You know, Disney has a lot to answer for in the mutilating a story stake…I am not talking about your “Dumbos” or “Bambis”, more things like…”Pocahontas” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dam” where they butcher either history or a well written story to present a cutesy happy ending, when in reality it wasn’t quite so. Now, I know that primarily the films are for children, but with an effective adult cult following, perhaps they could stick a little closer to the storyline, which is why I was surprised by the film “Moana”…(I won’t lie…despite the horror of how they switch up stories, I still love Disney).
“Moana” uses some very key stories from Polynesian myths…ok they soften the blow for the big finally, but I was impressed on how they captured some of his antics within the film. Therefore to make a change from me talking about Greek myth, I wanted to bring you some of the art of Bobby Holcomb and the story of Maui.
Holcomb, you may know as a reggae singer who was born in Honolulu in 1947. He studied music in Los Angeles, and travels through the tropics, falling in to the flower power movement of the 70s he rubbed shoulders with people such as Frank Zappa and Salvidor Dali. In 1976 he settled in Tahiti, where he starts to get into the reggae lifestyle and in 1985 reached a vast audience with his song “Orio”. He released several solo albums and in 1988 became personality of the year, his songs reaching the outer islands of the Pacific.
Holcomb became fascinated with the myths and legends of the islands and created beautiful yet simple paintings to tell the stories to all age groups. Holcomb died in 1991 and is now buried at the foot of Mon’a Tapu, a sacred mountain.
Holcomb’s art embodied the key features of the stories in a unique simplicity which is undeniably beautiful. He also uses key themes of patterns to encapsulate the spirit of the islands that were his home. If you think of anything from Polynesia or New Zealand you will think of highly tattooed people with heavily decorated clothing and totems. These patterns contribute to their stories, much like their tapestries of life.
I find it really interesting that the myths of these islands spread so far, as while the stories differ very slightly (what myth doesn’t), the key elements remain the same from Tahiti, to Hawaii to New Zealand.
Myths quite often get confusing as often they don’t give you a definitive of how they became Gods or Demigods, so I will give you my versions which draw from all of the stories across the islands, but hopefully will make the most sense.
Maui was a trickster Demigod, but his start was not so full of joy. He was born to Taranga, but he was premature. Seeing the child, Taranga got scared that he wasn’t fully formed, so cut a tuft of hair from her head, wrapped him up in it and threw him into the ocean. The ocean wrapped him in seaweed to protect him and gently rocked him to sleep, returning him back to shore. As his mother had run off, jellyfish rolled under the child to cushion him from the shore, but flies ans birds started to circle, waiting for the child to die.
Tame-nui-ke-ti-Rangi, the wise one, saw the birds and flies and ran to shore, gathering the child up, he said that he would look after the abandoned boy. The child grew and Tame-nui-ke-ti-Rangi taught him all the magic of the earth and sky. At this time the land was not fully formed and the sky was low. As soon as the child knew as much as the old man, Tame-nui-ke-ti-Rangi said “it is now time for you to find your parents”. The child travelled until he could no longer walk across the terrain, so he turned into a hawk and flew, and found a great assembly hall where his mother and her other children were partaking in a great dance. The child waited until the next night, and then snuck in to where his four brothers were sat, waiting to be collected to join the great dance. He sat behind them and when their mother came to collect them, she wondered where the fifth child had come from. At first she tried to send the child away, but when he explained that she had thrown him out to sea, she opened her arms to him, naming him Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga – which means Maui formed in the top knot of Taranga.
After the dance Taranga called to Maui to come sleep with her so she may kiss and cuddle him. Maui did as he was told, but awoke to find his mother gone. She didn’t return until the evening, where she then called for him again. This routine went on for many nights, until Maui wondered where his mother was going. His brothers were less interested, suggesting he be just as happy as they were. Maui was not happy. One night he decided to steal his mother’s clothes and block all the windows and doors so no light could enter the room. His mother woke late, wondering why the night had been so long, finding her clothes gone, she wrapped a cape around herself and fled the house.
Maui followed his mother, to where she pulled up clumps of grass and descended into the earth. Maui turned himself in to a pigeon (not ones that we see in Trafalgar Square… but a beautiful bird with splendid plumage). He followed the tunnel that he mother had walked and came to a crowd of people sitting beneath a tree. Maui perched in the tree and started to throw berries at the man sat with his mother. The people tried to scare the bird off, but when it didn’t go they called it down. Transforming into his human form Maui joined the crowd and his father embraced him. They then cleansed Maui and turned him into a demigod because of his knowledge and abilities.
From here Maui, became a trickster to the elements. He did things such as raise the sky with his fathers help so that the people of the land could plant trees.
One day (and this story relates to the picture of Maui I have selected) his mother was laying bark out to dry, but the days were short so she could never get it dried in a day. Maui made a lassu of his sisters hair and threw it around the suns arms (rays). He said to the sun “you need to slow your pace across the sky or I will beat you”, the sun agreed that it would make its passage across the sky slower so that his mother could dry her bark.
Many of the stories of Maui all end up with humans benefiting, such as the story of him killing the giant eel. The eel had taken a liking to Maui’s mother (sometimes in the stories it is his sister), and when she declined the eel’s advances, the eel became violent and aggestiated, lashing around on the shore emitting slime so that his mother couldn’t pass. Maui, seeing what was happening cut the eel in to slices, which then became the smaller eels in the sea that humans could fish. Maui planted the eels head and the first coconut tree grew from it.
Maui is also said to have fished out of the water the Hawaiian islands, with his magic fish hook, bringing more lands for humans to live on.
Maui’s death, comes from his want for eternal life (ironic I know). When Maui’s father was performing the rituals to turn him into a demigod, he forgot the part for eternal life. One day Maui asked his father what would overcome him and his father responds that “there is one so powerful that no trick will avail him”. Maui being the cheeky scamp that he was, wanted to gain power over this. Maui persuades one of his brothers to travel to the birthplace of life with him so that he can keep watch.
When they arrive Hine nui te po, the guardian goddess, is asleep. Maui knows that he must capture the heart of Hine nui te po to bring eternal life back for all men. He creates a plan to enter through Hine nui te po stomach and then cut out the heart and leave through the mouth (or vagina depending on what version you want to follow).
Hine nui te po had flashing green eyes, volcanic glass for teeth, a large fish like mouth and hair that floated in the air like seaweed (in some stories her vagina has the teeth… yes you heard me correctly).
The plan seems to go well, but as Maui reaches the mouth, his brother laughs loudly that Maui was successful in his plan, this wakes the goddess and she bites him in half, ending his life and any plans for human immortality.
It is funny how the hunt for eternal life always ends in death…
Have you heard about Maui? Why not tell me your stories in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?
Thanks for this. I had no idea that these myths were so well developed. I figured Disney was just fishing the shallows, yet these stories run deep.