Māui, The Fun-Loving Trickster Of Polynesian Mythology

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A. W. Reed. Maui: Legends of the Demigod of Polynesia. Wellington: A. H. & A. W. Reed, 1943. (Deriv.)

Māui, The Fun-Loving Trickster Of Polynesian Mythology

An archetypal character who appears in the myths of many different cultures, the Trickster gleefully crosses and breaks physical and societal laws of both humans and gods, destroying norms, while openly challenging and ridiculing authority. As the messenger of the gods in Greek mythology, Hermes plays this role as the patron of thieves and inventor of lies. Norse mythology has Loki, a shapeshifter who could switch freely between genders and gives birth to Odin’s eight-legged horse when he takes the form of a mare. In Polynesian mythology it is Māui, who is not only the trickster but also a great cultural hero.

Participant of the Merrie Monarch Parade in Hilo performs as demigod Māui (  Thomas Tunsch / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Participant of the Merrie Monarch Parade in Hilo performs as demigod Māui (  Thomas Tunsch / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Tales of Māui’s exploits and adventures are told throughout most of Polynesia. In Maori mythology, Māui possesses superhuman strength and is capable of shapeshifting into animals. Perhaps in keeping with his shapeshifting abilities, depictions of Māui varies from one nation to another, from being a handsome young man to being a wise old wandering priest. However, although Maui was said to be a real rascal many of his deeds were, intentionally or not, done to better the lives of mankind. For example, in Hawaiian mythology, Māui heard the birds sing and noted their beautiful appearance as they flitted from tree to tree, barely visible among the leaves and flowers. But Māui was the only one who could see them, as humans could only hear their beautiful, mysterious songs without knowing from whence it sprung. Māui pitied his human friends and made the birds visible to the human eyes. Ever since, mankind has been able to both hear the songs and see the beauty of the birds. Other exploits of Māui common to most Polynesian traditions are stealing fire for humans from the Underworld, capturing the sun to lengthen the days, and his ominous baptism that caused humans to experience death.

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