The Significance of the Lava Goddess in Hawaii
According to Hawaiian mythology, Pele is the fire goddess. Connected to volcanoes, lightning, fire and wind, she is considered the creator of the Hawaiian Islands. Due to this, Pele is one of the best known gods of the islands. Even today, visitors to the Ainopio Trail and the summit of Mauna Loa bring offerings to Pele. Long ago, native Hawaiians began this tradition by climbing Mauna Loa with offerings to appease Pele and win her favor. This same gorgeous trail can be used by visitors to reach the summit and commune with the lava goddess.
Arriving at the Islands
Long ago, Pele was born into a family of six daughters and seven sons. According to mythology, her mother was the earth goddess, Haumea, and her father was the dream god, Moemoe. Growing up in Kahiki, Pele longed to go on an adventure and experience the world. With this in mind, she convinced her brother to lend her a canoe and traveled southeast with her siblings.
In a different version of the story, Pele was chased away from her home due to her infuriated sister, Namakaokahai, who is the goddess of the ocean. Whatever her reason for leaving, Pele arrived at Lehua and began to build her home. Unable to create a fire pit to live in, she moved to western Kauai. Again, she found only water at the Wet Caves, so she moved inland to an ancient mountain known as Puu Ka Pele (Pele’s Hill).
Pele was still unlucky in finding a fire pit, so she was forced to wander around in search of a home. Traveling to Oahu, Maui, Molokai and Hawaii, she finally found a home in Kilauea. Interestingly, her mythological trip followed the progression of volcanic activity over the course of time.
Depending on the storyteller, Pele was now lucky enough to find love. She fell for the mortal Chief of Kauai, Lohiau. Hearing the sound of a hula festival, she used astral travel to arrive at the festival where she immediately fell in love with Lohiau. Pele joined in the dance and quickly won Lohiau’s heart. They lived together happily until the day Pele returned home. She promised to send for him, and her sister, Hiiaka, was sent to fetch him. Hiiaka’s only tasks were to go to Kauai, retrieve Lohiau, and avoid kissing him.
Artwork by Vlad Sokolovich’s Gallery
Arriving after many days, Hiiaka was distraught to discover that Lohiau had died. Luckily for her, she saw his spirit darting above the mountain tops. Capturing the spirit, she managed to return it to his body. Returning to Pele, Hiiaka was so excited that she hugged and kissed Lohiau without thinking about it. Assuming that Hiiaka was trying to mock her, Pele destroyed Lohiau by covering him in lava.
At the same time, Pele’s brothers had just returned from traveling. Seeing the body of Lohiau, they brought him back to life and Lohiau fell in love with Hiiaka. Together, Hiiaka and Lohiau settled down in a house on Ke’e Beach in Haena. Today, a stone wall from their house can still be seen.
The Wrath of Pele Lives On
While Pele was doomed to forever live separately from her first love, her jealousy and vengeful nature lived on. Today, a modern myth says that anyone who removes lava rocks from the islands will be cursed by Pele. Due to this, the post offices on Kilauea receive thousands of packages every year with returned lava rocks. Concerned that their bad luck was caused by the wrathful Pele, tourists across the world have returned stolen rocks to Pele’s islands.
Presently, Pele’s Kilauea Volcano remains the most active volcano in the world. From time to time, lava flows from beneath the surface as Pele makes her presence known. For an unusual take on the history and mythology of the islands, check out the volcano and other local sites connected to Pele.