The Science and Culture of Art - Maui the Kitemaker

Lesson 1 - Maui the Proud Kite Maker as told by Thomas C. Cummings, Jr.

            Folks told each other that, this time, Maui the super doer was a fool when he boasted that he knew how to make a sail fly. You see, not one person knew that for a full winter season he’d carefully studied sails being pushed about by the wind. The result was his contraption, which looked like nonsense to family and friends as they inspected it.

It was fashioned out of the lightest bark-cloth, nearly the size of a house. And to hold the cloth open, he tied hau branches across its surface and at the edges. Then the thing was knotted to a long roll of olona cordage so it couldn’t escape. Maui called it pe’a – as sails were named, and which he noted were sadly stuck to canoes, unable to fly.

“The only way to test if it’ll really take flight,” he declared to folks – who never stopped wondering if he knew what he was doing – “is to get the best winds possible. Not the sort that’s already around us.”

For that, Maui ran to the Wind Cave, thinking: Wind Lady is the best at calling winds to appear magically. When he arrived at the mouth of her cave, he ordered, “Open your ipu iki – small gourd – and let na makani blow free.”

“Why so?” she asked. “There’s surely enough throughout our everyday space to satisfy you.”

“That won’t do. I want the best there is. So do as I say,” Maui snorted, dismissing Wind Lady’s wise words.

“Do you really know what you’re asking?” she warned. But nevertheless, she pulled away the plug of the little gourd to let loose the magical winds.

Maui was ecstatic, for when the back of his pe`a faced the invisible force of one of the little winds, it lifted into the air. “Ha! You see it does fly – proves how clever I am.” And throughout the morning and into noon, he happily watched the kite drift from one end of the sky to the other. Wonderstruck to see his invention dip, soar and spin as he ran side to side, back and forth, loosening and pulling on the cord, as the pe’a stayed in clear view.

He especially loved that the string he held fast to gave him complete control to guide the kite’s playful flight over the pathways of the sky, no matter which one of the little winds tugged at it.

“Come, see what I’ve done,” he boasted to the population, who were clearly impressed – how quickly they’d forgotten that they’d called him a fool.

Just before the sun slipped into the ocean, Wind Lady called, “Boy, that’s enough for the day. I need to chant the little winds back into their gourd.”

“Not yet,” Maui snapped. “I’m having too much fun.”

“You’re an impatient one,” Wind Lady observed. “You must learn to control your passion.” And that said she coaxed the winds into the gourd with her sing-song voice.

With his chin slumped on his chest, pouting, Maui walked home, dragging his kite behind. “Who is she to spoil my fun!” he grumbled.

Early the next morning, Maui popped from his sleep-mat, grabbed his kite and sprinted to the Wind Cave. “Wake up, Wind Lady. Let me have some magical winds. And this time from your ipu nui – large gourd.”

The sleepy-eyed lady, scolded. “There you are again, demanding. And besides, this time you want the strongest winds, from the ipu nui.” She wagged a finger and shook her head at Maui. “You ask too much – you know too little. Be satisfied with the winds from the small gourd. And again, what’s wrong with the winds already all about us?”

“No, no, from the large one it is.” He glared at her then clapped his hands to get the full measure of the woman’s attention as he spoke on. “After all, it was I who slowed down the sun to make life better for you and others. You owe me a favor.”

Without a word, pressing her lips shut, Wind Lady lugged the giant gourd out of the cave and pulled the wooden plug out.

Winds blasted out of the gourd nearly knocking Maui to the ground. Like a giant hand, one of the winds seized his kite and jerked it skyward. Lucky that Maui had the end of the cord wrapped around his hand so not to lose the kite. So he thought.

Slashing into high heaven, the kite soared further and further away, pulling with it the full length of the cord, nearly jerking Maui’s arms off. And, since he refused to let go of the cord, the wind had no choice but to snap it off at the middle and abduct his kite to some far place upon the wide sea.

In short time, Maui went from being a cocksure dandy to a distraught louse – in such a pitiful mood. Justifiably so.

The other winds from the large gourd, in a fury, did the most sorrowful damage. Trees were knocked flat: banana plants in their stands, tall coconut palms at every grove, sturdy-trunk koa in every forest. Not any plant escaped injury.

Canoes were snatched from their moorings and swept out to the deep sea to sink. Thatched houses were shredded and tossed everywhere. The infuriated winds stirred the sea to a massive swell then made it creep inland, drowning lots and lots of pigs, dogs, chickens – even a few of the older elders and youngest children.

A most unhappy scene – desolate. The moans and cries of the islanders turned to bitter, unrelenting curses. All hurled at Maui. “You! you’re the wrong-doer. Stay away from us,” men and women screamed. One’s imagination could never dampen the other angriest words they spat at Maui. Even children, who saw him approach, understandably shrieked and dashed far from him.

It took the greatest effort by Wind Lady to cajole the storm winds to return to their gourd. By the time she capped the ipu nui, she was body weary. “That boy will never again get me to set them free,” she swore.

Now, Maui couldn’t sleep nor eat. People not once smiled at him. They even turned their eyes from his. He was left alone every day. No one visited him; no one invited him into any home. Through all that time, his head and heart hurt from thinking what to do to be forgiven for the terrible winds he ordered to be let loose.

After more days of anguish, Maui realized: “Well, it was the pe`a, that’s what started the trouble.” So back he went to his idea of making a kite. “Only, it’s not going to be big as a house.”

Instead, Maui tied together a little kite. And though he understood that he couldn’t ever do without wind to fly it, he was sure he would never order Wind Lady to let loose the magical winds from the two gourds. Rather, to fly his kite day after day, Maui only trusted the winds that already swirled all about, which suited him.

He observed useful circumstances as he flew his kite. If it jerked and jiggled a certain way, he saw that it brought heavy clouds with rain. When pe’a glided softly, he noticed that a clear, sunny day would appear. When his lupe – the other name he gave his kite – flew toward the house of the setting sun, a mugginess was felt. In fact each up and down and here and there, with the wiggle, waggle of his kite told Maui what the weather would be like.

Maui shared his weather-wisdom with everyone: farmers, fishers, bird catchers, sailors, toolmakers, flower and fern gatherers, chanters and hula masters, herbalist. No person was exempt. It should be said that all of his predications were correct – thanks to his keen observations of the kite’s movements.

Over time, for his on-going and kind help, people loved Maui, anew.

And what did Maui say to that? “I’ll never to do anything ever again in an arrogant, stubborn and demanding manner.” It was a promise the super hero kept, most of the time.