The First Fire

: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

The demi-god Maui lived near Mauna Kea, and in roaming over that

mountain he often felt the chill that is in high places. It set him

wondering why the volcano gods had never given to men the secret

of fire, that so warmed and comforted one at night. To take it from

the craters was dangerous. One was liable to be stifled by sulphur,

blinded by dust, scalded by steam, and destroyed by lava, for the crust

was continually
reaking and falling. The mud-hens, or bald coots,

had the secret, however, and when he came upon their little fires

in the woods, Maui hid among the trees and watched. Despite his vast

bulk, he was not observed, or was more probably mistaken for a hill,

for presently the mud-hens assembled in a glade, before his eyes, and

made a fire by rubbing dry sticks together. They cooked fish and roots

over the fire, and the savor of the banquet was so appetizing that

Maui could not resist the temptation: he reached out and confiscated

the dinner, and the mud-hens flew off crying.

His attempt to catch the hens and learn from them how to make fire

did not succeed until he had rolled himself in bark-cloth; for, so

disguised, and after patient waiting, he captured the mother hen. She

tried to deceive him, for she did not want the secret to leave her

family. She told him to rub taro stalks on the line of their spirals,

the twist being put there for that purpose. He tried it without effect,

and gave the old hen's neck a twist to make her tell the truth. She

finally showed him how to make sparks with old, dry chips, and he

let her go, but not until he had rubbed her head until it was raw,

to punish her delay and falsehoods. And to this day the head of this

bird is bare of feathers.