Legend – Hawaii

“How Hawaii Islands were formed”

Ryan told me this legend, which accounts for the existence of the Hawaiian Islands. He said that his cousins taught this legend to him when he was still a little boy (about 5). He also said that this legend, plus other Maui legends, still exists and in circulation around many parts of Hawaii.

The legend goes like this; Long time ago, there was a young boy called Maui living in Hawaii. Maui had brothers that never let him go fishing with them. They always told him that he was too young to go fishing. On many occasions, Maui pleaded with them to let him go fishing but they declined. One day, as Maui took a walk at the beach, he came across a big dead shark bone. He picked it up and took it home with him. For the next couple of days, Maui secretly fabricated a huge hook out of the bone. After completing it, he, again, asked his brothers to take him fishing. Once again they refused. Maui decided to show them his hook and promised to help them catch fish, which they had been unlucky to catch on their last 4 fishing trips.  With that promise, Maui’s brothers accepted to take him on their next fishing trip. While at the ocean Maui threw his hook in the water and instantly caught something big. Maui’s brothers tried to pull out the catch but Maui suggested that they should drag it to the shores. They drifted their canoe towards the shore while dragging their big catch. Very soon they were tired and decided to pull it out before they got on shore. To their surprise, when they pulled out the hook, it did not have fish on it but a bunch of Islands. That is how the Hawaii Islands were formed.


Like any other Legend, this legend invites negotiations about believe. As Ryan told my conversation with him, it is true that there was once a navigator called Maui who is credited for the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. However, it is completely unrealistic for him to have pulled the islands with his hook. In a way, the legend puts that historical information into a more interesting and fascinating narrative that is – in most cases – orally passed on from generation to generation. There are always passive and active bearers of the legend. Once passive bearers later become active bearers, which keeps the tradition going, and saving the legend’s existence. Like any other legend, the Maui legend builds group identity. By that, I mean that passive or active bearers of the legend often share some kind of identity. It might be tradition, ethnicity, or vicinity; but somehow they share some common aspect. In this particular case, it is most likely to be that they are Hawaiians.

Like any other surviving legend, the Maui legend must have some cultural significance – otherwise it would probably not survive. My best guess is that the legend defines gender roles. As we can see in the legend, Maui (a boy) and his brothers have to leave their home to go fish in the ocean. Though there is no mentioning of any female character in the legend, my best guess is that they are left home at home when the boys or men go to work.  In essence, I think the legend defines the role of a man as the one supposed to go hunting for the family.