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Polynesian Mermaid Stories

Niina is a folklorist and a story teller who loves to explore myths from all corners of the world.


Mermaids in Hawaii

Mo'o is a general name used in Hawaii to refer to several water spirits. In Hawaiian mythology, mermaids are both sea goddesses and sea gods. They were anthropomorphic hybrids of fish, snakes, eels, octopuses, and even crocodiles. Mo'os may be extraordinarily tiny or enormous monsters. It was thought that Mo'os evolved first from gecko lizards, then from human women, and last from sea goddesses. Mo'o might be found in fresh and salt water, rivers, lakes, ponds, lagoons, and the ocean. A Hawaiian proverb claims every woman has a small amount of Mo'o inside of her.


Dangerous Mo'o

Stories about the dangers of mo'os were not all that dissimilar from other mermaid mythology from around the world. Mo'os were considered particularly hazardous to men because they lacked the strength to fend against their feminine abilities. They would be lured by Mo'os, who would subsequently drown them. Folklore in Hawaii holds that a person could return to this world after death and change into a mo'o.


Mermaid Stories

A well-known Hawaiian folktale about a mo'o named Hina takes place near the Wailuku River and Rainbow Falls. A wicked mo'o named Mokuna, who intended to kill Hina and ruin her house, was her rival. Hina was a lovely sea goddess. Mokuna, who was envious, flung a huge rock into the river. Hina's house was on the verge of being completely demolished as the water level rose. To assist her, she called her son Maui. Demi-god Mokuna was faster than Maui and ducked into a waterhole as Maui began to pursue him in his canoe.

Maui asked the goddess Pele for assistance in destroying Mokuna. Pele descended from the volcano carrying scorching lava. The water became scalding hot and ultimately killed the demonic Mokuna. It is still reported that the wreckage of Maui's canoe may be seen at the bottom of the river when you visit Rainbow Falls. Water boils during stormy days because there is a lot of volcanic activity. These stories may have a grain of truth.


Goddess Hina

Every island has its own version of Maui, Hina, and other mythical figures and heroes from Polynesia. According to a folktale from New Zealand, Hina is not Maui's mother but rather his love interest. The narrative said that Hina was a very attractive woman. She came upon a lovely man swimming in the ocean one evening while strolling down the beach. Tuna was the name of the man. The two quickly fell in love and intended to wed, but Tuna had a few requirements. First, they could only meet at night, and second, they could only meet at the beach. This was because Tuna was a mo'o who could change into a human at night but a merman during the day.

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Hina concurred, but after a while, she grew impatient with these requirements. One night, Tuna came to Hina and said that he thought his life was in danger and that if something horrible happened to him, she should cut off his head and plant it so that it would develop into a tree and produce fruits that would bear his face. Tuna was murdered by the demi-god Maui, who was jealous of Tuna and in love with Hina.

Hina planted the coconut tree, and as she did so, she once more saw Tuna's face. This narrative has been told in a variety of ways. Another story claims that Hina killed Tuna because she had cheated on her and married Maui. Hina is a moon goddess in Tahiti, and Tuna is her pet eel.


Maui the Demi-God

Maui is a typical heroine demi-god figure from Polynesian mythology. According to one tale, Maui was once a god, but his mother, Hina, did not like his appearance and banished him to the ocean, where fish and other marine life reared him before becoming the god of fisherman. The tale of Maui is comparable to the Greek myth of Hephaestus, the blacksmith god who was exiled from Mount Olympus by his mother, Hera, because she did not like his appearance. Myths and tales are intertwined on a global and intercultural scale.

Due to the fact that our minds are programmed to think similarly regardless of where we come from, similar themes in myths emerge in various cultures that haven't necessarily interacted with one another. Did you know that Moana means "ocean" in Hawaiian? For the general public, Moana and Maui are most well-known for their renowned Disney film.


Moana, the Sea Goddess

Thanks to the Disney cartoon, millions of people are familiar with the character of Moana. On the other hand, Feisty islander girl is completely a Disney creation, yet Moana Nui Ka Lehua, a mermaid deity, is mentioned in Polynesian mythology. The waters, waves, and storms were under her control. Moana had the power to change herself into a shark, and she had two sharks as her personal royal guards. The sea between the Hawaiian islands of Kauai and Oahu was regarded as being under the control of Moana Nui Ka Lehua.

The mythical encounter of Moana Nui Ka Lehua with the demi-god Maui was not as amicable as it was in the animation. According to the legend, Maui was fishing in the ocean owned by the ocean goddess. Maui's rudeness incensed Moana Nui Ka Lehua, so she stole his fishing hook and fastened it to a submerged rock. Maui soon discovered what was happening, at which point the trickster deity erupted in wrath. Moana Nui Ka Lehua was taken prisoner and brought onto the shore, where she slowly perished. Moana Nui Ka Lehua's body was taken into a shrine, where she was transformed into a sacred tree, despite Maui's anger toward the gods.


Mermaids, Myths and Legends by Zoe Alexander

Origins of Mermaids by Suvi Niinisalo

© 2022 Niina Pekantytar

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