Aotearoa/ New Zealand
Maui the Half-God and Mahuika
Maui the Half-God and Mahuika
Taken from Myths and Legends of Maoriland compiled by A. W. Reed
Maui’s restless mind was never satisfied with the answers he received to his questions.
“Where does fire come from?” he wanted to know.
“It is here,” they replied impatiently. “Why do you want to know where it comes from? If it is ours, do we need to know how it comes to us?”
“But what if the fire goes out?”
“We do not let it go out. If that should happen, our mother knows where to obtain fire, but she will not tell us.”
That night, when everyone was asleep, Maui left his whare and crept to the cooking fires that were smoldering in the darkness. Quietly he poured water on them until the last spark was quenched.
As soon as the sky flushed with the first rays of dawn, Maui called to his servants, “I am hungry. Cook some food quickly.” They ran to the fires, only to find heaps of grey ash. There was an outcry in the village as the servants rushed to and fro with the news. Maui stayed in his whare and smiled to himself as he listened to the noise. Presently he heard the sound of voices on the marae, the village meeting-place. His mother was telling the slaves to go to the underworld to get more fire.
Maui threw his kiwi feather cloak round him and strode on to the marae. The slaves were huddled together in terror, for they dreaded the underworld. “I will go, my mother. Where shall I find the land of darkness? Who is keeper of the fire?”
Taranga looked at her son suspiciously. “If no one will go, then my youngest son must make the journey. If you keep to the path that I will show you, you will come to the house of Mahuika, your ancestress. She is the guardian of the fire. If she asks your name, tell her who you are. You must be careful. Be respectful, my son. We know the ways of Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga, but your ancestress is powerful, and if you try to deceive her, she will punish you.”
Maui grinned mischievously and set off at once with a long, steady pace that covered the ground quickly, and soon took him to the shadowy land where the fire goddess lived. Presently he came to a beautiful whare with splendid carvings, with paua-shell eyes that shone like flame in the darkness. A woman’s voice, old and broken, like the crackling of branches in the fire, came to his ears.
“Who is the bold mortal that stares at the whare of Mahuika of the Fire?”
“It is Maui.”
“I have five grandchildren called Maui. Is it Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga?”
“Yes, it is I.”
The old woman chuckled. “What do you want from your grandmother, Maui-the-last-one?”
“I want fire to take back to my mother and my brothers.”
“I can give you fire, Maui.”
Mahuika pulled out one of her fingernails, and it burst into flame. “Carry it carefully, Maui, and light your fires with it.”
Maui took it away, but when he had gone a little distance, he threw it on the ground and stamped on it until the fire had been beaten out. He went back to the whare.
“Aha, it is Maui again,” the old woman called. “What do you want this time, Maui?”
“Fire. I have lost it. The flame went out.”
Mahuika scowled. “Then you have been careless, my grandchild. I will give you another fingernail, but you must shield the flame with your hand.”
Maui took the burning fingernail. When he was out of sight, he beat out the flame and returned to Mahuika. The fire goddess scowled at him, and grumbled as she gave him another.
Five times Maui went away with the flame, and five times he returned empty handed. Ten times he went away, and ten times he returned empty handed. Mahuika’s fingernails had all been given away. Grudgingly she gave him one of her toenails, but in a little while the crafty Maui came back for another. Five times he went away, and five times he returned empty handed. Nine times he went away and nine times he returned empty handed.
Then at last, Mahuika’s patience was exhausted. The subterranean fires shook the house, and Maui had to force his way through the heat and the smoke that poured from the door and window. Mahuika’s eyes glared through the darkness like flashes of lightning. She took her toenail and threw it at Maui. It fell short, and as it touched the ground, there was a noise like thunder, and a sheet of flame travelled with the speed of wind towards Maui. He ran as quickly as he could, but the flames were like a taniwha roaring after him. He changed to the form of a hawk and flew onwards with great strokes of his wings, but still the flames gained on him. He could feel the heat singeing his feathers, and to this day you will see that the plumage of the hawk remains brown where the fire touched it.
A pool of water lay before him and, folding his wings, he plunged into it. Presently the water grew warm. Maui stirred uneasily at the bottom of the pool. It was beginning to get hot now. A few moments later it started to boil and Maui flew upward. The air was cull of flame. The forest was on fire and the flames were spreading up into the sky.
It seemed as though the whole world was in danger of being destroyed by fire. Then Maui remembered the gods he had known. He called to them and they saw that the earth was in peril. They sent down rain, heavy driving rain that hurled itself against the flames, and flattened their crests, and broke through the walls of fire. A harsh voice was heard crying in terror. Mahuika was in the midst of the fire, and as she turned and fled to her home, her strength began to fail her. The flames subsided into fitful little tongues, and died suddenly in a puff of steam. Mahuika threw the last of her fire into the trees, and they gave it shelter and saved it for the children of men.
At the last, then, there came goodness from the mischief of Maui, for men learnt to rub the wood of these trees together so that the fire cam from them, and they could at any time summon the fire children of Mahuika to their aid.