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“Pele: The Fire Goddess”

There was a time, in the mysterious past of these islands, when the very air was peopled with the spirits of the departed and a thin veil divided the living from the dead; the natural from the supernatural, and mortals were made the sport of the elements and the playthings of the gods. This was the period when Pele came to us as a foreigner, born in the mystical land of Kuaihelani, a land not rooted or anchored to any one spot. Having traveled many thousands of miles in search of a suitable abode, she decided to settle in the fiery pit of Halema’uma’u, in the crater of Kilauea on the island of Hawaii.

One day, in the guise of an old, emaciated, gray-haired woman, walking with the aid of a twisted coffee wood stick, she left her home to seek repose and sleep beneath the spreading hala tree at Puna. Before leaving, she instructed her family and slaves not to awaken her under any condition, no matter how long she slept. Sleep had barely overcome her when she heard the sound of distant drums. Pele’s curiosity was aroused, and assuming her spiritual form, she resolved to follow the sound.

Leaving her slumbering, earthly body, Pele mounted the air and proceeded in the direction of the sound. She followed it from island to island, until she had reached the beach of Ka’ena on the island of Kaua’i. Hovering over the place unseen, she observed the drum was a pa’u, a dance drum, beaten by Loheau, the handsome young prince of Kaua’i. Loheau was noted for his lavish entertainments, participated in by the most noted and beautiful women of the island. Assuming the form of a woman of great beauty and grace, with every feminine charm at her command, Pele suddenly appeared before the festive throne. The prince graciously invited her to a seat near him, where she could best witness the entertainment. Glancing at the stranger from time to time, Loheau the prince became so fascinated with Pele that he yielded the pa’u to another and seated himself beside the enchantress.

Gazing into her eyes with a devouring passion, Loheau smilingly said, “I love beautiful women. Can I convince you?”

Pele, with a play of modesty, answered: “Loheau is in his own kingdom and has but to command.”

Thus, Pele became the wife of Loheau. For a few days, they loved and lived so happily together, that life seemed a dream to the prince. But the time came for Pele’s return to Puna. Pledging him to remain true to her, she left with vows of affection and the promise of a speedy return. Pele mounted on the wings of the wind and was wafted back to the shores of Puna, and shade of the spreading Hala tree. There, her spirit entered her slumbering earthly body, and she returned home.

Loheau was inconsolable over Pele’s absence and as months passed, he refused food and eventually died of grief. An old kaula, or priest, who had seen Pele at Ka’ena, and noted her actions, told the people that the strange beautiful and unknown woman who Loheau had taken as a wife, was an immortal who had become attached to her earthly husband and had called his spirit to her. For that reason, the body of Loheau must lie in state until the return of his spirit.

On leaving Kaua’i, Pele never expected or particularly desired to see the prince again. But he had so endeared himself to her during their brief marriage, that she could not forget him. After struggling with her feelings, she resolved to send for him. But whom could she entrust to the important mission? Pele appealed to her sisters and brothers, but knowing the way was beset with evil spirits, they refused to go. Pele then sent for her youngest and most favorite sister, Hi’iaka.

Arrangements were made for the immediate departure. Pele conferred on Hi’iaka some of her own powers, with an injunction to use them discreetly. On arrival Hi’iaka saw the spirit-hand of Loheau, beckoning to her from the mouth of the cliffs. Turning to her companion, she said, “the lover of Pele is dead. I see his spirit, beckoning from the pali.” Leaving her companions, Hi’iaka alone descended the cliff, and entering the cave, found the spirit of Loheau hidden in a niche. Taking it tenderly in her hand, she enclosed it in a fold of her gown, and in an invisible form, floated down with it. Waiting for nightfall, Hi’iaka entered the chamber of death unseen and with the supernatural powers that Pele had given her, she restored the spirit to the earthly body of Loheau and he became a living mortal. It was not long before his recovery was celebrated and sacrifices made to the gods. Soon after, Loheau announced to his people that he was leaving to visit his wife, Pele, on the island of Hawaii.

In a magnificent double canoe bearing the royal and priestly standards, Loheau set sail for Hawaii with Hi’iaka and Hopoi. Loheau, fascinated with the beauty and gentleness of Hopoi, he began to fall in love with her. Hi’iaka gave little attention to the romance between Loheau and Hopoi. Pele grew impatient at Hi’iaka’s long absence and suspicious of her sister having fallen in love with the prince, prepared for an eruption. It was averted when the winds of Ke’au’au, carrying the true message to Pele, that although Loheau had been untrue to her, he had taken unto himself Hopoi, not Hi’iaka. In a rage of jealousy, Pele appeared before Loheau and punished him by throwing him over the cliff into the sea below. Loheau called to Hopoi from his watery grave. Grief striken, Hopoi threw herself over the cliff. Instantly, the lovers were transformed into two huge rocks. At low tide, Hopoi and Loheau can be seen to this day, lying side by side.

Prince Loheau was Pele’s one and only love. In her jealous rage and punishment of Loheau, she had killed his spirit and earthly body at the same instant, losing him forever. Upon Hi’iaka’s return, a consultation was held in the crater by all the gods under the watchful eyes of the seven rainbows. Pele announced that she was again free and could resume her role as fire goddess and reign supreme over all her domain. Down thousands of feet below the pit, lava started to boil. The land about began to tremble. The entire surroundings took on a crimson glow, fountains of fiery lava rose high into the air. Those who were present whispered in awe: There is Pele.

Casting aside her cloak of molten lava, Pele displayed herself as the ever-glorious fire goddess with all the flame of youth, beauty, and passion. She knows all: she has been, is, and will be. She is the deity most respected, and at the same time, most dreaded.

*Also, it is well known in Hawaii to not remove anything from a natural place, especially a volcanic site because that is where Pele lives. If you steal from her or vandalize her home, she will come after you… if you take a rock without permission, or litter on the grounds, consider yourself cursed. The story of Pele is hyper-true (transcends the literal truth), and though we might not expect to see her appear before us, we believe the curse; we believe her wrath.

How did you come across this folklore: “through research, these are favorite legends from my collection because I collect and shares mo`olelo/stories from the Hawaiian islands, this one is my adaptation of the Kamokila Cambell version.”

Other information: “These are well known folk tales/legends passed down from generations and written in the Hawaiian newspapers and several collections.”

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