Pele of the Sacred Earth

Pele Honua Mea (Pele of the Sacred Earth) Goddess of Hawaii’s Volcanoes.

In the Hawaiian religion, Pele (/ˈpeɪleɪ/PAY-lay; [ˈpɛlɛ]) is the goddess of fire, lightning, wind, and volcanoes. She is a popular figure in many stories of ancient Hawaii known as Hawaiian mythology. Ka wahine ʻai honua (“the earth-eating woman”) is an epithet for the goddess.

There are several traditional legends associated with Pele in Hawaiian mythology. She has numerous siblings, including Kāne Milohai, Kamohoaliʻi, Nāmaka and 13 sisters named Hiʻiaka, the most famous being Hiʻiakaikapoliopele (Hiʻiaka in the bosom of Pele). They are usually considered to be the offspring of Haumea. Her home is believed to be the fire pit called Halemaʻumaʻu crater, at the summit caldera of Kīlauea, one of the Earth’s most active volcanoes; but her domain encompasses all volcanic activity on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. Every incident with a volcanic eruption in Hawaii it is said to be Pele’s way of expressing her longing to be with her true love, in many stories a young chief named Lohiau, but she’s a fickle and dangerous lover who sometimes kills her husbands.
Pele shares features similar to other malignant deities inhabitants of volcanoes, as in the case of the devil Guayota of Guanche Mythology in Canary Islands (Spain), living on the volcano Teide and was considered by the aboriginal Guanches as responsible for the eruptions of the volcano.

In one version of the story, Pele is daughter of Kanehoalani and Haumea in the mystical land of Kuaihelani, a floating free land like Fata Morgana. Kuaihelani was in the region of Kahiki (Kukulu o Kahiki). She stays so close to her mother’s fireplace with the fire-keeper Lono-makua. Her older sister Nā-maka-o-Kahaʻi, a sea goddess, fears that Pele’s ambition would smother the home-land and drives Pele away. Kamohoali’i drives Pele south in a canoe called Honua-i-a-kea with her younger sister Hiʻiaka and with her brothers Kamohoaliʻi, Kanemilohai, Kaneapua, and arrives at the islets above Hawaii. There Kane-milo-hai is left on Mokupapapa, just a reef, to build it up in fitness for human residence. On Nihoa, 800 feet above the ocean she leaves Kane-apua after her visit to Lehua and crowning a wreath of kau-no’a. Pele feels sorry for her younger brother and picks him up again. Pele used the divining rod, Pa‘oa to pick her a new home. A group of chants tells of a pursuit by Namakaokaha’i and Pele is torn apart. Her bones, KaiwioPele form a hill on Kahikinui, while her spirit escaped to the island of Hawaiʻi.

In another version, Pele comes from a land said to be “close to the clouds,” with parents Kane-hoa-lani and Ka-hina-liʻi, and brothers Ka-moho-aliʻi and Kahuila-o-ka-lani. From her husband Wahieloa (also called Wahialoa) she has a daughter Laka and a son Menehune. Pele-kumu-honua entices her husband and Pele travels in search of him. The sea pours from her head over the land of Kanaloa (perhaps the island now known as Kahoʻolawe) and her brothers say:

“A sea! a sea! a sea of sharks
Forth bursts the sea,
Bursts forth over Kanaloa (Kahoʻolawe),
The sea rises to the hills. . . .”
“Thrice” (according to the chant) the sea floods the land, then recedes.

These floodings are called The-sea-of-Ka-hina-liʻi.

Historical times

Pele belief continued after the old religion was officially abolished in 1819. In the summer of 1823 English missionary William Ellis toured the island to determine locations for mission stations.After a long journey to the volcano Kīlauea with little food, Ellis eagerly ate the wild berries they found growing there.The berries of the ʻōhelo (Vaccinium reticulatum) plant were considered sacred to the Pele. Traditionally prayers and offerings to Pele were always made before eating the berries. The volcano crater was an active lava lake, which the natives feared was a sign that Pele was not pleased with the violation.Although wood carvings and thatched temples were easily destroyed, the volcano was a natural monument to the goddess.

In December 1824 the High Chiefess Kapiʻolani descended into the Halemaʻumaʻu crater after reciting a Christian prayer instead of the traditional one to Pele. She was not killed as predicted, and this story was often told by missionaries to show the superiority of their faith. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) wrote a poem about the incident in 1892.

When businessman George Lycurgus ran a hotel at the rim of Kīlauea, called the Volcano House, he would often “pray” to Pele for the sake of the tourists. Park officials took a dim view of his habit of tossing items such as gin bottles (after drinking their contents) into the crater.

Possessing the power to create new land, Pele also has a volcanic personality-an impetuous, lusty nature, jealous, unpredictable, capable of sudden fury and great violence. Yet she can be gentle, loving, and as serene as her forests of ferns and flowering trees.

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