Aotearoa Mythology: The Maui Cycle

Aotearoa Mythology: The Maui Cycle

Aotearoa Mythology: The Maui Cycle

The demigod Maui is undoubted the most famous character in the mythology of the Maoris and as hero and “trickster” he reflects and shapes value conception of the culture of his people.


An analysis dedicated to a “name relative of a kiwi singer”



The demigod Maui is undoubted the most famous character in the mythology of the Maoris and as hero and “trickster” he reflects and shapes value conception of the culture of his people. In a society that grants the highest rank in the family to the first-born as well as the succession to the father, he assumes as the youngest of the family (potiki) a certain exceptional position – similar to the “nestling” in our society. He is spoilt and meets with more indulgence than his elder siblings.

It is interesting to state that the majority of the male heros in the Maori mythology are eldest sons or chiefs. But also a lot of Potikis cause a stir. They are outsiders like Maui. At the beginning they are discriminated but later on they leave the “natural” heros far behind because of their cunning and their very great particular daring.

They are the ones who violate all rules. Maui proves that orders are not irrefutable and that cunnig and a good portion of having no scruples form a promising combination. His story shows also that man has certain limits and it can end bitterly for him when he does not recognize those limits or is not ready to accept them: Mauis End is Hine-nui-te-po’s bossom points that out.


Mauis Birth and Return to his Family: A child that was born before its time and died shortly afterwards was burried in a particular ceremony. Non-observance of the ceremonial rules and otherwise removal of the corpse made an evil spirit of the child that was malicious to the men. All malevolent gods originated from this mode.


Maui spy on his Mother: Illigitimate births were not unsual  in a society that granted visiting chiefs the sexual services of local women. The assembly house (whare hui) is a central element of each settlement. Mostly it is named after a significant forefather and symbolizes the body of this ancestor. The ridge is symbol for this ancestor’s spine, other parts of the building stand for the arms, eyes, ribs etc. Activities that take place in the assembly house are dance, music and poetry which demonstrate an inseparable unity.


Maui finds his Parents: Mauis encounter with the parents in the underworld (paerau) points to an important convention: It is a violation of the good tone to ask someone directly who she/he is. It is accepted to ask for the religion. This rule is still manifested today when Maoris of different tribes meet each other in the towns of New Zealand.

The Tohi ceremony is the purification ceremony for the newborn and at the same time the new member of the tribe will be welcomed. A priest purifies the child by speckling the newborn with water. Sons of aristocrats have been either consecrated to Tu, the god of the war or to Rongo, the good of the peace. The according gods were asked to provide the sons with the corresponding features.


Maui and the Magical Jaw-Bone: The jaw-bone symbolizes knowledge. Kauwae runga, the upper jaw- bone, stands for the knowledge of celestial and divine things that cannot be shared with mortals. This knowlege was passed on to a few chosen people of male gender in the whare wananga – the houses of learning. Kauwae raro, the lower jaw-bone, symbolizes the knowledge of worldly things. Both types of knowledge are highly respected. It is interesting that Maui obtains the jaw-bone (it is not known if it is the upper or lower jaw-bone) of Muriranga-whenua, one of the relatively few female characters in the mythology of the Maoris. Muris jaw-bone becomes a weapon that defeats the sun and from its bone Maui manufactures the fishing-hook with which he finally fishes for land.


Maui fishes for Land: After the violent separation from the parents in the creation mythology, the division of Maui’s fish without compliance with the necessary rituals is the second great sin in Maori mythology. It is absolutely necessary to thank the gods for the gifts of nature. Non-observance of this rule has negative consequences.


Maui and the Goddess of Fire: The elder not always pass on their knowledge with ease and often the young only succeed in obtaining it after conquest of several resistances. In the Maori mythology the names of the trees in which Mahuika throws her sparks are as follows: Kaikomako, Pukatea, Porokaiwhiri, Mahoe and Taraire. All this trees are indigenous to New Zealand and their wood has been used by the Maoris to make fire.


Maui transforms his Brother-in-Law into a Dog: The dog – kuri – is the only domestic animal of the Maori and has been imported from Hawaiki to Aotearoa. The Kuri of the Maori has been used as hound. His flesh was eaten and from his coat warm capes have been produced.


How the Death came into the World: Hine-titama became Hine-nui-te-po, the great goddess of the night and guardian of the underworld. To obtain the eternal life for mankind, Maui penetrates in form of a lizard into Hine. Besides Papa, Hine is one of the most prominent female characters in Maori mythology and like her she influences the history of mankind to a decisive degree.