Maui Kisikisi and fire

Maui Kisikisi brings fire from the underworld

There was a man named Maui Motu’a who lived in Pulotu (the land underneath the land). Maui Motu’a had a son named Maui Atalanga who traveled between Pulotu and Koloa, because he was married to a woman from Koloa island. Maui Atalanga had a son named Maui Kisikisi who never went to Pulotu and always stayed in Koloa.

In those days there was no fire on the land; the only fire was in Pulotu. The people on the land had to eat their food raw. Each day Maui Atalanga, the son, would travel down to Pulotu to visit his father. One day, Maui Kisikisi, the grandson, followed his father and saw his father push over some bamboo. This opened up a hole in the ground that was like a little door that leads to Pulotu. After his father had descended through the hole, Maui Kisikisi uncovered the hole and followed his father down to Pulotu too.

When Maui Kisikisi arrived in Pulotu he saw his grandfather, Maui Motu’a, peeling two cooked yams by a fire. Maui Motu’a did not see his grandson because he was blind. Maui Kisikisi quietly crept to where his grandfather was working by the fire and stole some of the peelings that Maui Motua was scraping from one of the yams. When Maui Kisikisi tasted the peels they were sweet to him because they were cooked and he had never tasted cooked food before. Then he took one of the yams that his grandfather had peeled; leaving the other one for his grandfather.

When his grandfather reached for the yams he could only find one and he was wondering what had happened to the other yam. Since Maui Motu’a was blind he could not see that his grandson Maui Kisikisi had taken the other one.

Then Maui Kisikisi climbed a nonu tree and picked one of its fruits. After Maui Kisikisi took a single bite from the fruit he cast it down to his grandfather who felt the bite mark and exclaimed, “This is like the bite of Maui Kisikisi!”

When Maui Atalanga heard his father mention his son’s name he came over to where his grandfather, Maui Motu’a, was working and saw that his son, Maui Kisikisi had come down to Pulotu. So Maui Atalanga took his son, Maui Kisikisi, to go and weed in his plantation. The father, Maui Atalanga, told his son that when he pulled up the weeds that he was not to look behind himself as he went forward. But Maui Kisikisi looked behind himself. For that reason, when people weed their garden, the weeds will grow back and this is because Maui Kisikisi looked behind himself when he was weeding in Pulotu.

When Maui Atalanga saw that Maui Kisikisi had looked behind himself he decided to take Maui Kisikisi back onto the land before he created more trouble. So Maui Atalanga led Maui Kisikisi back to the hole which they had climbed down to reach Pulotu. As Maui Kisikisi passed by the fire where his grandfather was, he let his tupenu (body wrap) drag through the fire so that it caught a few sparks in the cloth.

As Maui Atalanga and Maui Kisikisi were climbing up through the hole Maui Atalanga could smell the smoke from Maui Kisikisi’s smoldering body wrap so he knew that Maui Kisikisi was trying to bring fire up to Koloa. When Maui Atalanga climbed up through the hole he commanded the rain to fall to put out the fire that Maui Kisikisi was carrying. But the fire was not put out because Maui Kisikisi took his smoldering body wrap and waved it at the trees and commanded the fire to go into the trees.

To this day, when two sticks are rubbed together, the fire comes out because Maui Kisikisi put the fire into the trees.

In the Marquesas islands that are 2000 miles east of Tonga they tell the story about how Maui got fire from his great grandfather who was named Mahuike. First Mahuike gave Maui fire from his foot. Maui put the fire into his clothes but he stepped on the fire by accident and it was put out. Then Maui got fire from Mahuike’s knee, but after Maui put the fire into his clothes again he accidentally stepped on the fire again and put it out. When Maui asked for fire a third time, Mahuike told Maui that there was no more fire. But Maui still wanted fire, so he wrestled Mahuike to get fire from him. At first Mahuike was strong, but finally his strength left him and he fell down. When Mahuike fell his head broke open and fire came from his head and went into the stones and the trees. So to this day, in the Marquesas islands you can get fire from rubbing sticks together and from hitting stones together.

Why do the Marquesans and the Tongans tell the same story? Because the Tongans and the Marquesans came from the same people. The Marquesans are the relatives of the Tongans.

The young Tongans today are like Maui Kisikisi. This is because Maui Kisikisi’s father and grandfather had fire, but they couldn’t just give it to him, he had to work for it. Culture is like fire, you get it from your parents and ancestors but they can’t just give it to you. You have to go and earn it for yourselves. Even though the young people live in America they can keep their Tongan culture even while they live in the palangi world. Sometimes, they can even keep their Tongan culture because they live in a palangi world.

For example, some young people are working hard to go to college, by doing this they are improving themselves. This is part of traditional Polynesian culture. Some parents are also working hard and saving money so that their children can go to college. For thousands of years, Polynesian parents have been working to improve the lives of their children. This is nothing new. Except now, it is not being done in Tonga or Samoa or the Marquesas Islands, it is being done in America. But it is still the same thing.

So go and work hard, get the fire.

Gifford, Edward Winslow. Tongan Tales Revised: February 22, 1996 Copyright © 1996 Daniel (Taniera) Longstaff