Māui is the great trickster hero of Polynesian mythology. Much pre-European Polynesian history is related to this inventive character. Many of the stories are legendary – the theft of fire, the capture of the sun, the pursuit of immortality, the descent into the underworld in search of his father.
A central story about Māui tells of how he fished up the North Island of New Zealand. The South Island is referred to as Te Waka-a-Māui, or Māui’s canoe. Rakiura (Stewart Island) is the canoe’s anchor stone and it is said that Māui stood at the peninsula at Kaikōura while he hauled up his prized catch.
Basis for settlement
Such events are of great importance in the world view these traditions express. The tribal traditions which cite descent from or a relationship with Māui provide a basis for settlement in New Zealand. Descent from Māui is a starting point for tribal tenure of the land.
Māui and his fish
The following story was written by the Ngāti Porou tohunga, Mohi Ruatapu. It begins with Māui fetching the jawbone of his grandmother Muri-ranga-whenua to use as a fish hook. He then goes fishing with his reluctant older brothers. Mohi continues:
…his bait was his nose; he punched it, the blood ran down, and he smeared it on the jawbone of his grandparent Muri-ranga-whenua. By the time the jawbone reached the bottom, his fish had bitten on it. Then the canoe was lifted up and its bow was pushed down. His elder brothers cried out in fear … Then his fish came to the surface …That fish continues to lie here as land. It is still inhabited by Māui, his elder brothers and their children. This is the origin of the presence of the Māori ancestors in this island. 1