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Polynesian navigators sailed across the Pacific Ocean with a trust based partly on their belief concerning the creation of the universe. The following Maori legend is presented in Voyagers.

In the beginning, the universe was ruled by two gods: the sky-god, called Lani, and his wife, Papa, the earth-goddess. Out of their sacred love, many children were born. But the children of the earth and sky were trapped in darkness between the embraced bodies of their parents.

One day a child named Kane braced his shoulders against the earth .... and with his mighty arms and legs lifted the sky high above the earth. Kane's brothers hurled spears around the horizon, forever separating the earth and sky .... the two never to touch again (see Figure 6).

In loneliness, the sky weeps for his wife .... and so the tropical rains pour from the heavens. And when the earth yearns for her husband, the land quakes and volcanoes erupt.

To appease their parents, one of Kane's brother, named Kewa, climbed the Great Mountain to find a worthy gift. From its highest peak he gazed down into a hidden valley. There, in the mist, he saw the playful stars, dancing like sparks above a fire.

Kewa called the stars to his side. When they reached the summit, Kewa stowed the stars in his magical canoe .... and paddled up .... up into the heavens.

There he scattered the stars across the outstretched body of his father. Kewa's magical canoe, called Uluao, can still be seen among the stars.

Lani was more properly called Rangi in New Zealand. In Hawaii, the sky god is named Wakea. The celestial equator was referred to as Ke alanui i ka Piko o Wakea, literally, the great way to Wakea's navel.

kane separating the sky and earth
Figure 6. Kane separating the Sky (Wakea/Lani) and Earth (Papa) [artwork by Don Wolfhope]



1.) Read legends from other cultures about the creation of the universe. Follow up by having students make up their own legend to explain the stars, sun and planets. Students can present their legend in storytelling format or as an illustrated storyboard.

1.) Figure 7 depicts how the canoe Uluao could be visualized among the stars of the constellation Scorpius. This constellation was also known to the Polynesians as Ka makau nui o Maui (Maui's Fishhook). We call the brightest star in this constellation Antares. In New Zealand this brilliant orange star was called Rehua, the lehua blossom of the ohia tree. Have the class read the legend of how Maui fished the Hawaiian Islands up from the ocean with this magical hook.

constellation drawing of the magical canoe Uluao
Figure 7. The magical canoe Uluao seen against the backdrop of the
constellation Scorpius. Legend claims this canoe carried the stars into the heavens.
(artwork by Kapono Ciotti)

Distribute copies of the star map illustrated in Figure 8 to the class. Students can trace out their own versions of Uluao or Maui's fishhook.

star map of Scorpius
Figure 8. Star map of Scorpius.


Further Reading:

Virginia Hamilton, In the Beginning: creation Stories Around the World, 1988; Maud Makemson, Morning Star Rises, 1941; Dietrich Varez, Maui: The Mischief Maker, 1991.