Hina and the Eel: 1. Tuamotu Islands
Legends of the South Seas, Antony Alpers. Thomas Crowell, New York: p. 107 (1970).
Stimson, J. Frank, The Legends of Maui and Tahaki (told by Fariua-a-Makitua of Fagatau). Bishop Mus. Bull., Hawaii. 127, 1934.
Variants of the story of Hina and the eel have been found throughout Polynesia, which means that it was probably one of the early myths brought by the ancestors of the Polynesians when they first migrated by sea, originally from Taiwan, into the Pacific.
This brief story was recorded in the Tuamotu Islands, a group of coral islands in French Polynesia. It is the beginning of a longer tale about Tuna’s (the Eel’s) battle with Maui, a battle caused by Hina who left Tuna and eventually chose Maui for a new husband. It speaks directly about Hina’s preference.
Hina was living with Tuna in his land beneath the sea; but she became tired of her eel-husband, also of the coldness there.
Photo source: unknown
Hina tired of her relationship with her cold-blooded, underwater husband, which means symbolically that she was tired of unconscious relating (underwater symbolizes the unconscious).
One day she said to eel Tuna that she was going out to fetch food for them. Then she travelled far away, to find a new man for herself.
She came to the land of the Tane tribe. When she saw those husband-people Hina sang her chant about what she wanted:
Inland eel here – manly thing!
Eel of the sea there – watery thing!
I here am a woman for the eel-shaped one,
I have come to find him at Raronuku,
I have come to find him at Raro vaio.
Your fame, O Tane tribe, is known to me!
She desired a dry-land man, which means symbolically a more conscious way of relating.
Mixing Bowl: Attic ceramic, 470 BC.
Boston Museum of Fine Arts
But the men of the Ngati Tane, Husband tribe, all shouted to that woman who invited them, “There is the road! Keep going on! We will never take Tuna’s woman – he would kill us in a day!”
Therefore Hina went on to the land of the Ngati Peka, and she sang her chant to them. But the men of that tribe answered in the same words as the Tane men.
Therefore Hina went on until she reached the Tu tribe’s land. They would not have her there; no man-erect of Tu would take her, Tuna’s woman.
Then Hina passed the house of Huahega, sang her chant. And Huahega said to her last-born son, to Maui tikitiki a Ataraga: ‘Take that woman as your wife.’ Therefore Maui did so, and they all lived quietly together there.
Maui is the dominant trickster god in Polynesian myth, the god who turns a problem on its head and discovers a surprising solution. Later in the tale he proves his cleverness by defeating and killing Tuna in a novel competition. In this way he expands the range of consciousness.
The myth shows that it was Hina’s persistent desire for a more conscious relationship which initiated consciousness. Maui is like a god of technology because technology also discovers novel solutions, as we will see next in the Mangaia version of this tale. Thus Huahega’s instruction that Maui should partner Hina is a repetition which confirms my interpretation that the story is about the development of consciousness.
Hina and the eel, 2.
Mangaia (Population 740).
Legends of the South Seas, Antony Alpers. Thomas Crowell, New York: 73-75 (1970).
Collected by W. Wyat Gill, in Myths and Songs from the South Pacific, H.S. King, London: 77 (1876).
Mangaia is one of the Cook Islands. This tale is explains how Hina’s desire led to technology (which symbolizes consciousness).
Mangaia is a ‘raised coral’ island, at one time an atoll, now elevated by tectonic action or a fall in sea level. It therefore has a high encircling rim, the ancient coral reef called ‘makatea’, which has cliffs both inland and seaward.
HINA-MOE-AITU who was daughter to Kui-the-blind lived in the shadow of the inland cliff of the makatea, her house was near where the cave Tautua has its opening.
Now the water from Kui’s taro swamps disappeared beneath that cave into the makatea, it ran out to the sea beneath the land; and Hina’s pool where she washed herself was there below that cliff.
The shoreline symbolizes a place of psychological transition: when we wake from a dream a wavelet of unconscious story washes over our conscious memory. Here the location is rich in transitions. Hina’s fresh-water pool is on the inland side of the cliff. Fresh water enters a cave, goes underground, emerges on the the cliff’s seaward side, and flows down the beach to meet the salt water.
Mangaia makatea: inland side with freshwater swamp
Mangaia makatea: seaward side
A Limu pool, Niue Island, showing the passageway from an inland pool, beneath the cliff and into the sea.
Photo: LisaStrachan (depositphotos.com)
Transition is then repeated, and thus confirmed, in the meeting between Hina, who represents consciousness because she is human, and the eel which represents the unconscious, both because it comes from underwater and the dark and because of its serpentine form.
In Hina’s pool lived many eels, those tuna liked the darkness of that pool. One day when she was bathing an eel of great size came from its place beneath the rocks, and startled Hina by its pleasing touch: that eel went sliding under Hina in the place where pleasure is. And the tuna was wicked, and the same thing happened many times, and Hina permitted it. That eel gave Hina pleasure with its tail.
Hina was aroused: she longed to know the ‘other’ more.
One day while Hina-sleeping-with-a-god was gazing at the eel it changed its shape, it became a handsome young Mangaian. The young man said, ‘I am Tuna, god of all the eels. It is because of your beauty that I have left my home and come to you, Hina-moe-aitu, and I desire you to have me.’
The unconscious adopted human form as, in a dream, the unconscious adopts images from life in order to reach us. The eel was aroused: the unconscious desired beautiful consciousness. This was a dynamic between unlike agents.
We live through dynamic relation with an ‘other’. That dynamic underlies desire, love, companionship, reverence, individuation, creativity, art, skill, mastery, sports, gardening, pets, cooking, dining, wine-tasting, travel, theater, and so on.
The ‘other’ is other than self, separate and different. We can engage it but we cannot possess it or control it. The agents of the dynamic remain autonomous. When autonomy fails there is trouble.
Depression and grandiosity
In depression consciousness is subsumed by unconscious moods or thoughts and the person lacks energy for life.
In inflation or grandiosity consciousness claims the grandeur of the unconscious. The person has energy but has lost a genuine sense of self. This promotes greed, envy, cruelty, domination, racism, war, and also addiction, the compulsion to feel transcendent. The bible opposes sin because sin is grandiosity.
Grandiosity was insightfully portrayed – by its absence – in the television series The Crown, season 2, episodes 5-6. Claire Foy as Elizabeth II explained that she was ‘a simple Christian’ though ‘as head of the Anglican church, in terms of rank, above me there is only God.’ When interviewing a critic of the monarchy she defended herself on mundane grounds: ‘Is my voice alright? You can understand me? Not too strangled? Not too much pain in the neck?’ But she accepted his point that she must engage the people as equals.
For a person suffering from grandiosity, royalty is often a repressed fantasy. Therefore a person who is literally royal has to overcome that psychological hazard.
So they did, they two; they went into Hina’s house together, and afterwards he always turned into an eel once more, so that no person should know about them. Their love grew strong.
Romantic love has special licence. Though it is blind and transitory, we hold it sacred nonetheless. It is private. Its secret purpose is to strengthen inner life. Intense feeling detaches us from outer concerns. Onto our beloved we project an archetype which belongs to everyone, including ourself.
One day Tuna said to Hina, ‘I must go, I must leave you now forever.
A repetition which confirms that their love was about inner life, not just sexual love nor a social contract which could persist and create family.
Tomorrow there will be long-pouring rain, there will be flooding rain, there will be rain from the rivers of the sky. The rain will fill this place, the water will rise until it covers all the taro beds …
A flood from the sky represents psychological renewal, as it does in the bible. Water represents feeling. Consciousness would be fundamentally changed by an inundation of archetypal feeling.
… it will reach up to the door of this house; but do not be afraid, for then I will be able to swim here to your very threshold. I will lay my head on that paepae and you will know that it is I. Then quickly take the adze of your ancestor and cut off my head on the threshold, bury it here upon the high ground …
She would sacrifice (transform) their physical bond. His head (psychological meaning) would remain, like a seed. Her ancestral adze (cultural resources) would help her in this.
… After that, be sure to visit the place each day, to see what will appear.’
Development is spontaneous, organic. Her job was to remain conscious.
Therefore Hina did as Tuna said. In the night she heard the heavy rain, the thick rain, the long-pouring rain; and she waited until morning for the light to come. Then Hina saw that all the waters streaming down from Rangimotia [the central mountain] had filled the taro swamps and covered all the taro-tops. And water lay beside her door.
On that moment, a great eel came to the house and laid its head across the paepae. Therefore Hina took her adze, she took the sacred adze of her ancestor and she sliced off the head of that eel. She took it behind her house, and buried it.
Then the rains ceased and the floodwaters moved away, they passed out through the makatea to the sea; and each day Hina-moe-aitu visited the place where she had buried Tuna’s head. For many days she saw no thing that grew, but then at last she saw a firm green shoot, it sprang up through the soil and it was not like any thing that grew upon this land. Therefore Hina guarded that shoot, and on the next day she saw that it was two.
The plant was not native to the island. This new development was organic.
Those two green shoots sprang forth and Hina guarded them, and soon she had two fine strong trees that grew. Those trees grew tall, they climbed toward the sky until the wind was rustling in their tops, her children climbed them for the nuts they bore.
Coconut palms in Mangaia
Photo: bulach. 2007.
On the island the palms, as the highest plant, symbolically resemble a medieval cathedral. Consciousness integrates earth (instinct, what we desire) with sky (spirit, what we believe).
There one tree was which had a red stem and a reddish fruit; it was sacred to Tangaroa. The other of her trees possessed a green stem and a green-hued fruit; it was sacred to Rongo.
Tangaroa was an original creator god of the sea. Rongo was also a creator god, of agriculture. Coconuts seeded Pacific islands by floating across the ocean.
After that time there were coconuts in this land. There was niu to drink, from the green nuts; there was nui mata, the soft white flesh that comes later; and motomoto from the ripened nut; and creamy roro that is squeezed from it; and there was uto, that forms inside the nut that sprouts; and from motomoto that is dried out in the sun the people on this land got oil to put on their hair and skin; and from the leaves they made kikau for baskets and for walls; and from the husks old men made twisted cord; and from the shells, round bowls; and from the dead tree past the time of bearing they had strong hard wood for houseposts, and for paddles.
Much of the island’s technology arose from this new development. Technology is a magic trick which transforms things. It symbolizes consciousness because consciousness is also magic which transforms.
Everything begins in yin
All of these things were given to the land by Tuna the lover of Hina-moe-aitu. Therefore we call the white flesh of the coconut te roro o te Tuna, ‘Tuna’s brains’.
When all the husk is taken from a ripened nut the face of Hina’s lover may be seen, the face of Tuna-god-of-eels, with his two small eyes and mouth.
Coconut shell on coral sand beach in Samoa.
Photo: Teinesavaii. 2009. Wikipedia, public domain.
The story ends by repeating that the technology (brains or consciousness) which nourished Polynesian culture began as Hina’s fantasy about the eel.
The underlying meaning is that consciousness begins first in yin (why not, since all life begins within women?) It grows as it integrates the animus, the archetype of yang. A woman’s fantasy about a man aids her relation to the animus.
When consciousness identifies with yang it represses its origin in yin. This is one source of our culture’s hostility towards woman (written in December 2017 as the #MeToo movement unfolds).
Notes on the text
Crowell transcribed Gill’s version accurately. His only changes added information which would have been familiar to the story’s original audience:
He reversed Gil’s bowdlerization of the eel’s touch. Gil was a 19th century British clergyman but Polynesians were not delicate about sex.
He added that Hina’s children climbed the trees. Hina’s children were well-known in other myths and polynesian children always climbed coconut trees.
He noted that Hina’s adze was sacred. Neolithic polynesian adze heads, polished with much labor from hard stone, were prized and conserved for many generations. Ancestors were always sacred.
He listed the technologies which derived from the coconut tree. They all would have been familiar to the islanders.