USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘goddess’
Legends
Myths
Narrative

Pele: The Hawaiian Volcano Goddess

Abstract: Pele (pell-ay) is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. The reason this is both a myth and a legend is because the story takes place in both the real world and outside of it. The origin story of how volcanoes in Hawaii came to be and the fact that Pele is a goddess and acts sort of like Greek Gods reason that she is mythological. However, she is a shapeshifter that normally takes the place of an older woman on Earth, so this would make her a legend.

 Background: DM is a 20 year-old  Hawaiian American going to college in California. She grew up her entire life in Hawaii and is very accustomed to the folklore there. She can not trace back the origin of the folklore or when she learned it because it has surrounded her for her entire life. After one piece of Hawaiian folklore came up on a work retreat, I asked her to share the most important ones to her on a later date. DM compares the Hawaiian gods, like Pele, to Greek mythology. They all have their own responsibility on Earth. She dives into the effects of what Pele can do from a story from her father. 

About Pele:

 DM: She is the goddess of volcanoes and takes many forms, but her most common form is an old Hawaiian lady. For context, the only volcano that has a chance of erupting is Kileaua on the big island. Anyway, my dad’s cousin was getting married there, and they were driving home from some party or something a few days before the wedding. And on the main highway, they see this old Hawaiian lady with long gray hair walking on the side. They thought maybe it was Pele, but they were scared so just kept driving. And then on their wedding day, the volcano erupted.

S: So is she someone to be scared of in person like does she cause immediate danger in human form?

DM: Well, I mean, she is a fiery goddess, but she isn’t dangerous. But like you’re supposed to be nice to her, and when they didn’t pick her up she reacted. There are some legends that when a volcano erupts, the lava will go around houses of people who have been nice to her.

S: But like, how do you tell her apart from any other old Hawaiian woman?

DM: You don’t.

 

Interpretation: Pele seems to have undeniable power and garners a lot of respect from the people of Hawaii. The lesson underlying this goddess is to respect your elders. Especially when told to young kids, Pele seems like a mean old lady that can destroy your house and kill you in a fiery pool of lava if you do not show kindness. Since no one really knows what she actually looks like, the people of Hawaii must learn to be nice to all elderly women or possibly suffer the consequences. This portrays Hawaii to be matrilineal and caring of the females, especially the elders, in the community. If Pele was only a myth, there would be no real lesson to treat elders with respect. Since she take the form of an old lady, and, at this point, becomes a legend, citizens will apply the respectful manner to almost all old women to not take any chances of having a really bad day with some lava.

 

For more on Pele, see Legends and Myths of Hawaii by David Kalākaua, 1888, page 46.

 

Kalakaua, David. Legends and Myths of Hawaii. Book On Demand Ltd, 2013.

 

 

Myths

Pele, the volcano goddess

Main piece:

Pele is a volcano goddess in Hawaii. She’s feared by people and known to be mean, because she spurts magma. She became that way because she fell in love with a guy and he betrayed her.

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

The informant attended a public elementary school in Hawaii. She first learned about Pele in a mandatory hawaiian culture class. The class was about Hawaii’s history, culture, and language. Pele doesn’t mean much to her. When she grew up, Pele was like Santa Claus- a fictional being. The informant respects the culture, but it’s not her own culture so it’s different from what she identifies with. Growing up, she had a lot of different cultures and races around her but she didn’t know about the others in depth. She knew that Japanese had a god for everything which was similar to Pele. She always doubted the existence and truth of these stories because of her own skepticism.

 

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

It is taught in elementary schools in Hawaii. It is regional folklore, similar to greek myth which is taught not as fact but part of culture. Pele is thought of as a story to tell kids growing up.

Personal Analysis:

I’ve never heard of Pele before, but I’m not surprised by the fact that the Hawaiians have a god for their volcanos. The idea of gods seems much more integrated into the Hawaiian culture, but it is more foreign in Los Angeles. Even those who aren’t religious can know these stories like Pele as a part of culture.

 

 

For another version of this proverb, see Kane, Herb Kawainui. Pele: Goddess of Hawaii’s Volcanoes. Captain Cook, HI: Kawainui, 1996. Print.

 

Myths
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Rabbit On the Moon

The Main Piece
When one looks up at the moon some say that they can see a rabbit made out of the craters on the moon. My informant, Demie, has told me that her family would often tell her the story of how the rabbit got to the moon. There were three gods and one of them lived on the moon. They all came down to Earth to look for food. There, they met a monkey, a fox, and a rabbit. They asked each to find them some food and while the monkey and the fox were able to get them food, being the cunning and quick animals that they are, the rabbit was unable to get them any food. The rabbit felt so bad that it offered itself up for food for the gods. The moon goddess was so touched by the rabbit’s generous act that she took it up with her to the moon to live with her. The story is told to represent selflessness and generosity.
Background Information
My informant is Demie Cao a current undergraduate student at USC and friend of my close friend, Elizabeth Kim. She enjoyed hearing this story from a young age because her favorite animal was the rabbit, therefore it was incredible to think that she could simply look up and it would be right there on the moon. Her father and mother would tell her the story from time to time and she would be reminded of the story whenever she would look up at the moon and see a rabbit. It is a symbol of her childhood and part of her culture as well.
Context
I was told this story as she, Elizabeth, and I were discussing folklore in her room. The conversations were casual as we relaxed in my dormitory. We were simply sharing stories, laughing at our own pasts.
Personal Thoughts
Hearing how a culture explains visuals in nature reveals a lot about the way they think in terms of who and what they respect. In this instance it is obvious that religion and moralistic values are an important part of their society. I felt the story did well in being able to instill these values in children from an early age and was a memorable story for all to remember.

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