PELE
Story by Brandon L. Parsons (2015)
PELE: The Hawaiian Goddess of the Volcano!
PELE: The Hawaiian Goddess of the Volcano!

The Hawaiian Islands; a cluster of smallish volcanic islands pushing up above the vast surface of the Pacific Ocean, and home to a rich culture that goes back to long before the islands were ever discovered or settled by the first people to find it. Hawaii is only but one of many island groups settled by the large and diverse Pacific islander groups who long ago explored the Pacific in their small but incredibly sea-worthy boats. and they brought their culture, stories and gods with them when they first set foot onto the Hawaiian Islands' black, sandy shores. Sure, its a small place, but never underestimate the power of creativity, spirituality and a desire to explain the universe, because the Hawaiians developed their own interesting group of gods and goddesses to explain every part of nature that could be found on and around their new island paradise! The stories set around the great and mighty active volcanoes that still dot the island chain are all tied to one of Hawaii's greatest goddesses, the spicy, temperamental and passionate PELE (Pay-Lay), the goddess of the volcano, or "She who Shapes the Land," as named by those who worshiped her! And of course, a crazy set of stories they are, explaining the beginnings of Hawaii itself!

Pele Vs. Namaka: Sibling Rivalry!
Pele Vs. Namaka: Sibling Rivalry!

Pele was born to the goddess Haumea, the fertility goddess (she who makes the babies happen!), who in turn had been born from the two original creator gods of Hawaii, Hina (Mother Earth) and Papa (Sky Father). As a child and later as a young woman, Pele was known for being quite moody, jealous, volatile, and rather free-spirited in her ways, which was never a good thing to her older and equally boisterous sister, the sea goddess Namaka, who was, quite literally the polar opposite. Pele was fiery and hot tempered and Namaka was cool and usually collected (unless she decided that storms and huge waves were necessary!). What they both were though were rivals; their extreme personalities did NOT mix well, and it would eventually lead to Pele being expelled from their childhood home of Kuaihelani, a mystical floating island that was the home of the gods before they came to Hawaii. Namaka feared that her sister's fiery, lava-erupting ways would smother and cover the island, destroying it (plus she just couldn't stand Pele) and so she chased her away from the island, threatening to flood her with her own supernatural sea-powers (a total cancel-out for Pele's forces of fire!) Namaka pursued Pele across the ocean (Pele only had a magical canoe and a few of her sympathetic brothers to keep her company) and into the newly discovered island chain, which is where the two sibling-rival goddesses first made their mark. Pele, who only wanted to settle down and rest after being pursued by her sister, plunked herself down on the smallest and first island she came to. Using her o'o (digging stick), Pele tried to dig out a foundation for a house on her newly discovered island. That is, until Namaka found her and used her oceanic powers to swamp any new holes Pele would dig. Pele would hop from island to island in a vain attempt to escape her relentless sister, and all to no avail. Every place Pele stopped, working her way from the smallest islands up to the largest, Namaka would be sure to trash the place in a giant storm wave. THAT'S a serious rivalry! Eventually, Pele found herself on the last and largest of the islands, what the Hawaiians today call the Big Island, on the peak of Mauna Loa (Long Mountain), the world's biggest mountain peak (at least when you measure it from the bottom of the ocean floor!)

Mauna Loa today.
Mauna Loa today.


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Haikili: God of Thunder...
Haikili: God of Thunder...

Here is where Pele's luck began to change; Mauna Loa was plenty high enough and away from the ocean where Namaka's fury couldn't flood the weary goddess out! And so it was here that the fiery, hot-to-trot goddess set up shop, along the slopes of the Long Mountain. Though rivals with her sister, she was fairly close with her brothers and invited them to join her on the mountain, as there was plenty of room to go around for the whole family! The nearby peak of Kilauea became the hangout of Kamoho, the shark god, and the rest of the gang followed quickly; Haikili, the god of thunder, Kapohoikahiola, the god of explosions (which just has to be a cool job all around!), Keuakepo, the god of "night rain" (the sparks that fell from the heavens when the volcano would go off!), and Keoahi-kamakaua, the fire-thrusting child of war (whose lava spear would shoot out of crevasses during eruptions!). Yeah, Pele's bros were an interesting and mixed bunch, but they were extremely grateful to her for setting them up with a place to stay. Pele, naturally, started doing what came natural to her on the peaks of Mauna Loa, and the age-old volcanic eruption party began! The lava would flow copiously down the flanks of Mauna Loa and then when it sluggishly oozed its way down to the ocean and reached the wrath of Namaka, who was still frosty towards her warm-spirited sister, the lava and the water would cancel each other out in fury of gigantic waves, steam and cooling rock. That might sound rough, but through that constant rivalry, land in the form of freshly-solid volcanic rock was (and still is!) added to the Big Island of Hawaii!

Pele protects Hi'iaka before she "hatches..."
Pele protects Hi'iaka before she "hatches..."

Pele and Hi'iaka
Pele and Hi'iaka

Pele's family was a large one and even though she loved her brothers dearly, she also had a few sisters she was quite fond of. She truly favored her youngest sister, Hi'iaka, who would go on to become the goddess of the hula, a sacred dance still practiced by the natives of Hawaii today. As it turns out, she had an even bigger reason to look after Hi'iaka, because on the boat ride to Hawaii, while avoiding Namaka, Pele brought Hi'iaka with her along for the ride. Sort of . See, Hi'iaka hadn't been born yet! At that point, she was nothing but an egg, and Pele carried her under her armpit as she rowed for her life. Bleh. Yep. That's TRULY sisterly love! (and don't ask where the egg came from; its mythology, so just roll with it!). The egg hatched after Pele had arrived on the Big Island and was raised to womanhood by her older sister, and from there, the weird relationship only got weirder. One night, Pele decided to take a little night out for herself. She fell asleep and allowed her spirit to leave her body, and from there she flew to the north shore of the island of Kaua'i to check out a dancing situation the humans had going on there. As it turned out, the folks living on the beach were getting down with their bad selves in a special performance atop a pahula, or dance platform. It was there that she saw the most amazing guy she had ever laid eyes upon, a young chief named Lohi'au, and using her goddess powers, she was able to materialize to him as a desirable young woman, put her moves on him and win his heart. Boom. Love at first sight (or at first dance?). Pele hung out with Lohi'au for several days, living it up in a whirlwind of romance, walks on the beach and of course, dancing (as well as other things we won't get into). Eventually though, just like Cinderella, Pele had to return to her body back on Mauna Loa...

Pele and Lohi'au...
Pele and Lohi'au...

When she awoke, she immediately felt her heart do a serious pitter-patter and knew she had to return to Lohi'au; human or not, this was the man for her! Problem: being out of her body for so long, she had no way of playing the trick again, at least not until she'd had a good long time to rest. So, she decided to do what many women do in such a case; she went to her sister Hi'iaka to ask for help in being her "wingman" (or would that be "wing WO-man?"). Naturally her sis was game for the quest and agreed to help Pele out in bringing Lohi'au to her. The sisters made a pact: Hi'iaka would go to Lohi'au and bring him back to Pele, promising NOT to encourage Lohi'au if he should become attracted to her. In return, Pele promised to chill out a bit and contain her often-overpowerful fires and lava flows so that she wouldn't roast and toast a special and beautiful grove of flowering ohi'a trees where Hi'iaka got her dance on regularly alongside her best friend Hopoe. No sweat. The trusting sisters struck the deal and off Hi'iaka went in search of Lohi'au. (Palauopalae, the Guardian of the Ferns, was sent to be Hiʻiaka's traveling companion, just in case things got out of hand. During the journey, a woman by the name of Wahineʻomaʻo (literally, "light-skinned woman") teamed up with them. As things go, Hiʻiaka's journey was filled with many exciting adventures, such as dueling with the kupua (demons) of the deep jungle-like forests of the island, before she ever got close to Kaua'i. But that's a whole other story!)

Hi'iaka and Hepoe: Doing the Hula Dance...
Hi'iaka and Hepoe: Doing the Hula Dance...


Lohi'au and Hi'iaka...star-crossed lovers...
Lohi'au and Hi'iaka...star-crossed lovers...

Eventually Hi'iaka found the village of the Lohi'au, but there were complications; upon arrival on Kaua'i, she discovered that Lohi'au had been so depressed by the disappearance of his dream girl that he physically died of grief. Sigh. Love is a rough place, for certain. Not wanting to let her older sister down, Hi'iaka got to cracking with her graceful magic and reanimated the young chief, bringing him back to life and transporting him back to the waiting Pele. Another problem: the process of bringing the chief back to life had taken far longer than Hi'iaka had realized. Forty days to be exact. Over that time, Pele got extremely suspicious and quite unfairly began to believe that perhaps her younger, more beautiful sister had taken a liking to the man she loved. Getting more and more steamed by the moment (literally), Pele went ape and decided to shower Hi'iaka sacred grove anyway and didn't think to check to see if Hopoe, her sister's best friend, was present or not. Result: smoldering trees and flash-fried Hopoe, entombed in cooling lava. When Hi'iaka finally showed up with Lohi'au and saw what Pele had done, she turned to the chief in her anguish. That just blew Pele's top even more and so she brought forth the wrath-filled lava once again, scorching the skin off of Lohi'au and killing her love right then and there. If SHE couldn't have him, no one would! Hi'iaka, being a goddess, got showered with the same rage and liquid molten rock that the chief was smothered in, but couldn't be killed.

Pele's Revenge: The second death of Lohi'au!
Pele's Revenge: The second death of Lohi'au!


Pele: Ain't no big thang...
Pele: Ain't no big thang...

You'd think that was the end of the story, ending on a completely down ending, but not so fast! Hi'iaka, realizing her love for the crispy-crittered chief, resurrected Lohi'au a second time. Pele, realizing what an animalistic jerk she'd just been in killing off a) Hi'iaka's sacred grove, b) her best friend Hopoe, and c) Lohi'au, felt some extreme remorse and decided to let the freshly alive Lohi'au decide who he'd rather be with. Here's where the story gets cloudy, as there are three versions: one, in which Lohi'au chooses Hi'iaka and returns with her to Kaua'i; two, in which Lohi'au CAN'T decide and finally tells the sisters that he'll share them both, and then three, where he takes off alone, too freaked out by the bickering goddesses to stick around, breaking both of their hearts. The most common ending there usually goes to the first of those three, and it is generally told that Lohi'au became very enamored with Hi'iaka, her bravery, kindness, loyalty and gorgeousness, and did indeed marry her back on his own island. Pele, sad has heck about the turn of events, went about her lava-enriched business, but as the future would show, she wasn't going to stay single for long. Pele's list of lovers would eventually become a many-named and extensive one. Being quite the jealous and vicious revenge-seeker, many of the boyfriends she would have weren't lucky enough to escape with their lives when she lobbed huge globs of molten lava at them, trapping them whole in weird, craggy and oddly-human-looking pillars of rock that dot the hellish volcanic fields of Mauna Loa to this day...

KAMAPUA'A, half boar-half man demigod!
KAMAPUA'A, half boar-half man demigod!

However, one lover would give Pele a run for her money and prove to be more than a match for her powers and wiles. Who was this mysterious man? Well, he was HALF a man, anyways, and his name was Kamapua'a, a demigod who was half pig and half human. Keeping the spiky bristles that ran down the back of his neck in a long flowing cape, and being a shapeshifter who could transform himself into various types of fish or even jungle plants to disguise himself, he took a stab at making the volcano goddess his woman. From the get-go, it was a rough relationship; Pele, in a fit of annoyance after a love-spat, brought lava down to cover the land, wiping out anything green or living. Even worse, she refused to have any more "physical" time with her guy. Kamapua'a, not too cool with this new arrangement, brought down millions of gallons of rain to extinguish the fires and hot molten stone that Pele had laid down out of the need for revenge. Then, to one-up the goddess, he called upon his brethren, the wild boars, to use their tusks to dig up the land and allow seeds to grow in it. And it went on from there, worse and worse; even her brothers began to make peace with her angry lover, as Kamapua'a kept the rains falling and they were extremely worried that it would soak, and eventually wipe out Pele's fiery powers. Eventually, the piggish Kamapua'a completely frustrated Pele, caught her and finally got his way; he got physical with her once more (against her will), and it wasn't long before a child resulted. Oddly, you'd think a free-spirited goddess like Pele would never put up with treatment like this, but Kamapua'a didn't give her a chance to get revenge; he transformed into a fish one night and swam away from the Big Island, leaving her to raise their child, Opelu-nui-kauhaalilo, who would became the ancestor to certain chiefs and common people in Hawaiian history. For all of that, Pele went back to the dating scene, picking the random god or human to be her lover...

Pele's #1 Rival: Poliahi, the goddess of snowy mountains...
Pele's #1 Rival: Poliahi, the goddess of snowy mountains...

You'd think that Kamapua'a would have been the greatest rival that Pele had ever faced, but in believing that, you'd be dead wrong. The one goddess that really and truly clawed into Pele's mind and soul was Poliahu, the goddess of snow-capped mountains. Right there, you can kind of see why: snowcapped mountains as opposed to the lava-spewing hell-holes (no matter how beautiful) that Pele was used to controlling. Another situation of polar opposites. And beyond that, Poliahu was just as bad when it came to seducing and snagging the young, beefy men that lived all over the Hawaiian Islands. And it was only a matter of time before the two would set their sights on the same guy. Pele's jealousy went nuclear after she had herself a little romantic fling with another charming young Maui-island chief named Ai-wohi-ku-pua, who had been on his way to the Big Island to put the make on a beautiful, mortal chieftess named Laie. Paddling his canoe along the coast of the Big Island, Ai-wohi-ku-pua goggled when he spotted Pele in human form, disguised as a human beauty named Hina-i-ka-malama, who was riding the surf (yes, the Hawaiians invented SURFING!). Unable to resist her beauty and charms, the chief took a pitstop on his journey for a brief but steamy one-night-affair. The next morning, he went on to the Big Island, but instead of finding Laie, he was seduced by Poliahu, who treated him to another sweaty night of passion. Forgetting all about Laie and worse, all about Pele we left his world behind and took off back to Kaua'i with the sultry snow goddess. Pele (as Hina-i-ka-malama), was extremely ticked to know she'd been upstaged by her worst rival and chased after them, eventually using her sexy skills to win back the love-bewildered chief, but her victory was not to last long. Poliahu was so frosted at being beaten at her own game that she decided to have her revenge, blasted the two lovers with frigid cold. That icy blast combined with Pele's heat separated them, Ai-wohi-ku-pua was left with no lover at all, and Pele and Poliahu went back to their hate-hate relationship.

Pele's Kahu...
Pele's Kahu...

In more modern times, Pele still receives great reverence from the people who call Hawaii home. Some believe that she (among other gods and goddesses) is an akua noho, a "god who talks," and that Pele can take possession of a human being and have them do her bidding as something called a kahu, or vessel. Hawaiian historian David Malo writes that"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.' Makes total sense. People were actually extremely terrified that if they didn't comply, Pele would indeed consume them in a fiery river of lava, so they'd be quick to give over whatever was asked for. And to add to that myth, people had actually seen others fall into those same rivers of lava and knew that you'd last all of a few seconds before the extreme heat melted you down without so much as a trace.


Pele-Volcano.jpg
Pele still captivates...
Even today, in the 21st Century, there are those that swear (mostly young men) that while driving nearby to Mauna Loa in the Kilauea National Park, they have picked up a young and beautiful native woman in white who is looking for a ride. After driving awhile, the driver looks back in his rear-view mirror and the girl has vanished. Some of those men insist that they've been visited by Pele, the mistress of the mountain! Even weirder, Pele's face sometimes mysteriously appears in pictures taken of particularly fiery eruptions on Mauna Loa. Could it be her? Most of the people who live in the Hawaiian Islands; Christians, Buddhists, Shinto, native-religion practicing folk all agree: don't dare speak disrespectfully of the ancient goddess, because after all, she has destroyed more than one hundred structures on the Big Island in a fiery river of molten rock since 1983, and what's even cooler (and more majestic and magical), she has added more than seventy acres of land to the island's southeastern coastline. And she shows no signs of stopping... However you look at her; beautiful goddess, jealous lover, mythological sibling to the many gods of Hawaii, or creator of new lands, you'd have to agree that Pele is NO girl to mess with and deserves every bit of respect due!


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Pele...Goddess of the Volcano
Pele...Goddess of the Volcano