So, back in October I started a series of blog posts introducing you to the Tricksters of various pantheons. We started with the red-headed stepchild of Asgard, Loki. This time we're going to leave the icy Norse lands and sail to the South Pacific and meet that maker of mayhem, the slayer of the sun, the thief of fire himself: Hawaii's very own Maui!
Like Norse mythology, much of what we white folks know of the Hawaiian religion comes to us from Christian scholars who came to the islands and wrote about the savages they found. One of the better sources of information out there comes from David Kalakaua, the last reigning king of Hawaii. His book, The Legends and Myths of Hawaii, seeks to explain his culture to the rest of the world. This book is rich with understanding of the native religion and the tales the Hawaiians tell to this day.
One thing I've always found intriguing about the Hawaiian beliefs is how present it is in comparison to say the Judeo-Christian faiths. From what I've read--and I know that I don't know half of what there is to know, so if I'm wrong, feel free to correct me--the Hawaiians don't base their lives on the aftermath. The gods are here. They live and surf on the islands among mortals. Our ancestors remain with us as protective spirits. The philosophy is very rooted in the moment, the here and now.
Until the 19th century, the myths were handed down mostly in an oral tradition where the kahuna--wise man or priest--sang the tales. The backbone of Hawaiian mythology is the Kumulipo. This is the origin chant. To "perform" it, one needs more than 6 hours and some awa to keep the throat cooperating. Beginning with the darkest of void, the Kumulipo describes the birth of the world. Beginning with the coral polyp, populating the ocean, then the land and skies until finally man shows up. Then, the lineage of the kings is spoken. There are still those today who can trace their ancestry to the Kumulipo chant.
Like most trickster deities, Maui's birth is full of its own mystery. As chronicled in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth chant of the Kumulipo, Maui's mother Hina--goddess of the moon--wears the loincloth of a mortal chief, Akalana, and became pregnant. Now there's some subtext here about the loincloth and what she did with it. Some say that she was overly fond of the young chief and snatched the loincloth, then masturbated with it. (So, call me maybe?) However she came by the seed of the mortal, Hina was surprised when she delivered not a baby but an egg. This egg hatched to reveal a rooster.
When the goddess gave birth to a cock, the other deities feared she had broken the sacred laws--taboo. Immediately, it seems, Maui must fight to survive. His own uncles challenge him to physical combat and leave him with a bleeding head. And it just gets better from there. Ten times, Maui is tested by the gods and the circumstance of his very existence. But, as he navigates his difficulties, his guile and cunning are forged.
Among the strifes of Maui are some of his most famous exploits. The sixth test comes when he asks his mother about his parentage. While the lines in the chant are sparse, myths of these trials have bloomed like the islands themselves. Hina sends Maui to be with his mortal family and he acquires a fish-hook from his grandmother. The hook itself is made of her bone, and the line from her hair. She has given Maui a powerful object indeed! While he is very lazy and leaves the actual work of fishing to the mortal sons of Akalana, Maui casts this hook into the sea and draws up the islands! However, he never finished the task of uniting them, and thus we have the chain of them dotting the Pacific.
Like other tricksters, Maui is known for his mastery over the elements, specifically fire. He stole the fire from the mudhen and snared the sun because it crossed the sky too quickly. Summer is dedicated to him for slowing the sun's passage for the people of the islands. The constellation of Scorpio is also known to the islanders as Maui's hook.
The Kumulipo chant itself calls him trickster, revering his cunning ways. "Maui-of-the-loincloth/ The lawless shapeshifter of the island/A chief indeed." (Beckwith, 136.)
The last island that his hook drew from the water was the verdant isle that we call Maui. He claimed it for his own and to this day the natives insist that Maui no ka oi! Maui is the best. I'm inclined to agree.
If you like the artwork in this post, please visit the artist Brittney Lee at her Etsy shop. Show her some love and buy a print. She is a rock star! I've got two of her pieces in my house and if I had the extra bank I'd give her all the monies for more awesomeness. Also, a special thanks to Kanila Tripp for fact-checking me and making sure that I don't sound like a lame haole girl.