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Maui

Maui (mou´ē), island (1990 est. pop. 82,500), 728 sq mi (1,886 sq km), second largest island in the state of Hawaii, separated from the island of Hawaii by the Alenuihaha Channel and from Molokai by the Pailolo Channel. Maui is made up of two mountain masses, which constitute the east and west peninsulas, connected by an isthmus. The highest point on the island is the Haleakala volcano (10,023 ft/3,055 m) in Haleakala National Park. In the west, Puu Kukui rises to 5,788 ft (1,764 m). The island's chief industries are tourism and the cultivation of sugarcane and pineapples. The principal ports are Kahului and Lahaina. Wailuku (1990 pop. 10,688) is the largest town and the county seat of Maui co. (1990 pop. 100,374), which includes the islands of Maui, Kahoolawe, and Molokai.

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Maui

Maui

In Polynesian mythology, Maui was a powerful trickster god best known for creating the Pacific islands. A son of the god Tangaroa and a woman, he performed many deeds to improve the lives of humans, such as making the sky higher and the day longer. Endowed with magical powers, this small but exceedingly strong god and culture hero tried but did not succeed in achieving immortality.

Maui created the islands while out on a fishing trip with his brothers. First he fashioned a magic fishing hook from his grandmother's jawbone. Then, as his brothers looked on, Maui cast the hook into the water and began to pull up from the ocean floor the islands on which the Polynesians now live.

On another occasion Maui was out walking and came upon a girl who complained that the sky was so low it kept falling on her and preventing her from doing her chores. Eager to impress the girl, Maui pushed hard and succeeded in raising the sky

In order to give people more hours of daylight to tend their gardens, cook their food, and make cloth, Maui made the days longer. With the help of his brothers, he caught the sun in a net and beat it with his grandmother's magic jawbone. The sun was so bruised and bloodied by this battering that from that time on it could only limp slowly across the sky.

trickster mischievous figure appearing in various forms in the folktales and mythology of many different peoples

culture hero mythical figure who gives people the tools of civilization, such as language and fire

immortality ability to live forever

Maui tried to become immortal by tricking Hina, the goddess of death, as she lay sleeping. He crawled into her body and tried to pass through it, but the goddess was awakened by the call of a bird and promptly crushed Maui to death.

See also Polynesian Mythology; Tricksters.

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Maui

Maui

Nationality/Culture

Polynesian

Pronunciation

MOU-ee

Alternate Names

None

Appears In

Polynesian creation myths

Lineage

Son of Tangaroa

Character Overview

In Polynesian mythology , Maui was a powerful trickster god best known for creating the Pacific islands. A son of the god Tangaroa (pronounced tan-guh-ROH-uh) and a woman, he performed many deeds to improve the lives of humans, such as making the sky higher and the days longer. Endowed with magical powers, this small but strong god tried to achieve immortality, or the ability to live forever.

Major Myths

Maui created the islands while out on a fishing trip with his brothers. First he fashioned a magic fishing hook from his grandmother's jawbone. Then, as his brothers looked on, Maui cast the hook into the water and began to pull up from the ocean floor the islands on which the Polynesians now live.

On another occasion, Maui was out walking and came upon a girl who complained that the sky was so low it kept falling on her, preventing her from doing her chores. Eager to impress the girl, Maui pushed hard and succeeded in raising the sky.

In order to give people more hours of daylight to tend their gardens, cook their food, and make cloth, Maui made the days longer. With the help of his brothers, he caught the sun in a net and beat it with his grandmother's magic jawbone. The sun was so bruised and bloodied by this battering that from that time on it could only limp slowly across the sky.

Maui tried to become immortal by tricking Hina, the goddess of the moon, death, and rebirth, as she lay sleeping. He crawled into her body and tried to pass through it, but the goddess was awakened by the call of a bird and promptly crushed Maui to death.

Maui in Context

Maui fills a role common in many tribal cultures: he helps his people become social beings. Maui's story reminds the people of their distant, mythic past—before they created their society and became fully human. Maui brought to Polynesians the cultural skills they needed to live in social groups, thus differentiating themselves from animal groups. Maui provides extra light for people to complete their work, and in some myths he even shows humans how to make fire from the friction of two pieces of wood. Before he came, it is noted, people simply ate food raw. Also common in many tribal cultures is the hero whose divine status is uncertain; Maui is sometimes mentioned as a god, and sometimes as a human. This may indicate that the legend is based on an actual figure who ruled over one of the cultures of the Pacific Islands.

Key Themes and Symbols

In Polynesian mythology, Maui is seen as a friend and helper of mankind. He makes the days longer and pushes the sky higher in order to make life easier for people. He can be seen as a symbol of social behavior.

Mortality is an important theme in the myths of Maui. Although he is the son of a god and possesses great strength, he knows he will die someday. This leads him in search of a way to live forever, which ultimately brings about his death. His fate indicates a belief that it is impossible for mortals to cheat death.

Maui in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Maui is perhaps best known for lending his name to Maui, one of the Hawaiian Islands, and he sometimes appears in the artistic carvings of Pacific Islanders. His hook, which was used to pull the islands to the surface of the ocean, is also a popular object represented in Polynesian art.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Maui typifies the culture hero, a type of character found in myths throughout the world. In their own societies, culture heroes perform a role much like today's politicians—helping the members of their society. Using your library, the Internet, or other available resources, research several culture heroes from different societies around the world. What characteristics or qualities do they have in common? What kinds of things do they do for their people? Now select a popular political figure in your own society and compare his or her qualities to those of the mythic figures. What does the contemporary figure do for his or her society? Does he or she live up to the traditional role of culture hero?

SEE ALSO Polynesian Mythology; Tricksters

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