Pele - Fire Goddess of Hawaii

Pele is omnipresent in Hawaii. She plays a major role not only in Hawaiian mythology, but also today. Affectionately, she is respectfully referred to by Hawaiians as "Madame Pele" or "Tūtū Pele." As the goddess of volcanoes, she is considered both the creator of new land and the destroyer at the same time.

Tip: If you want to learn more about Hawaii's myths & deities, you can also read the Main article on Hawaii.

According to legend, Pele had many problems with her family. Especially with her sister Namaka (detailed Na-maka-o-Kahaʻi), who is the goddess of the sea. Pele can be very quick-tempered and kept messing with Namaka. Her father therefore sent her away from Tahiti. Her brother Kamohoali'i, king of the sharks, gave her a canoe for this purpose and so she ended up in Hawaii, where she created volcanoes on all the islands with her magic staff pāoa. Her sister followed her and fought them with the water tides and waves at her disposal. They dwelled in the Haleakala crater on Maui, considered the largest volcanic crater in the world. Pele lost the battle and Namaka thought her dead, however Pele had only fled and settled in the Halemaumau crater of the Kilauea volcano on Big Island, where she still resides today.

On her return to Tahiti, Namaka saw the pillar of smoke from Big Island and thus knew that her sister was still alive. But she gave up the constant struggle.

Pele now contends with Poli'ahu, the goddess of snow, who resides on neighboring Mauna Kea (the world's highest mountain). Pele is also said to be having an affair with Kamapua'a, a fertility god who is said to be related to the god of agriculture, Lono. In 1779, the British navigator James Cook reached Big Island and was mistaken by the Hawaiians. Since he sailed into Kealakekua Bay on Thanksgiving Day of all days, the Hawaiians realized it must be Lono. The mix-up was discovered because of Cook's arrogant appearance, and murder and manslaughter ensued. Thus the circle closes...

Pele has been continuously active on the Big Island since the early 1980s. In May 1990, a lava flow rolled toward a small settlement called Kalapana on the flank of Kilauea volcano. Dramatic pictures and videos at the time showed distressed people using their garden hoses against the infernal blaze.

Sometimes gin bottles are also placed at the edge of the crater to appease Pele. However, the residents learn to live with Pele. A Hawaiian from Kalapana told me the following: "You know, we are guests here on Pele's land. We build our houses here and settle here. Knowing that her lava flows could destroy everything again. That is of course then sad. But we have a lot of "ohana" (family) here who help us when we are in need. Then we just build a new house somewhere else."

Around Kilauea, where Pele still wreaks havoc today, volcanic phenomena named after her can be found again and again. Like Pele's hair: finest lava particles are thrown into the air from bursting gas bubbles, drawn long by the wind and then fall to the ground as "volcanic glass". It has a golden color and looks like hair, but is quite rough and sharp-edged, like glass. When the sun is right, you can often find whole tufts of hair at Halemaumau Crater, shining in the sun. An indescribable sight:

faeden volcanic glass pele

There is a rumor that anyone who takes Pele's hair or lava stones home as souvenirs will be pursued by bad luck. One reads there gruesome stories about terrible diseases, the longer the property of Pele lies in the wrong place.

The Volcano Observatory has actually established a return site for "carried away" lava rocks from all over the world. Every day, shipments of desperate tourists arrive there, and the national park rangers return them to the crater every week. I, too, was actually persuaded by a Hawaiian living in Germany to send back my "souvenirs" in the form of some volcanic stones and a tuft of Pele's hair. He was convinced that this would make me feel better psychologically and physically. I sent the stones to my good friend from Ulm, who has been living on Oahu for 15 years. He visited a sacred site with his children and placed the stones there, accompanied by Hawaiian forgiveness chants from his children.

A touching moment for me, which relieved me in the short term. In the long term, and without the belief in the "placebo" effect, but probably total nonsense. At least in my case. Or is it because I still have small amounts of the different-colored sand species hanging in a mosaic on the wall?

Pele is not only considered the goddess of destruction, but also the creator, as she keeps Big Island growing. Each time I visit Hawaii, the island looks different. Suddenly, the lava flows back into the sea, creating new coastlines, but also burying beautiful black sand beaches, as it did in Kalapana in the 1990s. These new "lava deltas" are not always stable and can also sink back into the sea. According to legend, Pele's sister Namaka then returns to reclaim her territory.

Or fissure eruptions form in the towns of Pahoa or Leilani Estates 2018, one of the largest eruptions in the last 100 years, which killed hundreds of houses. Pele, however, is not interested in harming people directly, so there are rarely any injuries or deaths. She just takes back what is rightfully hers. Otherwise she rests in the lava lake of Halemaumau, which can be observed from the Jaggar Museum.

A 🤙 received Jessi, friend Susi and Tommy 2018 from fire goddess Pele himself!

volcanic eruption hawaii pele
volcanic eruption hawaii pele shaka

You can believe in myths or not, but in 2009 a very scary story did happen to me: When I first set out with friends at night to explore molten lava at the "Ocean Entries," a small white dog joined us, roaming the lava fields. After a few minutes he disappeared from the cones of light of our flashlights.

At dawn we finally reached the coast and experience for the first time how lava flows into the sea. An unforgettable experience. We even grilled sausages in small lava fissures, which often need weeks or months to cool down.

On the way back, I bought a book of legends about Pele and read the following passage in the car: "...when Pele sleeps, she is an old woman. But when she awakes from her sleep, she takes the form of a fiery, hot woman with a long mane. She then sends her streams of lava towards the sea. Accompanying her is a small white dog..."

Fun fact: Tommy was also visited by a white dog right at the beginning of 2018 in a vacation home on Big Island below Captain Cook. He stayed for quite a while, sunbathed on the terrace and then disappeared again.

white dog pele hawaii

Was it a stray white dog from the neighborhood (searching calls were missing), or was it Pele, who wanted to welcome Tommy's family & friend Susi to visit her island?

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Photos (c) Florian Krauss & Tommy

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