The Seven Great Deeds of Ma-ui: How Ma-ui Fished Up the Great Island

Padraic Colum August 10, 2020
5 min read
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Now, although Ma-ui had done deeds as great as these, he was not thought so very much of in his own house. His brothers complained that when he went fishing with them he caught no fish, or, if he drew one up, it was a fish that had been taken on a hook belonging to one of them, and that Ma-ui had managed to get tangled on to his own line. And yet Ma-ui had invented many things that his brothers made use of. At first they had spears with smooth heads on them: if they struck a bird, the bird was often able to flutter away, drawing from the spear- head that had pierced a wing. And if they struck through a fish, the fish was often able to wriggle away. Then Ma-ui put barbs upon his spear, and his spear-head held the birds and the fish. His brothers copied the spear-head that he made, and after that hey were able to kill and secure more birds and fish than ever before. He made many things that they copied, and yet his brothers thought him a lazy and a shiftless fel- low, and they made their mother think the same about him.

They were the better fishermen—that was true; indeed, if there were no one but Ma-ui to go fishing, Hina-of-the-Fire, his mother, and Hina- of-the-Sea, his sister, would often go hungry. At last Ma-ui made up his mind to do some won- derful fishing; he might not be able to catch the fine fish that his brothers desired—the u-lua and the pi-mo-e—but he would take up something from the bottom of the sea that would make his brothers for- get that he was the lazy and the shiftless one. He had to make many plans and go on many adventures before he was ready for this great fish- ing. First he had to get a fish-hook that was different from any fish-hook that had ever been in the world before. In those days fish-hooks were made out of bones—there was nothing else to make fish- hooks out of—and Ma-ui would have to get a wonderful bone to form into a hook.

He went down into the underworld to get that bone. He went to where his ancestress was. On one side she was dead and on the other side she was a living woman. From the side of her that was dead Ma-ui took a bone/her jaw-bone—and out of this bone he made his fish-hook. There was never a fish-hook ike it in the world before, and it was called “Ma- nai-i-ka-lani,” meaning “Made fast to the heavens.”

He told no one about the wonderful fish-hook he had made for himself. He had to get a different bait from any bait that had ever been used in the world before. His mother had sacred birds, the alae, and he asked her to give him one of them for bait. She gave him one of her birds. Then Ma-ui, with his bait and his hook hidden, and with a line that he had made from the strongest olona vines, went down to his brothers’ canoe. “Here is Ma-ui,” they said when they saw him, “here is Ma-ui, the lazy and the shiftless, and we have sworn that we will never let him come again with us in our canoe.”

They pushed out when they saw him coming; they paddled away, although he begged them to take him with them. He waited on the beach. His brothers came back, and they had to tell him that they had caught no fish. Then he begged them to go back to sea again and to let him go this time in their canoe. They let him in, and they paddled off. “Farther and farther out, my brothers,” said Ma-ui; “out there is where the u-lua and the pi-mo-e are.” They paddled far out. They let down their lines, but they caught no fish. “Where are the u-lua and the pi-mo-e that you spoke of?”said his brothers to him. Still he told them to go farther and farther out.

At last they got tired with paddling, and they wanted to go back. Then Ma-ui put a sail upon the canoe. Farther and farther out into the ocean they went. One of the brothers let down a line, and a great fish drew on it. They pulled. But what came out of the depths was a shark. They cut the line and let the shark away. The brothers were very tired now. “Oh, Ma-ui,” they said, “as ever, thou art lazy and shift- less. Thou hast brought us out all this way, and thou wilt do nothing to help us. Thou hast let down no line in all the sea we have crossed.”

It was then that Ma-ui let down his line with the magic hook upon it, the hook that was baited with the struggling alae bird. Down, down went the hook that was named “Ma-nai-i-ka-lani,” “Made fast to the heavens.” Down through the waters the hook and the bait went. Ka-uni ho-kahi, Old One Tooth, who holds fast the land to the bottom of the sea, was there. When the sacred bird came near him he took it in his mouth. And the magic hook that Ma-ui had made held fast in his jaws. Ma-ui felt the pull upon the line. He fastened the line to the canoe, and he bade his brothers paddle their hardest, for now the great fish was caught. He dipped his own paddle into the sea, and he made the canoe dash on. The brothers felt a great weight grow behind the canoe. But still they paddled on and on. 

Weighty and more weighty became the catch; harder and harder it became to pull it along. As they struggled on Ma-ui chanted a magic chant, and the weight came with them. “O Island, O great Island, O Island, O great Island! Why art thou Sulkily biting, biting below? Beneath the earth The power is felt, The foam is seen: Come, O thou loved grandchild Of Kanaloa.”

On and on the canoe went, and heavier and heavier grew what was behind them. At last one of the brothers looked back. At what he saw he screamed out in affright. For there, rising behind them, a whole land was rising up, with mountains upon it. The brother dropped his paddle when he saw what had been fished up; as he dropped his paddle the line that was fastened to the jaws of old Ka-uni ho-kahi broke. What Ma-ui fished up would have been a main- land, only that his brother’s paddle dropped and the line broke. Then only an island came up out of the water. If more land had come up, all the Islands that we know would have been joined in one There are people who say that his sister, Hina-of- the-Sea, was near at the time of that great fishing. They say she came floating out on a calabash. When Ma-ui let down the magic hook with their mother’s sacred bird upon it, Hina-of-the-Sea dived down and put the hook into the mouth of Old One Tooth, and then pulled at the line to let Ma-ui know that the hook was in his jaws. Some people say this, and it may be the truth. But whether or not, every one, on every Island in the Great Ocean, from Kahiki- mo-e to Hawaïi nei, knows that Ma-ui fished up a great Island for men to live on. And this fishing was the third of Ma-ui’s great deeds. 

The legend of Ma-ui continues in How Maui Snared the Sun and Made Him Go More Slowly Across the Heavens

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