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As with the indigenous people of many countries, New Zealand’s Māori have a rich tradition of storytelling that’s been handed down through the generations. Amongst the cherished stories are myths and legends which give us an interesting and sometimes magical take on the origins of Aotearoa and the earth’s creation. This oral history is retold by elders on maraes (Māori meeting house) and in classrooms around the country. One such tale is that of Māui and how he tamed the sun…

Not enough hours in the day?

It’s a common complaint from busy students and sightseers– “there just aren’t enough hours in the day.” Long before daylight savings was invented, giving us more time to enjoy the warm summer evenings, Māui took matters into his own hands.

The young man and his three brothers were preparing a hāngi for their dinner. A hāngi is a traditional Māori method of cooking that sees food cooked over heated stones, under the ground. They had only just finished up heating the stones when the sun set, making it too dark to see.

Forced to eat food he couldn’t see, Māui shared his frustration with his brothers, telling them of his plan to catch the sun before it rises and to force it to travel across the sky more slowly. They thought he was talking nonsense, laughed, and quickly pointed out the obvious – the sun is too hot and far too large to be caught.

A magic tool capable of amazing feats

Māui waited for his brothers to stop laughing before pulling out the sacred jawbone of his grandmother, Murirangawhenua. He listed all of the other impossible feats he had achieved like using the jawbone to catch the greatest fish in the world (New Zealand’s North Island) and gaining fire from Mahuika (the goddess of fire), eventually convincing his people to help him capture the sun.

The next morning Māui and his whānau (family and community) gathered copious amounts of flax. Māui taught them how to weave the flax into long ropes. Five days later they had completed enough rope to capture the sun and Māui said a special karakia (Māori prayer to invoke spiritual guidance and protection) over them:

“Taura nui, taura roa, taura kaha, taura toa, taura here i a Tamanuiterā, whakamaua kia mau kia ita!”

A secret journey under the shelter of night

That night, Māui and his brothers collected the ropes and trekked eastward in the direction of the rising sun. During the day they would hide under bushes and trees, so the sun wouldn’t notice them approaching. Along the way they collected water as part of their secret mission.

Twelve nights later Māui and his brothers arrived at the edge of the huge pit in the ground where Tamanuiterā (the sun) was sleeping. They constructed huts around the edge of the pit to hide the flax ropes and used the water they’d collected to soften the clay and build walls to shelter them from the sun’s heat. They shaped the ropes into a noose around the pit before dawn and Māui instructed his brothers to wait until Tamanuiterā raised his head and shoulders into it. He would then yell to them to pull tightly on the ropes.

Bloody Sunrise

A sunrise to fear

At the last minute Māui’s brother began to have second thoughts. Fearing for their lives they tried to leave before it was too late. But before they could, Tamanuiterā started to rise out of his pit. Māui yelled to his brothers, “Pull on the ropes!” Too scared to move, the brothers stayed in the huts. “Quickly! Before it’s too late,” screamed Māui.

Tamanuiterā had almost struggled out of the noose when the brothers jumped up and pulled on the ropes. Tamanuiterā looked down and saw Māui at the edge of the pit and hurled a flaming ball of fire at him in anger. Māui dodged the ball of fire, edged closer to the pit, raised his sacred jawbone high above his head and struck it down upon Tamanuiterā, releasing its magical powers like a flash of lightening.

“Aaarrrhh! Why are you hurting me like this?!” Tamanuiterā asked of Māui.         

Māui drew his magic jawbone down on Tamanuiterā once again, berating him, “My people do not have enough time in the day because you race across the sky! No longer will you dictate how long our days are. From now on, you will travel slowly across the sky!”

Māui’s brothers released the noose and Tamanuiterā rose slowly into the sky, feeling tired and defeated by Māui and his almighty jawbone.

When Māui and his brothers returned to their village victorious, Māui’s power could never be doubted again. From that day on, Tamanuiterā always moved slowly across the sky and Māui and his whānau had lots of time to collect food, fish and do their work.

How many hours of sunshine does New Zealand get?

If you’d like to see the effects of Māui’s bravery, check out the table of sunshine hours below. It looks like Blenheim takes the honour of being New Zealand’s sunniest town with an average 2487 hours of annual sunshine. For comparison, New York gets 2535 hours, Tokyo 1881, London 1481 and Beijing 2748.

New Zealand Sunshine Hours
SI Sunshine hours


Bloody Sunrise by Always Shooting under CC BY 2.0



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