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Gets Fire from 'Alae (Mud Hen)

Samuel M. Kamakau

See Also...
  Genealogy and Birth
  Tries to Join Kaua'i and O'ahu
Battles with Pe'ape'a
  Maui's Death

The first fire of ka po'e kahiko (the people of old) was a continual fire, kept going by the gods. The gods snatched it away, so Maui-a-Kalana sought a source of fire, and found it in the mapele [creating fire by rubbing sticks; mapele was a shrub or tree]. From mapele fire, ahi mapele, was named volcanic fire, ahi pele. [Volcanic fire was brought by the volcano goddess Pele; fire was made by friction before Pele's volcanic fire was brought to Hawai'i.]

Two women, 'Alae-huapipi and 'Alae-nui-a-Hina, had fire in the mapele, and from them fire was obtained. From then on men have had fire. The source of fire was in the possession of those two-bodied bird women, but Maui constantly spied on them and found the source.

At one time Maui-a-Kalana was living makai of Ulehawa in Wai'anae, Oahu, and he saw the fire over which these two women broiled bananas in the valley of Poho-a-'Alae. One of them was just saying, "Hina's cock of a son is swift," when [the "cock" himself] Maui appeared.


The women changed themselves into their 'e'epa forms of 'alae [mudhens]; Maui caught hold of the head of 'Alaehuapipi, but her companion escaped, and the heartless woman called out, 'O 'Alaehuapipi, hide the fire!" Maui held 'Alaehuapipi dangling by the head, with her wings crossed, and said to her, "Tell me the source of fire! If you hide it, I will kill you!" Knowing that she would die if she did not tell him, 'Alaehuapipi told him the mapele fire was hidden in the hollow of a rock.(a) It was called mapele because it took the combined [efforts of] two, three, or four women to make fire with the fire-plow.

After Maui had found that fire was in wood, fire was obtained from sparks [literally, the lightning, uila], from two sticks rubbed together. The stick laid underneath was called the 'aunaki, and the one grasped firmly in the palms of the hands and rubbed in the flat place hewn on the under stick was called the 'aulima. The wood dust produced by the rubbing of the two sticks was called "hana"; the rubbing itself was called "heahi'a" [a contraction of "he ahi hi'a"]. The fire started in the wood dust that accumulated. Fire by friction was the ancient source of fire of the Hawaiian people.

This Wai'anae version of the story of Maui's getting fire from the mudhen is quoted from Kamakau'sThe Works of the People of Old (116-117). A variant, set in Kaupo, Maui, has been published in Thrum's Hawaiian Folk Tales (33-35); another variant, set in Wailua, Kaua'i, is found in Dickey ("Stories of Wailua, Kauai" 18).

(a) In the other versions, the 'alae tries to deceive Maui by telling him to rub together soft green plants to start a fire. Maui is angered at the lies, and after he finds out how to make fire, he rubs the bird's head against the under-stick. Ever since the mudhen has had a red mark on its head.


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