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myth makers

There are trickster gods all over the world. Perhaps our ability to perceive and stomach people and suffering depends on our belief in divine trickery. But I struggle to tell exactly how deeply, now or in the past, we believe in divine tricks.

On these islands, Maui is the one to watch out for. He turns up hidden in the bottoms of canoes, disguised under cloaks of herring, then does things like catch fish the size of continents using the jawbone of his ancestor as a hook, his own salty blood as bait. When the fish is carved up by the crew, despite Maui begging them to wait, the severed sections become islands, which later become nations.

I've mangled that myth somewhere in the telling, but Maui and Loki, trickster of the frozen north, are clearly cousins from opposite ends of the earth. In Norse mythology, as well as being fooled by shapeshifters, people are always throwing bits of carcass overboard, resulting in mountain ranges pinging up from the icy sea, or giant folk sneeze to form glaciers, or someone pisses a meadow full of poison lilies.

When we think of myth makers, do we think of them as stooped and serious mystics, trying to weave tales from charcoal and gloom in order to explain a chalky world? Maybe myths are just jokes that get told and twisted for so long they become serious - people sitting under trees making each other laugh to pass time. Looking out at the cliffs of Hawkes Bay in the curving distance, it seems patently obvious that no one, no matter the age they lived in, could really believe this country rose up out of the waves from a gutted mackerel, or that it's possible for an entire galaxy to be vomited over the course of a single morning, or that giants can fart out whales.

There are other tales that I want to take more seriously, names I want to interpret solemnly. Te pua o te reeinga - a plant that hides away from the light, the bulk of its body remaining underground; small, occasional slips of root being the only parts that make it into the sun. The name means flower of the place of departed souls. It's also called waewa atua - toes of the ancient ancestors. I love the idea of bulbous, fungal toes of the dead dotted around the rainforest floor, keeping the trees company, helping to keep the wild fed and wise.

As we stared into the bay, we discussed whether three sharp, black spines protruding from the surf were anchored in the sand or floating slowly down the beach. I wondered whether landing on them from a height would result in them collapsing or in you being impaled. Were they soft like kelp, or rigid like beach breakers? They looked severe from this distance, reminded me of godzilla, though in a form I'd never seen him appear in.

Out in the bay, I'm sure slyly caught fish were being reeled and turned into glistening worlds.

Haumoana Beach 131122