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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 1, 2006

How the god Maui made the first kite

Adapted by Amy Friedman

Jillian Gilliland

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"The Kite Flyer" is a Hawaiian legend.

Once upon a time, the god Maui cast a fishhook into the sea and pulled up the Islands we call Hawai'i. Maui was small but very strong. He was also a mischiefmaker, with boundless energy and never-ending curiosity. His mind was always at work, inventing and discovering new things.

One day, he was walking near his home in Hilo. As usual, he felt restless. "I need to do something brand new," he thought.

Maui was searching for adventure when he saw his mother carrying a roll of kapa.

"That's it," Maui thought, and when his mother laid her kapa on the ground and turned her back, Maui snatched a piece of the cloth. He hurried to the riverbank and sat down, folding the cloth this way and that. Before long he had invented the kite.

"Now what?" he wondered as he studied his new invention. He tossed it into the air and caught it, and then he noticed growing nearby an olona plant. His eyes lighted up as he stripped off a piece of the loose bark, braided it and created a long, strong cord. This he tied to his kite.

Holding the cord, Maui launched his kite into the sky. Summoning his magical powers, he cried, "Fly, kite, fly!"

The kite rose slowly and bounced along, floating forward, dipping down gently. Maui shook and tugged at the cord, blowing as hard as he could, but his kite moved as if it were a wounded bird, tumbling forward and tripping backward.

"I need wind!" exclaimed Maui, who knew where to find it.

Long before, the priest Kalei'ioku had, in a fit of anger at the roaring winds that sometimes lashed the Islands, opened a calabash and trapped the winds inside.

"I must set the winds free," Maui said, so he stood upon the river bank far from the Big Island, many miles from Waipi'o, where the priest lived.

Maui gazed across the water and began to chant:

"Open the calabash, set the winds free,

"They will fly fast, across the wide sea.

"My kite will dance with the shake and the shiver

"Of the winds as they reach the Wailuku River."

From his faraway island, the priest of Waipi'o heard Maui's chant and was powerless to stop his hand from obeying the god's command. He lifted the cover of the calabash, and the winds, freed at last, rushed out and sailed toward the coast. They swept across the ocean, on their way to Hilo Bay, carried by Maui's chant: "... they will fly fast, across the wide sea ... "

The winds whipped their way along river gorges and tore over the peaks. As they swept toward the river, they spotted the kite. To the winds, the kite looked like a monster. They rumbled toward it, eager to destroy the invader.

Maui stood upon the lava rocks, holding the cord of his kite, and when those winds attacked, even the little god had to brace himself against their force.

The winds pummeled that kite, pushing it higher and higher, and Maui's feet gripped the lava rocks where he stood as the cord stretched and stretched.

Maui's kite moved with the winds. It turned somersaults; it whirled and twisted, swirled and stretched. With each blow of the winds, the kite sailed higher, faster, its dance turning ragged and wild.

Maui's heart pounded with joy, and he began to chant again:

"Oh winds of Waipi'o, free from the calabash of Kalei'ioku,

"See this kite I've made? I made it for you.

"Pull and pummel, hurl and twirl, push and pound.

"Never will you move this god from his place on the ground."

The kite struggled as the fierce winds attacked. Maui loved to match his strength against the powerful. He was never happier than when he was engaged in a contest.

Now the winds stirred up storms that rushed inland, and as waves crashed ashore, the winds climbed to the highest part of the sky.

High above the mountains, the winds gathered strength again and crashed violently against the kite, bending it backward and forward. The kapa was strong, and the kite did not tear, but even Maui strained. Still he chanted:

"Pull and pummel, hurl and twirl, push and pound,

"Never will you move this god from his place on the ground."

The winds were relentless, and suddenly the cord snapped, and the kite tumbled over the volcano craters, somersaulting over mountain peaks.

But Maui was determined to win this contest. With one leap, he crossed those mountains, 1,400 feet high and 60 miles long. He stood over his kite that lay upon the ground, bruised and battered. Maui reattached the cord and sent his kite up, but this time when the winds grew too wild, he stopped chanting.

Day after day, he flew his kite, until one day the people began to notice it. They watched, dazzled by the dancing kapa, and after a while they understood that when the kite soared in the sky, the weather would be dry, the wind brisk but not too wild. On those days they rejoiced.

But when Maui's kite whipped this way and that, the people warned each other. "Maui's kite is in the heavens," they would say. On those days Maui tied his line to the great black stones that lay in the riverbed, and the people knew they must protect their homes from furious winds and the coming storms.

So it was that Maui once again invented a way for the people to better understand their world, and at the same time instilled in them the same joy in play that he felt when he watched his kite sailing across the sky.