Our seasonal fluctuations mean that
we can fry in summer and freeze in winter.
This freeze-and-fry dilemma has motivated
animals, birds and fish to improvise migration.
It has motivated plants to channel their waning life force
into seeds that will sprout in spring.
And it’s presented humans with a challenge:
We can’t hunt creatures that have migrated elsewhere
and we can’t harvest grains, vegetables or
fruit that have died from the cold.
This is humanity’s story and it’s about
needing help from a hero.
Enter our hero, Maui.
He carefully observes the points of sunrise and sunset for years.
Then he travels to a world-class Sun-watching site,
the Haleakala Volcano Crater,
today the home of Haleakala National Park.
(“HAH - lay - ah - kah - LA”)
Haleakala means “house of the Sun.”
(Before missionaries arrived in Hawaii and garbled the language as they wrote it down, Hawaiians’ word for the Sun
was pronounced the same as in Egypt: “RA.”)
Every day hundreds of visitors wake up around 2 or 3 a.m.
and drive up the steepest paved road on Earth
to enjoy sunrise at Haleakala.
From this 10,000 foot peak you can see sunrise
before it happens at lower elevations
and you can see sunset
after it happens at lower elevations.
At Haleakala you can also see our Earth’s roundness.
Our hero, Maui, lives in a part of the world where the Sun’s rays
are so direct that freezing isn’t a problem, but frying is!
Skin cancer makes skin-protection as critical
to human survival as food-finding.
In fact, Maui’s mother Hina had been begging him to
help her with her cloth- and clothing-production
because she had a problem:
Hawaii’s cotton plant fibers are too short to make into cloth.
So, tree-bark fibers are dried and pounded into “tapa cloth.”
But these gooey fibers take so long to dry that
for much of the year the days are not long enough for
them to dry. In desperation, Hina pleads to Maui for help.
Her plea resonates with people all over the world:
When can we find - or fabricate - protection for our bodies?
When can we hunt for food? fish for food? grow food?
If we want too survive, we need to grasp the Sun’s cycle:
we need to hitch it, snare it, map it, get it.
Fortunately, any behavior that's cyclical
is also predictable.
So once we’ve pinned down the length of this cycle
and we’ve pinned down its turning points, we can
do the kind of planning that enables us to survive.
Maui observed that the Sun gives us live or gives us death,
depending on whether we grasp its cycle and
synchronize our activities with it.
So he battles with the Sun, struggling to pin it down.
In different regional versions of this Pan-Polynesian story, he
uses different tools - a flax net, various coconut fiber ropes, and
a battle ax. But in the end of every version, he’s victorious.
The Sun realizes he has no choice but to work with Maui.
They “agreed that there should be
a regular motion to the journey of the Sun.”
“The Sun... promised to be more thoughtful of the needs of men
and go at a more reasonable pace across the sky.”
Maui made the Sun agree to move more slowly across the sky
so his mother would have long enough days to dry her tapa cloth.
As a favor to his mother, Maui “made the day longer.”
“Making the day last longer” doesn’t just mean adding hours
to the clock because every phrase of a Polynesian story
always contains multiple meanings and levels of meaning.
In fact, Hawaiian chanters vie with each other to see
who can layer in more different meanings.
So, “making the day last longer”
can also mean getting more out of the day.
Getting more out of our day is precisely what’s possible
when we pin down the Sun’s cycle and can now plan
and organize our activities in synchrony with it.
Haleakala, where Maui synchronized his people with the Sun,
if located on an island that now bears his name.
In pre-industrial times Haleakala and Machu Picchu (the 15,000 foot peak where Inca ancestors “hitched the Sun”)
were astronomical observatories.
Machu Picchu, visited by more than a million people annually,
is home to a carved stone “Hitching Post of the Sun.”
Here the Incas celebrated the summer and winter solstices.
They had plenty of reason to celebrate because they
observed that the dance of our Earth and Sun
is the rhythm of life as we know it.
They saw that when you hitch your activities to this rhythm,
you flourish. They expressed their gratitude for this by
celebrating the solstices at the place where they grasped this.