Maui Tames the Sun
An old Maori folktale as told by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
Maui had often heard his brothers talking about how there was not enough sunlight during the day. Night after night they would sit round the fire and discuss this problem. No matter how early they got up, still there weren't enough hours of sunlight for all their village duties and for hunting and fishing. So Maui thought about what he could do to solve their problem. Then he announced to his brothers that he had found a solution: ‘I think I can tame the Sun.’
‘Maui, don't be so ridiculous!’ they replied.‘'No one can tame the Sun. For a start, if you got anywhere near him you would be burnt to a cinder. There is no way of taming the Sun. He’s far too big and powerful.’
But Maui said, with great authority this time, ‘Look, I can tame the Sun. Get all the women of the tribe to go and cut as much flax as possible — I want a really huge pile — then I will show you how to make a net that will be strong enough to capture the Sun. I will make sure that he won’t go so quickly across the sky in future.’
The brothers obeyed him and when they had collected mounds of flax Maui showed them how to plait it into strong ropes. He made long ropes and short ropes, and tied some of them together to make a net gigantic enough to catch and hold the Sun. After many hours of plaiting they finally had enough rope and nets to please Maui.
Then he set off, equipped with his special axe, with his brothers and some men from the tribe and it took several days to reach the Sun’s resting place in the East. After a short stop they started their preparations. They found the cave from which the Sun would be rising next morning and they quickly set to work covering the entrance with the net of plaited ropes. When they were sure they had done a really good job they camouflaged the ropes with leaves and branches. They also made themselves clay walls as a protection against the Sun’s fierce heat, and smeared the clay all over their bodies. Then they hid.
Maui crouched down on one side of the cave and the rest of the men were on the other side. It wasn't long before they saw the first glimmer of light from the cave. Then they felt the scorching heat. The men were shaking with fear as the light grew more and more blinding and the heat more and more stifling. They were sure that Maui’s plan would not work. Suddenly they heard a sharp shout from Maui, ‘Pull! Pull the ropes as hard as you can.’
The net fell like a huge noose over the Sun. Although the men were terrified that the Sun would kill them all, they pulled and strained as hard as they possibly could so that the Sun could not escape.
The Sun, who was raging at being held captive, struggled and roared. Maui knew he had to do something more than just hold the Sun in the net so he yelled to one of his brothers to take his end of the rope. He rushed out from the protection of his wall and, with his special axe raised high above his head, he ran towards the Sun. Even though the heat was singing his body and his hair, he started to attack the Sun with his axe.
The Sun roared even louder. ‘What are you doing? Are you trying to kill me?’ he screamed.
‘No. I am not trying to kill you,’ answered Maui, ‘but you don't understand. You go too fast across the sky, and we are all unable to do our daily work. We need more hours of light in our days for hunting and fishing, for building and repairing our village houses.’
‘Well,’ said the Sun, ‘you have given me such a battering that I don't think I could speed across the sky now, even if I wanted to.’
‘If we release you,’ said Maui, ‘will you promise to slow your journey down?’
‘You have so weakened me that now I can only go slowly,’ answered the Sun.
Maui made him solemnly promise to do what he had asked and then he released the ropes. Maui’s brothers and the men of the tribe watched as the Sun, slowly and stiffly, began to lift into the sky. They all smiled at Maui — they were proud of him.
To this day, the Sun travels on his long lonely path across the sky at a very slow pace, giving us many more hours of sunlight than he used to do.