Maui was not a healthy child and his mother tossed him into the sea. But Maui didn’t die. He lived in the sea until he was a teenager, looked after by the creatures that lived there, and went back to the land as a young man to find his brothers and his mum. His folks were both gods, but his own baptism had been botched, and as a result, he was condemned to mortality. He wore it well, though; mortality seemed to be an added charm for Maui, and he became a beloved intermediary between gods and mortals. He brought fire to the people; he fought against the earthquake god; he slowed down the sun so as to make the days longer.
He was a ladies’ man. He struck deals with the pretty young women, convincing them to spend the night with him. Maui had a number of lovers before he truly fell in love, with a Hawaiian girl named Hina, something of a goddess herself, moony and dreamy and wildly beautiful. It was almost of the death of him, of course. And his actual death was even more suitable. Maui had heard that if a man could pass through the goddess of the night, twice, he would gain immortality. So he climbed up the goddess’ thighs – and got stuck.
Daniel Cowper came to the island of Maui, where I lived. He was a man of the sea; he was a ladies’ man too, and he took me away with him. He wooed me the way a bull seal tries to find a mate: fighting furiously with any other man around, while I watched on indifferently.
We ended up on a rocky island in the middle of a strait thrashed with heavy winds. There, we found birds bigger than men. Kelp blackened the beaches. We were there for the seals. Demand was endless for the skins; the Chinese bought our big casks of seal oil. Our home was a rude hut of four bark walls, but it was enough. All day long I kept the fire going, chopped up the flesh of wombats and emus and roos, tossed them into the one indiscriminate stewpot.
Maui, they say, made the islands of Hawai’i, by accident. His fishing line got snagged on the ocean floor and he ended up dragging up a big arc of land as he rowed away from it, trying to free himself of the snag. The land fell down with almighty crash in the end: chunks of it scattered everywhere across the Pacific Ocean. But who made this island that we made home? The English call it King Island, but I’ve heard about their Governor King. He’s a trickster like Maui, but he’s no god. Maybe the seals made this one: somehow used their big bulk to push together all the rocks at the bottom of the strait, and make this rough island. Or maybe it floated here by accident from South America.
← Back to all posts