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Who was Maui and was he really a Demigod? - A Guide for Kids

Maui from the animatied film Moana
Maui - Courtesy of Disney

Disney fans rejoice! Moana is getting the live-action treatment and will be released far into the future, in the distant year of 2025. That means that all your favourite characters; Moana, Hei Hei, and – of course – Maui will soon be back on the big screen. Hollywood bicep-throb Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson will be returning to the role of Maui; though this time with his entire body, not just his voice. So, with that in mind, what better time than to learn a little more about the Mythological figure of Maui!

Now, first off, just to let you know that Maui went by many names. Including Māui, Tiʻitiʻi, and Māui the eight-eyed. We’ve kept to Maui as that is the name and spelling most familiar to fans of Moana.


Who is the Mythological Maui then?

Maui is a folk hero from the islands Polynesia. The adventures of Maui have been shared by Polynesians for hundreds of years.

Tell me more about Polynesia!

Polynesia is made up of over one thousand islands, perched across the Central and Southern Pacific Ocean. Whilst the inhabitants of these islands share many similarities, each culture is unique in its own fantabulous way. As such, the tall tales of Maui vary from island to island, culture to culture.

A map of Polynesia.
A handy map of Polyensia. Courtesy comersis

Is Maui a hero in these stories?

Sure, Maui is a hero but he is also a trickster (think Loki from Viking Mythology). Sometimes Maui would rather cause mischief than save the day. There’s a brilliant example of this in Moana; when our intrepid hero first meets Maui he traps her in a cave and steals her boat. Hardly heroic but definitely tricksy! Most of Maui’s adventures involve him getting up to something naughty before – sometimes accidentally – helping his fellow person.

Pen and ink drawing of Maui snaring the sun by Arman Manookian, circa 1927
Maui snaring the sun. pen and ink drawing by Arman Manookian, 1927.

What kind of help?

Well, in Māori mythology, there is a story that tells of how Maui came to catch the sun. A long time ago, in a galaxy that is this one, the sun used to travel super-duper quickly across the sky. In fact, so speedily did the sun zip across the heavens, that there wasn’t enough daylight for people to work or eat or even poop. As you can imagine, the perils of pooping in the dark were fearsome indeed.  

Thankfully, Maui and his brothers decided to help. They used a noose to capture the sun god Tama-nui-te-rā (don’t worry, Maui and his bros hid behind a clay wall to make sure they weren’t burnt to a crisp by the sun).

Maui, being a man of action, hit Tama-nui-te-rā repeatedly on the head with a magic jawbone until he agreed to slow his journey across the sky.

So, next time you’re pooping in the daylight, be sure to thank Maui and his brothers!

Did Maui have a magic fish hook, just like in Moana?

That magic jawbone I mentioned? That is his fish hook according to Māori mythology. The jawbone was given to him by his grandmother Murirangawhenua. One can only hope that she washed it first.

Dwayne Johnson lifting weights.
Sure, Dwayne Johnson can lift a big dumbbell, but can he lift the sky, huh? Better get back to the training room before live-action Moana, Dwayne!

And super-strength? Did Maui have it?

Yes, he did! In a story from Hawai’I Maui was given super-strength by the potent combination of an arm tattoo and a mystic potion. This definitely did the trick, as Maui was able to lift the sky high up above the mountains. Before he did that, the sky was so low that it would squish trees, bees, and people’s knees with equal abandon.

Could Maui shapeshift? He can turn into loads of different creatures in the film!

He could in the spoken Myths too. Stories are told of how Maui transformed into insects and birds, even a worm! Though Maui was not alone, many other creatures could shapeshift too.

Finally, was Maui a Demigod?

This varies across the stories told about Maui across Polynesia. Maui is known as a chieftain, a spirit, and a wise old priest. But yes, he is also known as a demigod – he is half divine being and half regular common or garden human.


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