When the lava flows, a Hawaiian goddess’ name is invoked
HONOLULU: In rural Hawaii neighbourhoods where lava from the Kilauea volcano has burned down or threatened to consume the homes, a name often comes up: Pele (peh-leh).
“You can’t really predict what Pele is going to do,” said Julie Woolsey, who evacuated on May 3 as a fissure opened on her street, oozing lava just 1,000ft from her home.
Here is more information about Pele and why the goddess is revered:
Who is Pele
Pele, known as the goddess of volcanoes and fire, is an important figure in Hawaiian culture. She represents all the phenomena related to volcanoes – the magma, steam, ash, acid rain.
Pele is an akua, or goddess, but not in the way people outside Hawaii might think of gods and goddesses.
“We feel that the word god has kind of a Western connotation to it, so we use the word ‘element’,” said Kuulei Kanahele, researcher at the Edith Kanakaole Foundation, which focuses on Native Hawaiian cultural preservation and education.
According to chants, Pele and her family migrated from kahiki – an unspecified land outside of Hawaii.
She first landed in the northwestern Hawaiian islands before making her way through the main Hawaiian islands before settling in Hawaii Island.
She dug craters on the islands but, “She didn’t find a crater that was suitable to her liking,” Kanahele said, until Kilauea’s Halemaumau crater, where she now resides.
Why is she revered?
“In Hawaiian thinking and Hawaiian culture, Pele is the foundation, the creation of land,” said Piilani Kaawaloa, who teaches at the Hawaii Island campus of Kamehameha Schools.
She has two forms, Kaawaloa explained, one that stays at the crater tending to her fire pit and another that goes “holoholo” or leisurely exploring, around Puna, a district on the slopes of the volcano.
That’s exactly what is happening now with the lava fissures opening up in Puna’s Leilani Estates and neighbouring communities.
Legends of Pele
A popular legend tells the tale of a frail, old woman who asks for food from two girls cooking breadfruit. One girl said they didn’t have food for strangers, but the younger girl shared the breadfruit. The woman told the younger girl that strange things would be happening on the mountainside and to tell her family to hang bits of cloth made from bark to stay safe.
The younger girl’s grandmother said that woman was Pele and heeded the advice. A neighbour told them Pele is angry and she’s stirring her fire pit on Mauna Loa, according to Hawaii Island Legends.
Pele sent her lava to destroy those who made her angry. The lava stream broke in two and flowed on each side of the younger girl’s home. — AP
Appeasing the heavens: Members of the Hula Na Mamo O Pu’uanahulu hula school performing for Pele, the goddess of the volcano, on the rim of Kilauea Volcano in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.