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Legends of Maui Tikitiki-a-Taranga

There are many stories of Maui and the things he got up to in his active lifetime and his stories appear with variations throughout many of the Pacific islands. The details of the stories also vary within Maori culture but the underlying morals and role model remains much the same.

Maui was the youngest of the five sons of his mother Taranga. His mother believed Maui was still-born and in her grief wrapped him in a bundle of hair (tikitiki) and cast him upon the ocean. He floated in the hair knot to a beach where he was found by his tupuna Tamanui-ki-te-rangi who raised him as his own.

When old enough Maui began to question his origins and eventually set out to find his family and carve an identity for himself. Following is a very brief summary of what I was able to find out about just a few of these stories.

The Legend of Maui fishing up Aotearoa

Whilst out fishing with his brothers in a canoe, Maui hauls a magnificent fish-land out of the sea which he caught on a hook made from the jaw bone of his sorcerer grandmother. The fish-land is complete with houses and birds.

Maui is worried what the Gods will think about what he's done so he leaves his brothers to seek forgiveness.

His brothers argue over possession of the fish and their ensuing struggle leaves marks from their weapons on the face of the fish. These marks are the valleys and mountains of New Zealand.

The fish-land 'Te ikaroa a Maui' becomes the North Island the hook or 'Te matau a Maui' is Mahia peninsula in the Hawkes Bay. The canoe they brothers were fishing in 'Te waka a Maui' is now the South Island and the anchor holding the boat 'Te punga a Maui' is Stewart Island.

Taranga was the name of Maui's mother, when he was born (the fifth son) she thought he was stillborn and so wrapped him in her tikitiki (hair-knot) and threw him into the sea. Maui was saved from the sea by his tupuna (ancestor) whom he learned magic from as he grew up.

The Legend of Maui finding Fire

Maui loved playing with fire. One day he put out all the fires in the village which angered the inhabitants who complained to Taranga, Maui's mother.

Maui was asked to go to the underworld and ask the old kuia, Mahuika for some fire. Maui visited Mahuika and helped her eat and drink which was difficult for her as everything she touched burst into flames. As a reward Mahuika gave Maui a fingernail which burnt to take home.

Mischievous Maui dropped the fingernail into a river on the way home so went back for another fingernail which he was given. This repeated again and again until Mahuika lost her temper and threw fire at Maui who escaped by turning into a Hawk and flying back to the living world.

The fire followed him but he was saved by Tawhere-Matea who blew icy rains at the fire, and Ruamoko who opened up the earth to swallow the flames.

The Legend of Maui capturing the Sun

One day Taranga asked Maui to slow the sun to make the day longer so more work could be done in the light. Maui and his brothers set about building a flax net to snare the sun (Tama-nui-te-Ra) in and waited for him to rise in the morning.

te-Ra rose and was promptly trapped in the snare at which point Maui hit him on the head with his fish hook and demanded that he promise to travel more slowly, which he did

The Death of Maui

Maui decided to return home to the land of his parents and after being home for some time his Father said to him that when he was baptising Maui he omitted a portion of the fitting prayer and as a result he fears that Maui will one day be overcome by his great ancestress Hine-nui-te-po, goddess of death.

Maui asked about Hine-nui-te-po and his Father pointed to the region where flashes appear as the horizon meets the sky and described her as having red eyes, sharp teeth, the body of a man and the teeth of a barracuda.

Maui was not fearful and told his father that if he was able to overcome Tama-nui-te-Ra so easily then surely he could also overcome Hine-nui-te-po, his Father wished him luck, and Maui promptly set out to face her with his companions (various small birds, his closet friends since childhood)

After reaching the home of Hine-nui-te-po, Maui asked his bird companions to keep quiet while he approached the goddess least she wake up and thwart the attack.

Just as Maui was entering the body of Hine-nui-te-Po, Piwakawaka (fan-tail) laughed out loud and woke the Goddess who promptly killed Maui.

This is how death was introduced to the world, and it was believed that if Maui had successfully passed through the goddess then no more human beings would have died.

Side Notes:

There are similar stories about Maui in the Solomons where he was known as 'Mau Tikitiki' and in Samoa as Ti'iti'iatalaga, and in Hawaii he was Maui ki`iki`i (Maui the littlest)

In Hawaii there is a legend of Maui who snared the sun at Haleakala to slow its course so his mother Hina could get her kapa making done. That is where Haleakala got its name. Haleakala means "The House of the Sun."



ikaroa - big/long fish
kuia - grandmother or older woman
matau - hook
pakiwaitara - stories of old
piwakawaka - fantail
punga - anchor
tikitiki - hair knot
tupuna - ancestor
waiata - song
waka - canoe


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Thanks to and Maori Flava'd for the images