Maui Seeks Immortality

Climb up, climb up,
To the highest surface of heaven,
To all the sides of heaven.

Climb then to thy ancestor,
The sacred bird in the sky,
To thy ancestor Rehua

In the heavens.

-New Zealand kite incantation.

In Maui's last days he longed for the victory over death. His innate love of life led him to face the possibility of escaping and overcoming the relentless enemy of mankind and thus bestow the boon of deathlessness upon his fellow-men. He had been successful over and over again in his contests with both gods and men. When man was created, he stood erect, but, according to an Hawaiian myth, had jointless arms and limbs. A web of skin connected and fastened tightly the arms to the body and the legs to each other. Maui was angry at this motionless statue and took him and broke his legs at ankle, knee and hip and then, tearing them and the arms from the body, destroyed the web. Then he broke the arms at the elbow and shoulder. Then man could move from place to place, but he had neither fingers or toes. Here comes the most ancient Polynesian statement of the theory of evolution: Hunger impelled man to seek his food in the mountains, where his toes were cut out by the brambles in climbing, and his fingers were also formed by the sharp splinters of the bamboo while searching with his arms for food in the ground.

It was not strange that Maui should feel self-confident when considering the struggle for immortality as a gift to be bestowed upon mankind. And yet his father warned him that his time of failure would surely come.

White, who has collected many of the myths and legends of New Zealand, states that after Maui had ill-treated Mahu-ika, his grandmother, the goddess and guardian of fire in the under-world, his father and mother tried to teach him to do differently. But he refused to listen. Then the father said:

You heard our instructions, but please yourself and persist for life or death.

Maui replied: What do I care? Do you think I shall cease? Rather I will persist forever and ever.

Then his father said: There is one so powerful that no tricks can be of any avail.

Maui asked: By what shall I be overcome? The answer was that one of his ancestors, Hine-nui-te-p? (Great Hine of the night), the guardian of life, would overcome him.

When Maui fished islands out of the deep seas, it was said that Hine made her home on the outer edge of one of the outermost islands. There the glow of the setting sun lighted the thatch of her house and covered it with glorious colors. There Great Hine herself stood flashing and sparkling on the edge of the horizon.

Maui, in these last days of his life, looked toward the west and said: Let us investigate this matter and learn whether life or death shall follow.

The father replied: There is evil hanging over you. When I chanted the invocation of your childhood, when you were made sacred and guarded by charms, I forgot a part of the ceremony. And for this you are to die.

Then Maui said, Will this be by Hine-nui-te-p?? What is she like?