The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 6/Notices and News (June)


On February 12, Mr. Jeremiah Curtin read, before the Anthropological Society of Washington, U.S.A., a paper of some interest on the folk-lore of Ireland. Last year Mr. Curtin went to Ireland for the express purpose of finding out how far the old "myths and tales" were still alive in the minds of the people. He visited some secluded parts of the western coast, and "took down personally a large body of myths and stories, some very long, others not so long. This collection of materials," he says, "is sufficient to fill a couple of 12mo. volumes, and will give some idea of what yet remains in the Celtic mind of Ireland. It is, however, but a small part of the mental treasure still in possession of the people."

At a recent meeting of the Wellington Philosophical Society of New Zealand Mr. E. Tregear read a most interesting paper on the "Origin of Fire in relation to Polynesian Folk-lore." The following is an abstract of it:—

Mr. Tregear said that, in bringing forward the story of Maui's procuring fire for men, he had collated the different New Zealand versions with those to be found in the Polynesian Islands. The legends possessed, far more than any other of the Maori traditions, a verisimilitude and consistency which were astonishing—the names, incidents, &c., having been preserved through the long lapse of time (which must have elapsed since the dispersion of the Polynesian tribes) in a curiously complete manner. The Maori legend of the procuring fire from the old fire-goddess Mahuika had to be prefaced by that portion of the Maui story which related his power to become a bird at will, as this had an important bearing on the sister traditions. Beading the legend in Sir George Grey's work, and noticing briefly the story as told by Wohlers, White, and others, Mr. Tregear then passed on to the Samoan version, in which the fire-deity is a male personage with whom Maui has a personal encounter, but the hero achieves his object. With brief mention of the story as told at Tokelau, and by the natives of Savage Island, the paper then related the Rarotongan tradition, one of much detail and value. The Manikiki legend differs, in that the great Polynesian deity, Tangaroa, takes the place of Mahuika as fire-divinity. The version from Nukuhiva, in the Marquesas Islands, was last dealt with: a story of rugged simplicity, but agreeing generally with the other stories. Mr. Tregear suggested that the scene being laid in Hawaiki appeared to give great age to the legends, and that, as the pathway was always downward into the bowels of the earth in order to reach this under-world, it was probable that the ancestors of the Polynesians had acquaintance with natural fire drawn from volcanic sources; but that Maui's gift, like that of Prometheus, was the art of procuring fire by friction. Maui's birth and parentage were then considered; the difficulties in the parent-names, &c., compared one with the other, and the suggestion made that probably place-names, personified as myth, might account for some of the discrepancies. The assumption of the dove-form and hawk-form by Maui was consistent with the belief current in the ancient world as to the shapes assumed by divinities, and especially by solar deities. The "seed of fire," an expression used in the traditions for the inflammable nature of certain woods, was an idiom common in old days to the continental nations, and a singular instance of survival of linguistic phrase. Fire-worship continued to have its devotees in Europe until comparatively recent days; and the sacred fire was always "new fire," kindled by friction, or not previously used for common purposes. The deity who was supposed in India to be the father of fire, and of the birth of fire by friction, was the maker of Indra's thunderbolts, and is probably identical in name with the thunder-divinity of New Zealand. A distinct legend is preserved in Eastern Polynesia as to the descent of the Maori people from a race whose name is identical with that of the fire-kindling instrument used in India.