Haleakala at sunrise / Image from Unsplash

Haleakala at sunrise / Image from Unsplash

Legends of the Demigod Maui

Shaka Guide

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As we go, I want to tell you another interesting Hawaiian legend about the demigod Maui. Now, if you saw the Disney movie Moana, you will remember the character Maui, who is half man, half god.

Hawaiians attributed many natural phenomena to Maui. For the next few minutes here, I'd like to share with you one legend of how Maui learned to make fire and how he almost made Hawaii into one gigantic island. 

As the story goes, Maui had first fished up the Hawaiian islands from the bottom of the ocean with his magic hook. Maui was glad to see that the people lived happily on the islands. However, over time, the people found that it was quite difficult to travel from one island to the other. So, they asked Maui to bring all the islands together and make it into one huge landmass instead of separate islands. As the legend goes, the only way Maui could do this was to catch the powerful fish, Luehu, during a full moon.

So, he went fishing every month with his eight brothers to catch the great fish, Luehu. But nine alai birds kept them from ever catching the fish. The alai is a native Hawaiian seabird that looks kind of like a duck with black feathers. These alai birds were friends with the lewehu fish, and every time Maui and his brothers came fishing, they would count how many men were in the canoe.

And if they counted nine, which is Maui and his eight brothers, The birds would start a fire to warn the big fish so it escaped every time. In those days, it was said that the Hawaiian people did not know how to make fire. And the Alai birds were the only creatures on the islands that knew the secret. I know it's, you're probably wondering just how it is that the birds knew how to start fires, right? But stay with me here. 

One day, maui's mother Hina, came up with a brilliant plan. The plan was for Maui to make an image of himself with wood. You know, kind of like a dummy of himself. And then put it at the end of his canoe, where he usually sat. But, the real Maui actually hid himself in the usual place where the alai birds come out to make the fire.

Again, the birds saw the canoe and they counted. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine men. Bingo! So they went again for make the fire at the usual spot. Suddenly, Maui jumped out from his hiding place and caught the alai bird leader. Maui then demanded the bird tell him how to make the fire. The little bird told Maui he could start a fire by rubbing sticks together, but then he lied about what kind of wood to use.

Oh, Maui was so furious, he threatened the bird with death. And at last the Alai bird told him to use pua wood. Maui was so excited to finally learn the secret of making fire. But he also wanted to teach these Alai birds a lesson. So he rubbed the head of the bird with a burnt stick until blood came out.

Ever since, the Alai birds have had a red mark on their forehead.

Well now, with no more warning fire, Maui was pretty sure he could catch the fish, but before they set out, Hina, Maui's mom, told Maui to be sure he doesn't pick up any floating dish he might see in the river. Or, they'll turn into a beautiful woman. In ancient times, these bailing dishes were used to bail out water in the canoes and keep them from sinking.

However, just like most kids, Maui either wasn't paying attention to his mom when she was talking, or forgot whatever she said right away. Anyway, her warning went into one ear and out the other. Well, so when Maui saw a dish floating in the river, he thought nothing of it. He picked it up and put it on the back of his canoe, and the brothers just continued fishing.

Suddenly, the big fish Luehu was hooked. As Maui and his brothers pulled, the fish fought hard. Eventually, wrapping the fishing line around all the Hawaiian islands and drawing them ever closer. Excited, Maui urged his brothers not to look back, but to keep on paddling with all their might. As the islands got closer and closer, crowds of people gathered on the shore to cheer for Maui and his brothers.

Maui! Maui! Maui! You're so amazing, they chanted. But hey, something wasn't right, as the brothers soon realized. The crowds weren't really cheering for them, but this beautiful woman that sat in the back of the canoe. What their mother Hina had said had come true. The dish had turned into a beautiful woman.

All the brothers turned at once to look, and with their attention diverted, the big fish Luehu managed to free himself from the hook and the island slid apart to where they had been. Disappointed, Maui and his brothers returned empty handed. Because his brothers had looked back, the gods turned them into eight boulders at the river's mouth.

I guess if there's anything we can learn from this story, it would be hey, listen to your mother and pay attention when she's talking, huh? You know she's always right.

Want to hear more? Check out our West Maui Coastline tour!

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