How Fire Came to Tonga

I’ve probably mentioned this before but I just love Pacific legends that tells the story on how things started on an particular island. For example, I’ve posted on how the first coconut arrived on an island. This legend, however, tells the violent story about how fire came to the island Tonga. Maui is, once again, prominent with this telling. I believe that this also our first legend to represent Tonga. Enjoy!

How Fire came to Tonga

It was long after the peopling of the earth before fire was known and it was brought by the grandson of Maui- the fisherman in this manner. Each day Maui’s son, whose name was Maui Atalonga left his home in Tonga to visit Bulotu, the spirit-land, returning in the evening with cooked food. He never took Maui Kijikiji his young son with him, nor did he tell him where he went, for Kijikiji was full of fun and fond of playing tricks. The boy, however, was determined to find out the mystery and tracked him one day to the mouth of a cave which was almost hidden by a large bed of reeds. On entering it, he found that the path descended to Bulotu, so he proceeded cautiously.

When he arrived at the spirit-land he saw his father digging in a plot of ground with his back to him. Young Maui plucked a fruit from the nonu tree, bit a piece off, and threw it at his father. On picking up the fruit Maui-the-older saw the teeth-marks, and turning round he said, “What brings you here? This place is full of unknown dangers, however now that you have come you may help me clear this ground.

The time came for Maui Atalonga to cook his afternoon meal. “Go and fetch some fire,” he said to his son.

Kijikiji was delighted. “What was this new thing called fire? Where shall I go?” he asked.

“To your grandfather,” replied his father.

So off he went and found the oldest Maui lying on a mat by the fireside for warmth. His fire was a large iron-wood tree smouldering at one end. The old man was much surprised at the appearance of young Maui, but he did not know that it was his grandson. “What do you want?” he asked.

“I have come for some fire,” replied the boy.

“Very well, you may take some,” the old man said. So Kijikiji put a few of the glowing embers in a coconut shell and carried it a short way. Then his love of mischief overcame him, and blowing out the little flame on his embers he went back to the old man and asked for some more fire. Again he was given permission to take a little of the precious gift, and again he blew it out and returned with the empty shell. The third time he came before his grandfather the old man was annoyed. “Take the whole of it,” he said. So young Maui, without more talk, picked up the great ironwood log and walked off with it.

How Fire Came to Tonga- Tonga

“How Fire Came to Tonga,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2018.

Seeing this, the old man knew that here was a being who was not mere human, and he shouted after him a challenge to come and wrestle. So his grandson returned, and then began a great wrestling match. Old Maui seized his opponent by the cloth that was wound tightly about his waist, and swinging him round and round he dashed him to the ground. Kijikiji landed on his feet like a cat, and in his turn seized his grandfather in the same manner, swinging him round he flung him to earth and broke every bone in his body. Old Maui has been in a sad state ever since. He lies feeble and sleepy underneath the earth, and when an earthquake threatens, the people of Tonga shout aloud to awaken old Maui who, they say, is turning over; for they fear lest he should get up and in rising sleepily overturn the world.

When Kijikiji returned to his father he was asked what had kept him so long. As he refused to answer any questions, Maui Atalonga suspected that something was wrong and went to see. He found old Maui bruised and hurt, and hastened back to punish his son, but the lad ran off and could not be caught.

At evening time the two prepared to return to earth, and Maui warned his son not to take any fire with him. This however only roused the spirit of mischief in young Maui, and he wrapped up some embers in the end of the long garment that he wore, and trailed it after him. His father went ahead and nearing the end of the passage Maui was close behind, and he hurried on; then hastily drawing up his girdle he scattered the embers all around.

Then arose a great smoke, and soon all the trees were on fire and for a while it seemed as if the earth was in great peril. In time however the great fire was checked, and only a very small portion remained, so that the islanders might ever afterwards be able to make a fire and cook their food.

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