Residence: Honolulu, HI
Date of Performance/Collection: March 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Chinese, Hawaiian
The informant is from Honolulu, Hawaii and she first heard the myth in elementary school, where she explained she learned most of the folklore and traditional stories related to Hawaii due to the inclusion of what she called “cultural education” in classroom curriculum. A practicing Hula dancer, the informant also picked up stories during her dance classes as a child. The informant also explained that the myth was authored into a song by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, a popular Hawaiian folk singer who encouraged Hawaiian sovereignty by reviving and popularizing traditional Hawaiian stories.
Maui―like the island―was a demigod. Well, he was better than a person but he wasn’t a deity. He was a super trickster kind of guy; he was fun, and sneaky, like a hero. Maui is actually in a lot of Hawaiian stories, but one of the popular ones that a lot of kids know is that he was canoeing with his brothers when he received a message from a god. It might’ve even come to him in a dream, but it had definitely come from a god. The message was that if he went fishing, he would pull up a huge catch, um, but he couldn’t turn around to look at it or he would lose his catch. So he and his brothers are paddling, and Maui feels his line go taut. He pulls it, it’s really heavy, but he keeps pulling as the canoe moves forward. One of his brothers, the story goes, turns around, and because the brother looked the line snapped. Turn out, Maui had actually pulled up the Hawaiian islands. That’s why Hawaii is shaped like a chain, with the big island and the small ones trailing behind it. They descend in size because that’s what they looked like coming out one by one from the ocean. It’s actually said that there would have been more Hawaiian islands. . .but somebody looked.
The story the informant retold bears all the classic indicators of a myth. It takes place in a pre-world (or, in this case, “pre-Hawaii”) setting, the characters involved are of divine or semi-divine importance, and it describes the genesis of a land and its people―the story of Maui is, more narrowly, a creation myth.
The myth’s presence in Kamakawiwo’ole’s song immediately reminded me of stories about Hercules. The lyrics retell a string of Maui’s heroic deeds much in the same way books on Greek mythology usually dedicate a chapter or more to describe the (lengthy) list of Hercules’ achievements. The informant explained that Kamakawiwo’ole encouraged a resurgence of a Hawaiian identity movement through his music, and his lyrics clearly illustrate the pride Hawaiians should have in their land and culture. For Kamakawiwo’ole’s musical rendition of the myth, please see his “Maui Hawaiian Sup’paman,” produced by Big Boy Records.