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From the east the woman Pele arrives,
From the land of Polapola,
From the red rising mist of Kane,
From the blazing clouds in the heaven,
From the billowing clouds of the sunrise,
The woman Pele erupts in Hawai'i.

from Halau O Kekuhi


Pele is a feared and respected fire goddess of Hawai'i. Her full name is Pelehonuamea, Sacred Earth Person or perhaps She Who Shapes The Sacred Land. Known as volatile and capricious, she has sent numerous rivers of hot lava from her dwellings in the Halemaumau crater of the Kilauea volcano, adding new land to the Big Island and destroying buildings as it suits her.

A goddess with this much spirit left in her can hardly be ignored. Indeed, she still lives in the minds of many Hawaiians, and is even sighted now and again - most often as an old woman with a white dog who mysteriously disappears while hitchhiking. But she can just as easily take on the appearance of a beautiful young woman. Her face has been spotted in several photographs of volcanic eruptions. She who keeps creating and destroying is still respected in this land.

Born to Haumea, daughter of Papa earth mother and Wakea sky father, Pele was driven from her old homeland of Tahiti for seducing the husband of her sister, Na-maka-o-kaha'i. In her first landing place, Kaua'i, she was unable to dig a pit for her new home as her sister, a goddess of water and sea, kept flooding it. Pele had to find a new island, and another one, and another, moving along the chain of Hawaiian islands.

She finally found refuge on Mauna Loa, the tallest mountain on earth from its based deep at the bottom of the sea. This altitude was too much even for Na-maka-o-kaha'i raging waves, and Pele could burn her fires in peace. She sent for her brothers who came to live with her on the slopes of the volcano.

An egg the goddess had carried with her during her long canoe journey hatched, and Pele's most beloved sister Hi'iaka emerged. Some day when her sister had grown into a beautiful woman, Pele went to sleep and went in spirit form to the northern shore of Kaua'i. Here she took on the form as a desirable woman and attended a dance and immediately became attracted to Lohi'au, a young chieftain. The two stayed together for some days until Pele had to return to her sleeping body.

Once home, Pele sent Hi'iaka to fetch Lohi'au and bring him to her. She made her promise not to seduce him on the way, however, and in return she would keep her lava and fires away from a grove where her sister liked to dance with her friend Hopoe. Hi'iaka came to discover a Lohi'au dead of grief after Pele's disappearance, but she managed to resurrect him and they began their journey to Big Island.

Pele could not be rid of a nagging doubt, however. It kept growing stronger as days passed and neither sister nor lover apppeared. On the fourtieth day she was certain they had betrayed her, and in turn broke her own promise, drowning Hi'iaka's grove and friend in a flood of lava. The sister and chieftain returned to destruction everywhere, and Hi'iaka threw herself into Lohi'au's arms in despair. Seeing this Pele sent forth another flow of lava, killing Lohi'au while her divine sister remained unharmed. Fortunately for her, Kane-milo-hai one of Pele's brothers was out in a canoe and happened across the spirit of the twice-dead man as it floated by. He gave Lohi'au his spirit back and he fled with Hi'iaka back to Kaua'i where they settled in peace.

Most of Pele's lovers had a less successful ending as they did not take well to having molten lava thrown at them. Their entrapped bodies can still be seen as pillars of rock in the lava fields of Big Island.


  I know you've seen fire
    but you never seen fire,
                        until you've seen Pele blow

Muhammad my Friend (Tori Amos)