New Zealand: The story of how Māui captured the Sun told on new gold and silver coins

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand have issued (18th October) four new coins which feature an exceptional tale that is one of the most familiar legends in the Polynesian world. The legends of Māui are stories shared across many Polynesian islands, despite the considerable distance between islands such as Hawaii, Tonga, and even New Zealand — the similarities between many of the legends is uncanny. The legend of Māui slowing the sun is one well known across the Pacific. Sick of having only fleeting moments of daylight to work by, Māui decided to find a way to slow the sun. With the help of his brothers, Māui snared the sun and forced him to travel slowly across the sky.

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The 2018-dated coins are produced by the BH Mayer’s Kunstprägeanstalt GmbH on behalf of the Reserve Bank and are designed by New Zealand artist Dave Hakaraia of Wellington. The set consists of two gold and two silver coins, with the gold and silver coins sharing the same reverse design. The heroic legend of Māui capturing and slowing the sun is depicted in these two coins. The mighty sun, Tamanuiterā (or Rā) is depicted on one coin, while Māui is portrayed holding fast the ropes he used to slow Rā on the second coin.

The obverse depicts HM Queen Elizabeth II, as designed by British sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley, and has appeared on all New Zealand circulation and most commemorative coins since 1999.

Silver set: The mighty sun is captured with detailed gold plating on one silver coin, and the coins are placed in their acrylic case which mimics the legend. The ropes held by Māui are etched into the surface of the acrylic coin holder which lines up with the ropes attached to Rā so that Māui appears to still be holding the sun in place.

Gold set: The two coins are housed within a carved, wooden case with patterns of the rope crisscrossing on the lid; this set of coins tells a popular tale through their highly detailed finish.

Denom. Metal Weight Diameter Quality Maximum Sets
$1 x 2 .999 Silver 31.1 g 40 mm Proof 1,500
$10 x 2 .9999 Gold 15.5 g 30 mm Proof 150

The gold and silver coins are available to purchase only in sets. They are presented in individual capsules and housed in custom presentation cases which are specially designed to enhance the design of the coins. For more information on these and other coins issued by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

The Story About the Maori Hero Māui Who Slowed the Sun

One evening, Māui and his brothers were making a hāngi, which is a traditional Māori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven, for their evening meal. They had just finished heating the stones when the sun went down and it quickly became too dark to see. Māui was annoyed with having to eat his food in the dark. He stood in the light of the fire and addressed his people exclaiming that they have to rush to do their chores and gather food before the sun sets. He asked why they should all be slaves to the sun, declaring that he would catch it before it rises, and teach it to travel slowly across the sky. One of his brothers was quick to criticise the plan, not believing Māui could possibly do such a thing and pointing out the impossibility of the task, saying that it was much bigger than any bird Māui ever caught. Another brother advised that the heat alone would surely burn Māui to death.

When the commotion had eased, Māui took the sacred jawbone of his ancestor from his belt and waved it in the air. He declared that he had achieved many things that were thought impossible: Gaining fire from Mahuika (the Māori fire deity), he caught the greatest fish in the world, he had descended to the underworld, and many more feats. With this magic jawbone, gifted by Murirangawhenua (one of Māui’s Grandmothers), Māui declared he would succeed in conquering the sun.

Luckily, the majority of the people agreed that Māui had achieved many great feats, and they decided to help Māui in his quest. The next day, Māui and his whānau (extended family) collected a huge amount of flax, and Māui then taught them how to make flax ropes — a skill he learned when he was in the underworld. They made square shaped ropes called tuamaka, flat ropes called paharahara, and twisted the flax to make round ropes. After five days the ropes were completed, and Māui said a special karakia (prayer) used to invoke spiritual guidance and protection over them.

Taura nui, taura roa, taura kaha, taura toa, taura here i a Tamanuiterā, whakamaua kia mau kia ita!

During the night, Māui and his brothers hoisted the ropes and travelled towards the east to where the sun first rises. They hid under trees and bushes during the day, so the sun wouldn’t see them approaching. They collected water in calabashes (bottle gourds) as they travelled, which Māui said was necessary for their task ahead. On the 12th night, Māui and his brothers arrived at the edge of a huge, red-hot pit, dug deep into the ground. Inside the pit, Tamanuiterā, the personification of the sun, was sleeping. The brothers were silent, terrified at what might happen if he awoke. Māui immediately ordered his brothers to build four huts around the edges of the pit to hide their long ropes. In front of the huts, they used water to soften the clay and build a wall to shelter them. Māui and his brothers then spread their flax ropes into a noose, only just finishing before dawn, when the sun was due to wake.

Māui described that when Tamanuiterā rises and his head and shoulders are in the noose that he will call for his brothers to pull tight on the ropes.However, one of the brothers became worried and wanted to run while he still had time. He asked Māui why they are doing this and called their mission madness. Māui’s brother was worried that they will be burnt alive but if they ran now, they might escape with their lives. The two brothers tried to sneak away but Māui caught sight of them through the corner of his eye.

He admonished them that if they ran away now the sun would see them when he rises from his pit and they would be the first ones to die — declaring there is no turning back now.

With no time to answer, the sun had begun to wake and was rising from the pit. They quickly ran back to their huts, grabbed hold of their ropes and hid behind the wall of clay, trembling as they waited for Māui’s orders. Māui hid and watched until he saw the best opportunity to strike. As expected, Tamanuiterā slowly emerged from the deep pit, not knowing that a trap was set for him. Before he could realise, his head went through the noose and then his shoulders. Māui suddenly jumped from his hut and yelled to his brothers, giving the order to pull on the ropes. At first, the brothers were too scared to come out but Māui yelled again for them to quickly pull the ropes before it’s too late, or they would be scorched to death. Just then the sun peered down to the edges of the pit and saw Māui standing before him. Tamanuiterā was furious. He hurled a ball of fire towards Māui, but he ducked in time, holding tightly to his rope and once more chanting his karakia:

Taura nui, taura roa, taura kaha, taura toa, taura here i a Tamanuiterā, whakamaua kia mau kia ita!

The brothers swiftly jumped from their hiding places, grabbing their ropes just before Tamanuiterā could free himself from the noose. As the sun roared in anger, Māui fought off the intense heat and moved to the edge of the pit. He raised his magic jawbone above his head and brought it down hard on the sun. The magic forces from the jawbone flashed like a bolt of lightning. Suddenly, Tamanuiterā demanded to know why Māui was trying to capture him in such a manner, to which Māui answered that from now on, he would have to travel slowly across the sky. Never again would the Maori length of the day be dictated by the speed of Tamanuiterā.

Although Tamanuiterā tried to struggle free, it was impossible to break free from the ropes, and again, Māui showed him the power of his magic jawbone. Defeated, Tamanuiterā finally gave up the fight and Māui instructed his brothers to let go of their ropes. From then on, Tamanuiterā travelled slowly up into the sky and the days became longer for Māui and his people, giving them plenty of time to fish, gather food, and do their chores. Māui’s power and ability were never questioned again since he had succeeded in taming the sun. From that day to present, Tamanuiterā has always travelled slowly across the sky.

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