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Maui, Polynesian Sun God - Windows to the Universe

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The Spring 2011 issue of The Earth Scientist is focused on modernizing seismology education. Thanks to IRIS, you can download this issue for free as a pdf. Print copies are available in our online store.
Artist's depiction of the Sun god, Maui.
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Maui

Maui was the trickster hero of Polynesian mythology. It is said that Maui was born prematurely and was abandoned by his mother in the surf. But having survived, he was eventually returned to his mother. His mother used to work all day making tapa (bark) cloth. For Maui and his mother, the days were too short; there was never enough time to accomplish anything in only one day. Maui wanted to allow his mother to have more daylight to make bark cloth.

He thought that if the Sun were moving slower across the sky, there would be more hours of light in one day. So, Maui cut off the sacred tresses of his wife, Hina, to make a rope that would not burn once in contact with the Sun. With his rope he caught the Sun as it was rising and beat it with the magic jawbone of his grandmother. The Sun was so weak after the beating that it could no run but only creep along its course. In this way, the sunlight lasted longer, and it was possible to work more during the day.

Maui was small but very courageous. He wasn't afraid of anything, even the monster eel Te Tuna. Maui challenged Te Tuna for his wife, Hina. The two compared the size of their phalluses. Maui won, and so Hina confidently changed lovers.

Another tale tells of the true bravery of the trickster god. He decided to steal a hen from heaven in order to learn the art of fire. The fire was supposedly guarded by a chicken. He also attempted to conquer death. He tried to get past the goddess of death, Hine-nui-te-po. However, she squeezed him to death. It is said that his blood made the shrimp red and formed the colors for the rainbow.

He was always trying to impress women. In one story, Maui pushed the sky higher up because it annoyed him. He was trying to make an earth oven for a beautiful lady.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF