Photo Essay by Mollie Tobias
Hawaii is a land of myths and mystery. The ancient Hawaiians, like most indigenous peoples, felt a deep connection with nature and explained everything from the creation of the Earth to the lava flowing from the volcanoes through the stories of their gods and goddesses. Much of Polynesia shares some version of the myth of Maui pulling Hawaii from the sea with slight variations from culture to culture.
The Demigod Maui was the mischievous fourth-born son of a father who was the supporter of the heavens and a mother who was the guardian of the underworld.
Like most younger brothers, he loved to tag along with his older brothers and shadow their steps. Like most older brothers, they quickly tired of his antics – especially since Maui was clever and known to trick his brothers and use trickery to steal the fish that they caught.
One day, Maui knew his brothers were planning to go out fishing without him, so he transformed himself into a small insect and hid in the boat with them until they were far out to sea. His brothers caught many fish and were about to turn for home when, where moments before an insect had been, Maui appeared. His brothers acted with disdain, but Maui pleaded with them bragged to them that he had created an exceptional hook and would catch a fish far greater than any other if they would paddle him deeper into the ocean.
His brothers agreed and they paddled far out of sight from their homeland. When they reached what Maui deemed to be far enough he baited his hook with an ‘alae, a bird sacred to his mother, and cast it into the sea.
The line went taut, and the sea began to move. Huge waves thrashed the ocean and the brothers rowed with all their might to reel in what was sure to be a giant fish. For days they battled the fish until one brother, exhausted, glanced backward. He shook with terror, for behind them rose a looming black shape. As he looked back the line went slack and then snapped, leaving behind them a trail of strange, large creatures partially submerged.
Maui and his brothers approached the nearest and Maui cautioned his brothers not to cut up this great fish while he explored. His brothers ignored his caution and began to slice off large chunks and put them in their canoe. The island – for that is what the creatures really were – raged against this invasion and caused the earth to shake. The gashes cut never did heal, and they formed the mountains and valleys that span the Hawaiian islands from sea to sea.