This Monday we cruise the South Seas looking at a merfolk tale that spans the islands in the area. Variations abound, but the mermaids and mermen are basically the same. This isn’t a cryptozoology tale full of monsters, but one of seduction, love, and heartbreak.
Today’s Mermaid tale travels around the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” starting in New Zealand. The story goes that a beautiful young woman named Hina lived along the coast of New Zealand. One evening she was out walking along the shore when she spied a gorgeous young man frolicking and swimming in the waves. It was love at first sight for both of them.
The young man’s name was Tuna, and together they vowed to live as husband and wife. However, there was a hitch. Tuna made Hina promise that she would never pry into his past or follow him anywhere. Then he said that he would only be able to be with Hina during the nighttime as during the day he had to go elsewhere, where she couldn’t follow.
Somehow, the fisherman/god Maui became aware of the situation. He approached Hina to see what she knew about Tuna because Maui knew Tuna’s deepest, darkest secret – Tuna was actually a merman! (Artwork left by Bajazet.)
For whatever reason, Maui decided that Tuna had to go, so he waited for Tuna to emerge from the waves one night. Tuna sensed something was wrong, so he told Hina that if he was killed, she must cut off his head and plant it nearby. He said a fruit tree would grow from it and the fruit would resemble his face and hair.
As Tuna returned to the sea, Maui set upon him and killed him. Hina did as Tuna told her and buried his head. A fine tree grew in that spot and when it bore fruit, it bore coconuts. Hina believed she saw Tuna’s face in the fruit and his hair.
This basic story about Hina and Tuna and Maui exists all around the islands of the South Pacific, but in each place, the story has changed a little or in some cases, quite a bit. Let’s look at those.
The characters change roles and responsibilities in many of the tales. Here’s a rundown of those:
Hina: Sometimes she’s a goddess of the moon and other times she’s a water goddess.
Tuna: In some stories he’s an eel-deity, in others he is Hina’s pet
Maui: Some tales say Maui is the one who buried Tuna’s head to create the coconut, while in other versions he is Hina’s son. He has also been said to be Hina’s lover, not Tuna. (Actor portraying Maui above right. Note the fisheran’s hook.)
The Hawiians have many versions of this story. Hina is usually either a goddess or a lovely young woman. She can be living behind a waterfall on the island of Maui using bark to make cloth, or elsewhere. Here are some examples of Hina’s many manifestations among this culture:
Hina ‘opu hala ko’a: This version is queen of the spiny sea creatures living in and around the local coral reefs.
Hina puku I’a: Fishermen look to this version as their personal goddess.
Maui himself is the subject of many variations on a theme, the most common being that he is a fisherman and a deity whose mother abandoned him in the sea, letting the sea raise him.
The Plot Thickens
The native Hawaiians have another story about this trio that involves a troublesome deity called the Mo’o Kuna, who is a giant lizard.
The story goes that Hina was living in a deep cave behind Rainbow Falls. In this version, Hina is a water spirit. The wicked lizard deity, Mo’o Kuna, conjured a terrible storm that caused great floods which subsequently washed a huge boulder over the falls. The boulder caused a dam to form and the back-up flooding was threatening Hina’s home beneath the falls. (Rainbow Falls, HI, below right.)
Hina asked her son Maui to help whereupon he split the boulder into pieces allowing the water to pass once again, saving Hina’s home. Then Maui pursued the wicked Mo’o Kuna in his canoe, but the evil creature hid in deep caves and waterholes in the river.
Maui asked the fire goddess, Pele, to pour lava into the river to make it boil and kill Mo’o Kuna. She did this and the wicked spirit was vanquished. Maui is then said to have tossed Mo’o Kuna’s body over the falls.
Nowadays, the locals say you can see Maui’s canoe in a lava channel in the Wailuku River. They also believe that if you look into the water at the base of Rainbow Falls, you’ll see Mo’o Kuna’s remains.
Interestingly, from a geological viewpoint, there are what they call “Boiling Pots” in the Wailuku River State Park that are said to represent the area where Pele destroyed Mo’o Kuna. The phenomenon of the boiling water is caused when it rains heavily into these holes and the water bubbles up as though it’s boiling. (Photo below left.)
See you next Monday! Tail slap!