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Pele (deity)

In Hawaiian mythology, Pele (PEH-leh, not PAY-lay) is the goddess of fire, lightning, dance, volcanoes and violence. She is a daughter of Haumea and Kane Milohai, and her home is believed to be the fire pit, Halema'uma'u crater, at the summit caldera of Kīlauea, one of the Earth's most and continuously active volcanos; but her domain encompasses all volcanic activity on the Big Island of Hawai'i.

There are several traditional legends associated with Pele in Hawaiian mythology.

Migration legend

Pele is one of a family of seven sons and six daughters born to Haumea and her husband Moemoe (Moemoe-a-aulii), all distinguished figures in old legend. Pele is very beautiful with a back straight as a cliff and breasts rounded like the moon. She longs to travel and, tucking her little sister born in the shape of an egg under her armpit, hence called Hiiaka-i-ka-poli-o-Pele (-in the armpit of Pele), she seeks her brother Ka-moho-ali‘i. He gives her the canoe of their brother Whirlwind (Pu-ahiuhiu) with Tide (Ke-au-lawe or Ke-au-miki) and Current (Ke-au-ka) as paddlers, and promises to follow with other members of the family. She goes by way of Polapola, Kuaihelani "where Kane hides the islands," and other islands inhabited by gods (Mokumanamana) to Ni‘ihau, island of the chiefess Fire-thrower (Ka-o-ahi), where she is handsomely entertained. Thence she visits Kauai and appears in the midst of a hula festival in the form of a beautiful woman. Falling desperately in love with the young Kauai chief Lohiau, she determines to take him for a husband. Passing southeast from island to island, on each of which she attempts to dig a home in which she can receive her lover, she comes finally to Hawaii and there is successful in digging deep without striking water, an element inimical to her fiery nature.

Expulsion version

Pele is born to Kane-hoa-lani and Haumea in Kuaihelani. She sticks so close to Lono-makua, the fire god, as to cause a conflagration (or, as in the Aukelenuiaiku story, makes love to her sister's husband) and her older sister Na-maka-o-kaha‘i, called "a sea goddess," drives her away. She takes passage in the canoe Honua-i-a-kea with her little sister carried in her armpit and accompanied by her brothers Ka-moho-ali‘i, Kane-milo-hai, Kane-apua, and others, and arrives at the Hawaiian group by way of the northwestern shoals. There Kane-milo-hai is left on one islet as an outguard and Kane-apua on another, but Pele pities this last younger brother and picks him up again. A group of songs relate the relentless pursuit of the party by the older sister until the two sisters en-counter each other in Kahiki-nui on the island of Maui and Pele's body is torn apart and the fragments heaped up to form the hill called Ka-iwi-o-Pele (The bones of Pele) near Kauiki, while her spirit takes flight to the island of Hawaii and finds a permanent home on Hawaii.

Flood version

Pele is born in Kapakuela, a land to the southwest, "close to the clouds," and her parents are Kane-hoa-lani and Ka-hina-li‘i, her brothers Ka-moho-ali‘i and Kahuila-o-ka-lani. By her husband Wahieloa (Wahialoa) she has a daughter Laka and a son named Menehune. Pele-kumu-honua entices her husband from her and Pele travels in search of him. With her comes the sea, which pours from her head over the land of Kanaloa (Kahoolawe), never before so inundated, and her brothers chant,

"A sea! a sea! Forth bursts the sea, Bursts forth over Kanaloa (Kahoolawe), 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-li‘i.

Unnatural birth version

Pele's father is the man-eater Ku-waha-ilo who dwells in the far-off heavens. Haumea, her mother, belongs to the Pali (cliff) family. Two daughters are born, Na-maka-o-kaha‘i from the breasts of Haumea, Pele from the thighs. Brothers are born; Ka-moho-ali‘i from the top of the head of Haumea, Kane-hekili (Thunder) from the mouth, Kauila-nui (Lightning) from the eyes, and other children (from four to forty sisters) from various parts of Haumea. Hi‘iaka is born in the shape of an egg and cherished as Pele's favorite.

Papa and Wakea are the parents of Pele, Ka-moho-ali‘i, and Kapo. Kapo is born from Papa's eyes, Kamohoali‘i from her head as a mist-crowned precipice.

The story

Pele was born of the female spirit Haumea, or Hina, who, like all other important Hawai'i gods and goddesses, descended from the supreme beings, Papa, or Earth Mother, and Wakea, Sky Father. Pele was among the first voyagers to sail to Hawai'i from her homeland, Honua-Mea in Kahiki, in a canoe guided by her shark-god brother Kā-moho-alii,. Legends say she was pursued by her angry older sister, Na-maka-o-kaha'i because Pele had seduced her husband.

Pele landed first on Kaua'i, but every time she thrust her o'o (digging stick) into the earth to dig a pit for her home, Na-maka-o-kaha'i, goddess of water and the sea, would flood the pits. Pele moved down the chain of islands in order of their geological formation, eventually landing on the Big Island's Mauna Loa.

Even Na-maka-o-kaha'i could not send the ocean's waves high enough on Mauna Loa to drown Pele's fires, so Pele established her home on its slopes. Here, she welcomed her brothers. A cliff on nearby Kilauea Mountain is sacred to her eldest brother, Ka-moho-ali'i, king of the sharks and the keeper of the gourd that held the water of life, which gave him the power to revive the dead. Out of respect for this brother, to this day, Pele never allows clouds of volcanic steam to touch his cliff.

Her other brothers also still appear on the Big Island mountain; Kane-hekili as thunder, Ka-poho-i-kahi-ola as explosions, Ke-ua-a-kepo in showers of fire, and Ke-o-ahi-kama-kaua in spears of lava that escape from fissures during eruptions.

Of all her siblings, Pele favored her youngest sister Hi'iaka, the most. Pele, Hi'iaka and another sister, Laka, goddess of hula, were all patronesses of the dance, but Hi'iaka was said to have hatched from an egg that Pele kept warm during the long canoe ride to Hawai'i by transporting it in her armpit.

After Hi'iaka grew to womanhood on the Big Island, Pele traveled in spirit form to the north shore of Kaua'i to witness a dance performance at a pahula, or dance platform, that still exists near Ke'e Beach. Here she manifested herself as a desirable young woman, and quickly fell in love with a handsome young chief named Lohi'au. She dallied with Lohi'au for several days, but eventually her spirit had to return to her sleeping body on the Big Island. Upon awakening, Pele sent Hi'iaka to convince Lohi'au to come to her. The sisters extracted vows from each other: Hi'iaka promised not to encourage Lohi'au should he become attracted to her and in return, Pele promised to contain her fires and lava flows so as not to burn a grove of flowering ohi'a trees where Hi'iaka danced with her friend Hopoe.

On Kaua'i, Hi'iaka found that Lohi'au had died of grief after Pele disappeared, but the graceful younger sister was able to restore his spirit to his body, bringing him back to life. Together, the two of them began the journey to the Big Island, but Pele's suspicious nature got the best of her. Because forty days had passed since Hi'iaka had set out on her assigned mission, Pele decided she had been betrayed, and so sent a flood of lava into Hi'iaka's 'ohi'a-lehua grove, killing Hopoe in the process. When Hi'iaka saw the smoldering trees and her dancing friend entombed in lava, she flung herself into the arms of Lohi'au. In retribution, Pele set lose another stream of lava, which killed the mortal Lohi'au, but Hi'iaka, a goddess, could not be destroyed.

Madame Pele always manages to produce some sort of excitement for her guests. On this day in 1924 it was a huge steam eruption in Kilauea caldera.

The legend has a happy ending, however, as yet another brother of Pele's, Kane-milo-hai, reached out and caught Lohi'au's spirit when he saw it floating past his canoe. He restored the spirit to Lohi'au's body, and once again, the chief was brought back to life. Hi'iaka and Lohi'au returned to Kaua'i to live contentedly.

Legends about Pele, her rivals and her lovers abound. Most of the lovers she took were not lucky enough to escape with their lives when she hurled molten lava at them, trapping them in odd misshapen pillars of rock that dot volcanic fields to this day.

One lover who proved a match for Pele was Kamapua'a, a demi-god who hid the bristles that grew down his back by wearing a cape. The pig god could also appear as a plant or as various types of fish. He and Pele were at odds from the beginning; she covered the land with barren lava, he brought torrents of rain to extinguish her fires and called the wild boars to dig up the land, softening it so seeds could grow.

Pele and Kamapua'a raged against each other until her brothers begged her to give in, as they feared Kamapua'a's storms would soak all the fire sticks and kill Pele's power to restore fire. In Puna, at a place called Ka-lua-o-Pele, where the land seems torn up as if a great struggle had taken place, legend says Kamapua'a finally caught and ravaged Pele. The two remained tempestuous lovers, it is said, until a child was born, then Kamapua'a sailed away and Pele went back to her philandering ways.

Pele's greatest rival was Poliahu, goddess of snow-capped mountains, and a beauty who, like Pele, seduced handsome mortal chiefs. Pele's jealousy flamed after she had a fling with a fickle young Maui chief named 'Ai-wohi-ku-pua, as he was traveling to the Big Island to court a mortal chiefess, Laie. Paddling along the Hana Coast, 'Ai-wohi-ku-pua saw Pele in human form as a beauty named Hina-i-ka-malama, riding the surf. He paused for a brief affair. Then he went on to the Big Island, where Poliahu seduced him. He convinced his personal goddess to release him from his promise to his first love, and went back to Kaua'i with the snow goddess. Pele (as Hina-i-ka-malama) chased after them, eventually winning back the fickle chief, but Poliahu was so vindictive, she blasted the lovers with cold and heat until they separated, and 'Ai-wohi-ku-pua was left with no lover at all.

According to Hawaiian historian David Malo in his book "Hawaiian Antiquities," in old Hawai'i, some gods and goddesses, including Pele, were believed to be akua noho, gods who talked. They could take possession of an earthly being, who became the god's kahu. Malo writes, "The kahu of the Pele deities also were in the habit of dressing their hair in such a way as to make it stand out at great length, then, having inflamed and reddened their eyes, they went about begging for any articles they took a fancy to, making the threat, 'If you don't grant this request, Pele will devour you.' Many people were imposed upon in this manner, fearing Pele might actually consume them." Naturally, people who had seen others destroyed in Pele's fiery lava flows, were terrorized by such a kahu.

Pele has continued to intrigue contemporary men. Not long after the old religion was abolished in 1819, the high chiefess Kapi'olani defied Pele by eating 'ohelo berries at the edge of Halema'uma'u caldera without first offering them to or requesting Pele's permission. In open defiance, Kapi'olani threw stones into the molten lava below. When she was not harmed, she insisted it proved Pele had no power and it was time for Hawaiian people to accept Christianity as their religion. In 1823, when Reverend William Ellis became the first white man to visit Kilauea, most Hawaiians accompanying the expedition were still in awe of the volatile goddess. The hungry missionaries began to eat 'ohelo berries, but were quickly warned to give Pele an offering. Ellis wrote, "We told them ...that we acknowledged Jehovah as the only divine proprietor of the fruits of this earth, and felt thankful to Him for them, especially in our present circumstances."...We traveled on, regretting that the natives should indulge in notions so superstitious." At the crater, the Hawaiian guides "turned their faces toward the place where the greatest quantity of smoke and vapor issued, and, breaking the ('ohelo) branch they held in their hand in two, they threw one part down the precipice, saying:

E Pele, eia ka 'ohelo 'au; (Oh, Pele, here are your branches) e taumaha aku wau 'ia 'oe (I offer some to you) e 'ai ho'i au tetahi (some I also eat).

To this day, tales of Pele's power and peculiarities continue. Whispered encounters with Pele include those of drivers who pick up an old woman dressed all in white accompanied by a little dog on roads in Kilauea National Park, only to look in the mirror to find the back seat empty. Pele's face has mysteriously appeared in photographs of fiery eruptions, and most people who live in the islands-whether Christian, Buddhist, Shinto, or other-speak respectfully of the ancient goddess. After all, she has destroyed more than 100 structures on the Big Island since 1983, and perhaps even more awesome than that, she has added more than 70 acres of land to the island's southeastern coastline.

In urban legend

Pele is also said to curse Hawaii visitors who return to their homeland with volcanic rock. This is an urban legend, stemming from a story originally created by the late park ranger Narou Tovley at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in order to preserve the park. Visitors were damaging sites by removing rocks and artifacts. However, many lava rock pieces are shipped back to Hawaii from around the world from people who claim to have experienced horrible misfortune since removing the rocks, and asking to be forgiven with letters and a small gift, like a necklace or fresh fruit. The modern legend does have a strong basis in Hawaiian culture, as the earth is considered the mother of humanity. To wantonly take rocks without good reason and proper protocol is looked on by many Hawaiians and people who have adopted Hawaiian culture as equivalent to grave robbing.

Relatives

Pele's other prominent relatives are:

Science

Several phenomena connected to vulcanism have been named after her, including Pele's hair, Pele's tears, Limu o Pele and the volcano Pele on the moon Io.

Pop Culture References

  • The musician Tori Amos named an album Boys for Pele in her honor. A single lyrical excerpt from the song "Muhammad My Friend" makes the only outright connection, "You've never seen fire until you've seen Pele blow." However, the entire record deals with the ideas usually associated with Pele, such as feminine "fire," or power. Amos claims the title reflects the idea of boys being devoured by Pele, or alternately, as boys worshipping Pele.
  • Simon Winchester, in his book Krakatoa, stated about the Pele myth: "Like many legends, this old yarn has its basis in fact. The sea attacks volcanoes – the waters and the waves erode the fresh laid rocks. And this is why Pele herself moved, shifting always to the younger and newer volcanoes, and relentlessly away from the older and worn-out islands of the northwest."
  • In 2004, American composer Brian Balmages composed a piece entitled "Pele for Solo Horn and Wind Ensemble" on commission by Jerry Peel, professor of French Horn at the University of Miami Frost School of Music. It was premiered by the University of Miami Wind Ensemble under the direction of Gary Green, with Jerry Peel on Horn.
  • Pele is mentioned in the song "Hot Lava" by Perry Farrell on the South Park Album.

"And after the eruption, we lay dormant for a while
Let's just hold each other and talk,
For now, Pele sleeps"

  • Steven Reineke created a musical composition called "Goddess of Fire" which was inspired by the story and life of Pele.
  • A character claiming to be the goddess Pele appeared as a villainess in DC Comics' 1990s Superboy title, which was set in Hawaii.

See also

  • Pere, a Cook Islands goddess

References

External links

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