The Seven Great Deeds of Ma-ui: How Ma-ui Snared the Sun and Made Him Go More Slowly Across the Heavens

Brothers Grimm August 10, 2020
Hawaiian
7 min read
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The Sky had been lifted up, and another great Island had come from the grip of Old One Tooth and was above the waters. The world was better now for men and women to live in. But still there were miseries in it, and the greatest of these miseries was on account of the heedlessness of the Sun. For the Sun in those days made his way too quickly across the world. He hurried so that little of his heat got to the plants and the fruits, and it took years and years for them to ripen.

The farmers working on their patches would not have time in the light of a day to put down their crop into the ground so quickly the Sun would rush across the heavens, and the fishermen would barely have time to launch their canoes and get to the fishing grounds when the darkness would come on. And the women’s tasks were never finished. It was theirs to make the tapa-cloth: a woman would begin at one end of the board to beat the bark with her four-sided mallet, and she would be only at the middle of the board by the time the sunset came. When she was ready to go on with the work next day, the Sun would be already halfway across the heavens. Ma-ui, when he was a child, used to watch his mother making tapa, and as he grew up he pitied her more and more because of all the toil and trouble that she had. She would break the branches from the ma-ma-ka trees and from the wau-ke trees and soak them in water until their bark was easily taken off. Then she would take off the outer bark, leaving the inner bark to be worked upon. She would take the bundles of the wet inner bark and lay them on the tapa-board and begin pounding them with little clubs. And then she would use her four-sided mallet and beat all the soft stuff into little thin sheets. Then she would paste the little sheets together, making large cloths. This was tapa—the tapa that it was every woman’s business in those days to make. As soon as morning reddened the clouds Ma- ui’s mother, Hina-of-the-Fire, would begin her task: she would begin beating the softened bark at one end of the board, and she would be only in the middle of the board when the sunset came. And when she managed to get the tapa made she could never get it dried in a single day, so quickly the Sun made his way across the heavens. Ma-ui pitied his mother because of her unceasing toil. He greatly blamed the Sun for his inconsiderate- ness of the people of the world. He took to watching the Sun. He began to know the path by which the Sun came over the great mountain Ha-le-a- ka-la (but in those days it was not called Ha-le-a- ka-la, the House of the Sun, but A-hele-a-ka-la, The Rays of the Sun).

Through a great chasm in the side of this mountain the Sun used to come. He told his mother that he was going to do some- thing to make the Sun have more considerateness for the men and women of the world. “You will not be able to make him do anything about it,” she said; “the Sun always went swiftly, and he will always go swiftly.” But Ma-ui said that he would find a way to make the Sun remember that there were people in the world and that they were not at all pleased with the way he was going on. Then his mother said: “If you are going to force the Sun to go more slowly you must prepare your- self for a great battle, for the Sun is a great creature, and he has much energy. Go to your grand- mother who lives on the side of Ha-le-a-ka-la,” said she (but it was called A-hele-a-ka-la then), “and beg her to give you her counsel, and also to give you a weapon to battle with the Sun.”

So Ma-ui went to his grandmother who lived on the side of the great mountain. Ma-ui’s grandmother was the one who cooked the bananas that the Sun ate as he came through the great chasm in the mountain. “You must go to the place where there is a large wili-wili tree growing,” said his mother. “There the Sun stops to eat the bananas that your grandmother cooks for him. Stay until the rooster that watches beside the wili-wili tree crows three times. Your grandmother will come out then with a bunch of bananas. When she lays them down, do you take them up. She will bring another bunch out, and do you take that up too. When all her bananas are gone she will search for the one who took them. Then do you show yourself to her. Tell her that you are Ma-ui and that you belong to Hina-of-the- Fire.”

So Ma-ui went up the side of the mountain that is now called He-le-a-ka-la, but that then was called A-hele-a-ka-la, The Rays of the Sun. He came to where a great wili-wili tree was growing. There he waited. The rooster crew three times, and then an old woman came out with a bunch of bananas. He knew that this was his grandmother. She laid the bananas down to cook them, and as she did so Ma-ui snatched them away. When she went to pick up the bunch she cried out, “Where are the bananas that I have to cook for my Lord, the Sun?” She went within and got another bunch, and this one, too, Ma-ui snatched away. This he did until the last bunch of bananas that his grandmother had was taken. She was nearly blind, so she could not find him with her eyes. She sniffed around, and at last she got the smell of a man. “Who are you?” she said. “I am Ma-ui, and I belong to Hina-of-the-Fire,” said he.

“What have you come for?” asked his grandmother. “I have come to chastise the Sun and to make him go more slowly across the heavens. He goes so fast now that my mother cannot dry the tapa that she takes all the days of the year to beat out.”

The old woman considered all that Ma-ui said to her. She knew that he was a hero born, because the birds sang, the pebbles rumbled, the grass withered, the smoke hung low, the rainbow appeared, the thunder was heard, the hairless dogs were seen, and even the ants in the grass were heard to sing in his praise. She decided to give help to him. And she told him what preparations he was to make for his battle with the Sun. First of all he was to get sixteen of the strongest ropes that ever were made. So as to be sure they were the strongest, he was to knit them himself. And he was to make nooses for them out of the hair of the head of his sister, Hina-of-the-Sea.

When the ropes were ready he was to come back to her, and she would show him what else he had to do. Ma-ui made the sixteen ropes; he made them out of the strongest fibre, and his sister, Hina-of-the- Sea, gave him the hair of her head to make into nooses. Then, with the ropes and the nooses upon them, Ma-ui went back to his grandmother. She told him where to set the nooses, and she gave him a magic stone axe with which to do battle with the Sun. He set the nooses as snares for the Sun, and he dug a hole beside the roots of the wili-wili tree, and in that hole he hid himself.

Soon the first ray of light, the first leg of the Sun, came over the mountain wall. It was caught in one of the nooses that Ma-ui had set. One by one the legs of the Sun came over the rim, and one by one they were caught in the nooses. One leg was left hanging down the side of the mountain: it was hard for the Sun to move that leg. At last this last leg came slowly over the edge of the mountain and was caught in the snare. Then Ma-ui gathered up the ropes and tied them to the great wili-wili tree. When the Sun saw that his sixteen legs were held fast by the nooses that Ma-ui had set he tried to back down the mountain-side and into the sea again But the ropes held him, and the wili-wili tree stood the drag of the ropes. The Sun could not get away. Then he turned all his burning strength upon  fought. The man began to strike at the Sun with his magic axe of stone; and never before did the Sun get such a beating. “Give me my life,” said the Sun. “I will give you your life,” said Ma-ui, “if you promise to go slowly across the heavens.”

At last the Sun promised to do what Ma-ui asked him. They entered into an agreement with each other, Ma-ui and the Sun. There should be longer days, the Sun making his course slower. But every six months, in the winter, the Sun might go as fast as he had been in the habit of going. Then Ma-ui let the Sun out of the snares which he had set for him. But, lest he should ever forget the agreement he had made and take to travelling swiftly again, Ma-ui left all the ropes and the nooses on the side of Ha- le-a-ka-la, so that he might see them every day that he came across the rim of the mountain. And the mountain was not called A-hele-a-ka-la, the Rays of the Sun, any more, but Ha-le-a-ka-la, the House of the Sun.

After that came the saying of the people, “Long shall be the daily journey of the Sun, and he shall give light for all the peoples’ toil.” And Ma-ui’s mother, Hina-of-the-Fire, learned that she could pound on the tapa-board until she was tired, and the farmers could plant and take care of their crops, and the fishermen could go out to the deep sea and fish and come back, and the fruits and the plants got heat enough to make them ripen in their season.

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