolated island chains in the middle of a vast body of water. By tracking where similar mythological and legendary figures crop up, such as the demigod Maui, anthropologists and archaeologists can track migration patterns and possible origins for the people of these far-flung and isolated Pacific Ocean Island chains. Furthermore, this myth demonstrates how central to the Hawaiian culture fishhooks are/were. The tourism industry presumably caught wind of this importance and began to make “authentic” Hawaiian fishhooks to be worn as ornamentation and sold as “traditional” Hawaiian jewelry/ornamentation, despite fishhooks never being worn by the Hawaiian people. Nowadays, practically every gift store, souvenir shop in the islands sells fishhooks, and it has become “traditional folk” jewelry.


Why Māui Snared the Sun

A long time ago, the days were very short because the sun, Kalā, raced across the sky as he pleased. There were just a few hours of daylight before the lazy moon crept slowly across the darkness. There was only a little day and a very long night. At that time of the short days and long dark nights, there was a beautiful woman named Hina who lived on the island of Hawaii in a cave behind Rainbow falls. Hina was known for the fine kapa cloth she made from the bark of wauke and māmaki trees. Hina’s handiwork was prized in the community for making kihei, malo for the men, and a’u for the women. But because Kala raced through the sky, refusing to share his light and warmth, Hina didn’t have enough time in the day to dry her kapa. Now, the sun’s behavior wasn’t just a problem for Hina; fishermen didn’t have enough time in the day to catch enough to feed their families, farmers’ crops couldn’t grow without sunlight, and fruit wouldn’t ripen on the trees. Everyone was suffering. Hina had four sons, and the youngest was named Māui. He was a clever boy, quick and strong. Hina knew her youngest child was special, but Māui was only beginning to suspect he was capable of many wondrous things…

After so much time watching his mother struggle with her work and run out of time to dry her beautiful kapa, Māui decided he would be the one to capture Kalā and make him promise to slow down…

Māui started up the rough and steep slopes of the great mountain Haleakalā. It was a long, cold, and difficult journey. He was weary, and doubt slowly started creeping into his mind. Many times he thought about turning back and leaving things the way they were. But the thought of his mother and her hard work pushed him through the night and he realized that there was no journey back. He had to make things pono. He had to confront the mighty Kalā…

When he finally reached the summit of Haleakalā, Maui battled Kalā for his attention and with his special coconut fiber rope and stone adze from his mother, he snared Kalā and forced him to listen…

Māui and Kalā had a long talk about community and responsibility and the great honor in doing one’s work properly…

They agreed that during the summertime Kalā would travel more slowly across the sky to help the people of the world but that he could make his daily journey faster during the winter months so that he, and everyone else, could have more sleep. Kala kept his promise. Soon, crops were flourishing as they never had before. People had enough daylight hours to do their work and everyone enjoyed health and abundance; a great relief after all that suffering. Hina was finally able to dry her kapa properly, which meant that the cloth was even more refined and able to hold rich colors and intricate patterns. She made Māui special kapa clothing, the most beautiful that anyone had ever seen in all of Hawaii. Māui had many other great adventures, but this was probably his bravest deed—especially since he was a young man at the time. Māui distinguished himself as a great hero and a brave man by helping his mother with her laundry. But you see, everyone has responsibilities; Kalā’s kuleana was to bring light and warmth to all living things so the world could grow and thrive. He quickly learned to care about every plant and animal and person in the world. Because of this he became quite proud of his work and did it the best he could. He did it with honor and aloha.

How did you come across this folklore: “through research, these are favorite legends from my collection because I collect and shares mo`olelo/stories from the Hawaiian islands.”Other information: “These are well known folk tales/legends passed down from generations and written in the Hawaiian newspapers and several collections.”This story is often referred to as one of the “legends of Māui,” but this should be considered as more of a folk tale for its format and truth value relationship to people in the islands. It can also be considered as fitting into the myth genre, because it is using these kinds of characters and tales to explain the workings of the world (for example, the deal between Māui and Kalā aligning with/explaining the seasons). And the story is used to dictate behavior; people aspire to be brave, strong, heroic, and selfless like Māui, regardless of the truth/reality of the story itself.

For another version of this, see the book, Maui, How It Came to Be.

Kyselka, Will, and Ray E. Lanterman. Maui, How It Came to Be. Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1980. Print.


Maui lassos the sun

My informant was born and raised in Hawaii. He talked about one of the Hawaiian myths that he learned while growing up:

“There’s a story about Maui. One day, Maui’s mother was complaining that the days were too long, so the things she was trying to dry—cloth or something like that, I’m not too sure—were being damaged by the sun. So Maui went and got a rope made out of his sister’s hair. He climbed up to the tallest mountain. There, the stories differ in variation a bit, but the one that I learned when I was growing up said that as the sun was rising, he managed to lasso one of the sun’s rays and pull the sun into a shorter orbit. This made the days shorter. In another variation, which I don’t remember too well, apparently Maui’s blind grandmother was at the top of the mountain and he had to convince her that he was his grandson.”

The literal meaning of this story may seem rather nonsensical. It is hard to picture someone actually lassoing the sun with a rope made of human hair. Yet with myths, the literal truth is not the important part. Myths have a sacred truth; they are thought to have happened in a time and place beyond the “real” world. This particular myth explains why the days are not as long during some parts of the year. My informant remembers this myth because his parents told it to him growing up, and it was repeated at Hawaiian cultural events held at his school. It is told time and time again because it is rooted in the Hawaiian oral tradition and it connects older times to the modern day. One reason people retell this myth is to try to understand the culture of their ancestors and to remember their beliefs. In that way, they pay their respects to ancient Hawaiian culture as they respect the myth and tell it to future generations.

**For a written recording of this folklore, see the book How Maui Slowed the Sun by Suelyn Ching Tune. It is a published version of this same story; it was written and illustrated for children.


The god Maui forms the Hawaiian islands

My informant was born and raised in Hawaii. He talked about one of the Hawaiian myths that he learned while growing up:

“So one of the stories of ancient Hawaiian folklore is the story of Maui—the God Maui, and how he pulled up the Hawaiian islands. So one day, Maui being a little bit mischievous in his own right, tricked his brothers to take him out fishing. But as he paddled, Maui was on the other side of the canoe, and so he tossed his line. But instead of letting it hook a fish, he dropped it all the way down to the sea floor. And so his brothers, surprised by the large ‘fish’ that Maui caught, asked Maui what was going on. But Maui, the trickster that he is, convinced his brothers that it was just a really big fish. And so his brothers pulled and pulled, and eventually, Maui brought up what we know today as the Hawaiian islands.”

This story is a myth because it takes place “before” the real world, and has a sacred truth value. It is an example of a creation story; it explains how something came to be. This story has been passed down since the times before there were any scientific explanations of volcanoes or how they worked. Because of its antiquity and its association with an important Hawaiian god, this story is still told to people like my informant. Knowing this story connects him to the ancient Hawaiians and reinforces his own identity as a local Hawaiian. Thus, the functions of this folklore evolved: it was originally explanatory, and now its significance lies more in its cultural relevance. People no longer refer to it to explain how the Hawaiian islands came to be, but it is still a valuable piece of folklore because it keeps old Hawaiian beliefs and customs alive.

**For a written recording of this story, see Maui Goes Fishing by Julie Steward Williams (1991). It is a published version of the same story; it was written and illustrated for children.