The legend of New Zealand

by Stephanie - 25/01/2011 13:55:00

The Māori name for the North island,
Te Ika a Maui, means "The fish of Maui".

The legend of Māui, a clever, gifted demigod, pretty much sums up the South Pacific idea of a hero. After a miraculous birth and upbringing he won the affection of his supernatural parents, taught useful arts to mankind, snared the sun and tamed fire, and fished out of the sea the islands of New Zealand.  

There are numerous Polynesian legends of Māui fishing up new land, with Te Ika a Maui (the North Island of New Zealand) the largest.

Disliked by his four older brothers, Māui would be left behind when they went fishing. So one night, he secretly made a fishhook from a magical ancestral jawbone and crept into his brothers' canoe and hid under the floorboards.

It wasn't until the brothers were far out of sight of land, and they had filled the bottom of their canoe with fish that Maui jumped up, took out his magic fishhook and threw it over the side reciting magic incantations.

The hook went deeper into the sea until Māui felt the hook had touched something. He tugged gently and far below the hook caught and together with his brothers brought the fish to the surface.

Māui cautioned his brothers to wait until he had appeased Tangaroa the god of the sea before they cut into the fish, but the brothers grew tired of waiting and began to carve out pieces for themselves. These are now the many valleys, mountains, lakes and rocky coastlines of the North Island.

There are many places throughout New Zealand associated with this particular Māui legend including the South Island that is also known as Te Waka a Maui or the canoe of Māui and the Stewart Island or Rakiura also known as Te Punga a Maui or the anchor stone of Māui.

Aotearoa, New Zealand is one of three centres of Māui legends the others are Hawaii and Tahiti. Māui also features in the folklore of Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and Tokelau as well as many other South Pacific islands. Despite the geographic spread, the stories remain essentially the same today.

According to legend, Māui eventually met his death while attempting to kill the goddess of death, Hine nui-te-po.

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