In Summary: How Maui Caught the Sun
Maui is an important hero and trickster from Polynesian myth. His legends appear across Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, New Guinea, and New Zealand, with many different variations of similar tales. Maui is said to have brought many great gifts to mankind – pulling islands out of the sea, learning the secrets of fire and even making the formerly invisible birds apparent to the human eye.
In one famous Maui legend, Maui is even said to have slowed the passage of the sun.
“His flaming locks no longer fell upon the earth in great masses, burning the surface, but were so spread out by the hammering that they had undergone from Maui, that ever afterwards the fell on the world in numberless fine threads.”
― Kate McCosh Clark
The sun once moved across the sky far faster than it does today, zipping back and forth so quickly that the day had barely begun before it was over. Maui watched his family at work and, no matter how hard they tried, it was impossible for them to finish their chores before the sun was gone. Maui wished that he could do something to help them, and an idea came to him.
When Maui told his brothers that he planned to tame the sun, they laughed at him. No one can tame the sun, they told him. It is too fast and too hot; he would never be able to get close. Maui, however, refused to listen to their doubts. He persuaded them to come with him and gather great mountains of flax, weaving it together into long ropes. They then tied these into a great net – big enough to catch the sun.
Task complete, Maui led his brothers across the land to where the sun rose each morning. They travelled at night, so the sun would not see them coming, and as they moved closer to their destination and the ground grew hot and cracked, they cut great branches off the trees and used them as shelter from the punishing heat.
As last they reached the spot where the sun would rise. They would need to act as soon as the sun appeared, Maui told his brothers. If they waited too long, with its speed and its power the sun would escape or fight them off. He must be caught unaware.
His brothers agreed and, when the sun first raised its head above the horizon, they threw the net over him, pulling it tight and straining with all their might. The sun screamed, thrashing in his bonds, and struggling to get free, his heat rolling off him in waves and scorching the men who held him down.
Ignoring the heat, Maui ran forwards, raising his fishhook – the same fishhook he had used to raise islands, made from the jawbone of his godly grandmother – and striking the sun a mighty blow. The sun recoiled, demanding to know why Maui had trapped him so, why Maui was trying to kill him.
Maui told the sun that he did not want to kill him, but that the sun would only be released if he agreed to slow down, allowing them more light and longer days. The sun struggled some more but was tired from fighting against the net, and from Maui’s painful blows with the fishhook. Finally the sun could fight no more, and agreed.
To make sure that the sun would not go back on its promise, the sun was bound in the flaxen ropes, which slow its passage and ensure that each day is long enough.
Thus satisfied, Maui and his brothers returned home.