Maui and the Creation of the Islands

Overview

Overview

Big Ideas and Enduring Understandings

Watch the video and read the text to learn:

  1. one way that a good storyteller communicates; 
  2. that creation stories play a central role in all cultures, to describe who we are and where we came from; 
  3. that creation stories contain essential cultural and geographic information; 
  4. that creation stories communicate essential values.

This video, adapted from material provided by the ECHO partners, presents the telling of the story, "Maui and the Creation of the Islands" by Tom Cummings of Hawai‘i's Bishop Museum. It features storyteller Kealoha Kelekolio, and is illustrated with images and graphics of the Hawaiian Islands.

Questions for Discussion

Questions for Discussion

  • Why do people need to explain how things came to be?
  • Why would a story incorporate the creation of islands and include the importance of food on the islands?
  • Is Maui the same kind of person at the beginning and at the end of the story? Do the events have an effect on him? Or do they just illustrate something that is happening within him anyway?
  • Compare and contrast this creation story with the story, "How Raven Gave Light to the World." For instance, both Maui and Raven are tricksters — beings who are both creators and mischievous.
  • The people of Hawaii have told this story to their children and grandchildren. What attitudes about the land and sea does the story embody? What lessons might the children have learned from the story?
  • What makes Tom Cummings and Kealoha Kelekolio good storytellers?

Background Information

Background Information

All cultures have their own traditional stories that they pass down from generation to generation. Some of these stories, also called "creation myths," tell of ancestors, kings, gods and goddesses, or supernatural beings who played a part in the origin of Earth and all life on it. They also express the values of the culture or explain natural events such as rain and the Sun.

Creation, or origin, stories describe the beginnings of the universe, including the Sun, Moon, stars, and Earth. Many creation stories focus on the origins of a particular region and people. For example, the story of how Maui attempts to catch a fish for his mother and ends up pulling the Hawaiian Islands out of the ocean is a creation story.

Creation stories often try to explain the natural phenomena that people see around them. Ancient Hawaiians observed during their travels that there were differences in the soil and vegetation of the different islands. They recognized that these differences showed that the islands to the northwest were older than those to the southeast. This idea was handed down from generation to generation in the legends of Maui and other creation stories. When Maui fishes the land out of the ocean, the islands break apart—beginning with Kaua‘i in the northwest and ending with Hawai‘i in the southeast.

Finally, creation stories often embody the values of the culture that they represent. For example, Maui instructs his brothers not to look back or else they risk ruining his magic. This exemplifies the Hawaiian belief in the importance of concentration in any ritual or activity. When Maui's brothers can't resist turning to look at what is happening behind them, it relates to the Hawaiian belief that the loss of focus leads to the loss of a goal. It also connects to a cross-cultural theme of human difficulty to resist temptations.

There are many Hawaiian creation stories about Maui and other figures that describe the islands' origins and the beliefs of its people, and these stories all co-exist happily. Many of these stories have similarities with the stories of other Polynesian nations, and even nations with no immediate connection or proximity to Hawai‘i. This may be because many cultures have a desire to understand their world and share that knowledge with families and communities. Stories have been the means for sharing this knowledge for thousands of years, and they continue to be a source of information today for those who want to learn about the people who told them.

To learn more about how stories are passed down through oral traditions, check out the Oral Traditions Learning Center.

To learn more about creation stories, check out the The Raven Story Learning Center.

To learn more about the formation of the Hawaiian Islands, check out the web site Plate Tectonics: The Hawaiian Archipelago.

Academic Standards

Academic Standards

National English Language Arts Standards

  • Standard 3: Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.
  • Standard 4: Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g. conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • Standard 9: Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.

State Academic Standards

Each state has adapted the national academic standards to its own needs and population. To find a listing of standards in your state, visit the Education World web site.