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No. 54 (March 1966)
– 34 –


The expression ‘the spark of Mahuika’ (te kora o Mahuika) refers to fire, which Maui stole from Mahuika; his story is told on the opposite page.

In serious and eloquent language, and especially in the songs, expressions such as this were employed to give added dignity to the subject discussed. Thus in Whakaawe's oriori for his son (‘Nga Moteatea’ 75), he sings:

E tangi ana koe? He makariri tou?
Nau i kuhu mai i waenganui o te takurua,
Ka whakapiri noa te kora o Mahuika,
Ka taka te ahuru.

Are you crying? Are you cold?
It is because you came forth in the depth of winter.
Though we embrace the spark of Mahuika
There is no warmth.

And Tutemahurangi's lament for his son Te Hokio, accidentally burnt to death while eeling by torchlight (‘Nga Moteatea’ 172), ends:

Te kite no au i te ara ki te Reinga,
Kia horomia iho ko Hinenuitepo!
Me kai e au te kora o Mahuika
I hunuhunua ai to kiri haepapa,
To uru makaka ka piua e te ahi,
Taku tamaiti, e i.

Would that I could find the pathway to Te Reinga
To devour Hinenuitepo!
Let me consume the spark of Mahuika
That destroyed your flesh
And swept your curly locks with fire,
My son!

Te Reinga is the name of the place where the spirits of the dead leap to the underworld and it is also the name of the abode of the departed spirits. Hinenuitepo, the Great Lady of the Night who dwells in the underworld, brought death into the world.

Elsdon Best tells us that the five fingers of the hand were known as the ‘tokorima a Maui’ (the five of Maui). He says, ‘The prefix “toko” is employed because the five were persons—the personifications of fire … if, when offering food to a Maori, you apologise for the lack of knife and fork, he will say, ‘Never mind, I have the “tokorima a Maui”.’

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Maui Raua Ko Mahuika

Na kei a Mahuika te ahi, i ōna ringaringa me ōna waewae. Ka rongo a Māui, ka haere a ia ki te whakamate i a Mahuika, arā ki te nukarau. I tōna taenga atu ki tōna tupuna (he wahine a Mahuika), ka ui mai te kuia rā, ‘I haere mai koe ki te aha?’

Ka kī atu a Māui, ‘Ki te tiki ahi ki a au.’

Ka homai e Mahuika ko tētahi o ōna matikara, ka hoki mai a Māui. Ka tae ki te wai, ka tineia te ahi rā, ka keto. Ka hoki a Māui ki a Mahuika, ka mea atu a ia, ‘Kua mate te ahi i homai nei e koe.’

Ka mea mai te kuia rā, ‘He aha te mea i mate ai?’

Ka mea atu a Māui, ‘I taka ahau ki te wai.’

Ka tapahia mai anō tētahi o ana matikuku e Mahuika, ka homai anō ki a Māui, ka haere anō a Māui; ā ka tae anō ki te wai, ka tineia anō taua ahi, ā, tukua ana ōna ringaringa ki te wai kia mākū, kia mea ai a Mahuika, koia anō he pono te kupu a Māui i taka ana a ia ki te wai. Ka hoki anō a Māui, ka mea atu ki te kuia rā. ‘I hoki mai anō ahau ki te ahi ki a au.’

Te mea i tohe ai a Māui, he mea kia pau katoa te ahi i ngā ringaringa me ngā waewae o Mahuika, kei tahuri mai te kuia rā, kei tahuna mai a ia a Māui ki te ahi. Ko tāna mahi tonu tēnei, ka pau te ahi o ngā ringa o te kuia rā, ka tono a Māui ki te ahi i ngā waewae, ā ka tae ki te matikuku rongomatua, ā kotahi i toe, ka karanga atu a Māui, ‘Homai te matikuku, te mea i toe.’

Ka mea mai te kuia rā, ‘Kāhore e Māui, e nukarau ana koe ki a au.’

Na kātahi ka piua te ahi e Māui i tana ringa e mau ana, ā ka kainga a Mahuika e te ahi me te whenua katoa, me ngā rākau, a whano anō hoki a Māui, ka wera anō i taua ahi; ka oma a Māui, me te inoi ona kia tukua iho te ua o te rangi kia mate ai te ahi. Ā, keto ana te ahi rā, ko tētahi wāhi o te ahi i rere ki roto ki te kaikōmako, ki ētahi atu anō hoki o ngā rākau, i ora ai te ahi ki reira; mei kore te rere ki reira te oranga o te ahi, pēnei kua mate, kua kore rawa he ahi mo te ao nei.

Ko tāna mahi tuatahi, ko te mahi hīnaki rātou ko ōna tuākana. Ko te mahi tuarua, he tārai here. He tatara tāna mahi tuatoru, he mahi matau te mahi tuawhā, he kukume i ngā waewae o te kōkako te mahi tuarima, he whakapiko i a Irawaru te mahi


Maui and Mahuika

Now it was Mahuika who possessed fire; it was in her hands and feet. Maui heard of this, and he went to defeat and deceive her. When he arrived at her home, his ancestress said to him, ‘What are you here for?’

Maui replied, ‘I have come for some fire.’

Mahuika gave him one of her fingernails, and Maui left her. As soon as he came to some water he put out the fire, then went back to Mahuika and said, ‘The fire which you gave me has gone out.’

She asked, ‘How did it happen?’

Maui said, ‘I fell into some water.’

So Mahuika cut off another of her fingernails and gave it to him. Again Maui went away, and when he came to the water he again extinguished the fire, wetting his hands in the water so that Mahuika would think he was telling the truth when he said that he had fallen into the water. Then he returned and said to his ancestress, ‘I have come back for some more fire.’

The reason for Maui's doing this was that he wished to use up all of the fire in Mahuika's hands and feet, in case she should turn upon him and burn him up. He continued to act in this way until the fire in the old woman's hands was exhausted. Then he asked for the fire in her feet, and kept on until all that she had left was one big toe. Then Maui demanded, ‘Give me the last of your toenails.’

But the old woman said, ‘No Maui, you are deceiving me.’

Then Maui swung the fire that he had in his hand; it blazed up and burnt Mahuika, and all of the land and the trees. Maui was very nearly burnt in the fire; he ran away, praying that the rain would come down from heaven to put out the fire.

When the fire was extinguished part of it entered the kaikomako tree, and also various other trees, and was preserved there; but for this, fire would have been lost to the world.

First, Maui and his brothers made an eel trap. Then Maui made a bird spear. Next he made a point for the spear. His fourth task was stretching out the legs of the kokako bird. Then he made Irawaru bow down and become a dog, and then he defeated Murirangawhenua. His eighth task was the fishing up of the land. After this he defeated Mahuika. His last adventure was with Hinenuitepo.

– 36 –

tuaono, ko te whakamatenga o Muriranga-whenua te mahi tuawhitu, ko te kīnga o te whenua te mahi tuawaru, ko te whakamatenga o Mahuika te mahi tuaiwa, ko tana haerenga ki a Hinenuitepō.

The Myth of
The Origin of Fire

The story of Maui and Mahuika published above is taken from volume II of John White's ‘Ancient History of the Maori’. This particular version was related by a member of Ngati Hau tribe of Wanganui.

In many other countries similar stories have been told. Perhaps the most widely known of these is the Greek myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods by lighting a torch at the chariot of the sun, and gave it to mankind. Like Maui, Prometheus also bestowed many other gifts upon mankind.

Fire was produced by rubbing an upper stick (kaurima) into a lower grooved stick (kaunoti). The wood of the kaikomako tree was best for this purpose; hence the explanation offered in the myth, that when the great fire started by Mahuika was put out, part of the fire which remained entered the kaikomako tree.

‘The Maori’, writes Best, ‘had a great respect for fire, and spoke of it as a parent of man, as he did of a house. The old aphorism “He mata ahi, he mata tangata”, means that the fire parent and the human parent are equally useful to man.’

Many religious ceremonies involved the kindling of a special ritual fire. On such ceremonial occasions a woman held the lower of the firesticks with her foot, while a man employed the upright stick. While the fire was being made, ritual chants were recited.

Here is the text of a charm to heal a burn, as recorded by the Rev. Richard Taylor. It seems that while it was recited, fire was prepared; perhaps the idea was to ‘put the fire in its proper place’, as a servant of man.

I wera i te aha?
I wera i te ahi.
Ahi a wai?
Ahi a Mahuika.
Tikina mai whakahorahia,
Hei mahi kai ma taua.
Wera iti, wera rahi,
Wera kia raupapa.
Maku e whaka ihi,
Maku e whakamana.

It was burnt with what?
It was burnt with fire.
Fire from whom?
Fire from Mahuika.
Fetch me some fire, spread it out
To prepare food for us.
Little burn, great burn,
Burn be coated with skin.
I will make it grow,
I will make it effective.

Fire was an essential tool in many everyday tasks, for example in clearing ground for crops, and in hollowing out canoes.

It is said that the word ahiahi (evening) is derived from the word ahi (fire), since the evening was the time when fires were lit. Often charcoal was used in the open fires which provided heat and light in their dwellings, since this is a comparatively smokeless fuel. But there was sometimes much smoke from the fires. Occasionally those sleeping in a small, tightly sealed house would die from carbon monoxide poisoning; this, it was believed, was the work of the fairies.


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Ceremonial firemaking was performed by a man and woman, as depicted in this painting by Lindauer.