Why the Hawaiian Islands Are in a Row

Our next legend answers the question why the Hawaiian Islands are in a row. Think it was because of volcanic activity? Think again. Here’s the traditional story on how the Hawaiians Islands were formed in a row. Naturally, it has to do with the rascal Maui.

Why the Hawaiian Islands Are in a Row

Maui’s brothers complained that he was lazy because he liked to lie in the forest or on a beach and dream of great things he would do. And Maui did great things. He snared the sun and made it go more slowly across the sky. He learned the secret of how to make fire form the mudhen. He invented barbed spears and fishhooks. These things seemed like nothing to his fisherman brothers. They thought no one in the world worked as hard as they.

One day Maui decided that he would show his brothers that he was not lazy. He would catch a bigger fish than any they had ever seen. He went to the underworld to his ancestress who was dead on one side of her body and alive on the other, and asked her for a bone to make a magic fishhook. “You may have the jawbone from the dead side of my face,” she said. Maui took the bone and made it into a fishhook. He went to his mother and she gave him the wing of a sacred mudhen for bait. 

Why the Hawaiian Islands Are in a Row- Hawaii

“Why the Hawaiian Islands Are in a Row,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2018.

The next morning Maui went fishing with his brothers though they said they did not know what such a lazy fellow would do. When they were far out to sea Maui lowered his magic fishhook and chanted:

“Oh Island, O great Island, why are you sulkily biting, biting below? Come, child of the deep sea, and dwell in the light of heaven.”

From the blue ocean an island slowly emerged. Maui fastened one of his brother’s fishlines to it, and lowered his magic fishhook again. He hauled up another island. He did not rest until he had eight islands lying in a row. He said to his brothers, “Let us draw these islands together and make one great land of them.”

Just then a gourd appeared on the water and Maui stooped and picked it up and placed it in the canoe. Out of the gourd stepped Hina of the Sea, whose body from head to foot was half woman and half fish. “Do not look back or we will fail!” Maui shouted to his brothers.

The brothers did not obey. They looked back and were amazed at the beauty of the mermaid. She dove off the canoe and as she struck the water the fish-lines snapped. 

And so today the Hawaiian Islands lie separated in a row instead of being the great land Maui intended them to be.


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