Judy Moore: Pele’s fire

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, April 13, 2023

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Judy MooreI have always had a fascination with Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. Steeped in legend and forged by nature, Pele, in my opinion, is the guardian of the Hawaiian islands. Pele is the goddess of fire, lightning and volcanoes in the Hawaiian native religion-pre Christian influence. In fact, she is sometimes called Madame Pele, Tutu(Grandmother) Pele or Ka wahine’ ai honua, the earth-eating woman. Based on Hawaiian legends, since the island is made of numerous volcanoes, Pele is the creator of the Hawaiian islands. Fascinating information about a culture I have enormous respect for.

Subsequently, there are varying stories about Pele’s beginnings and her influence which reveals she was born from Haumea, the female spirit, who was descended from Papa, Earth Mother and Wakea, Sky Father, whom were both formed from supreme beings. In addition, Pele is also known as “She who shapes the sacred land” with first published stories about her occurring in 1823 by English missionary William Ellis. The background for Mr. Ellis’s writing is that after touring the island to set up mission stations he arrived at the Kilauea volcano and with little food he ate wild berries-o helo- which are sacred to Pele without offering a prayer before doing so. After because of her anger at this misstep the crater erupted which the natives knew would probably happen.

Pele is said to live in the fire pit Halema’ uma’u at the Kilauea summit, yet, she is prevalent in all of the Big Island’s volcanic activities and furthermore, she is known for her passion and jealousy. According to numerous legends Pele’s sisters included Kame Milohai, Kamohoali’i, Namaka and Hi’aka Hi’iakoikapoliopele(Hi’ aka in the bosom of Pele). Moreover, the deities of wind, rain, fire, ocean waves and clouds are also Pele’s family. Imagine that big family reunion. One of the fascinating legends is of Pele coming to Hawaii from the island of Tahiti trying to create fires on different islands. Namaka, her sister chased her and a fight ensued with Pele being killed by Namaka. Her spirit lives in Halama’uma’u while her body is the lava and steam of Kilauea. Furthermore, Pele is also known as the hula goddess with her sister Hi’aka being the first to dance the hula so therefore many dances are dedicated to Pele and her family.

One urban legend talks about how Pele occasionally warns locals walking along roads near Kilauea about upcoming eruptions appearing as a young woman and an old white haired woman dressed in red with a small white dog. If passersby stop to help her she vanishes and they are expected to warn others about impending eruptions. It is never a good idea to remove items from Pele’s island; each year the National Park Service receives items that tourists return seeking Pele’s forgiveness. Also, don’t throw anything into the crater as a sacrifice to the volcano goddess; that’s frowned upon by park officials and I can imagine the locals aren’t too crazy about that either and don’t want to anger Pele.

From my understanding of Pele and Hawaiian history, my belief is that she is a protector of nature and desires that the native Hawaiians and guests treat the islands with reverence. With the things I’ve seen us do to disrespect nature Pele’s anger with the eruption of Kilauea is an ever increasing occurrence.

Judy Moore is a tour guide with The Central High Museum who lives in Wylliesburg and can be reached at v5agabond2@gmail.com.