USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘lava’
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Pele, the Hawaiian goddess

I was discussing myths, legends, and the like with the informant, and she told me the story of Pele from her home state of Hawaii.

“Ok, so, there’s a Hawaiian goddess and her name is Pele, and um she’s the goddess of fire and the mother of the island, and cause my family is from there, I visit there a lot, and they always tell this to tourists also. She basically has this very big temper and she’s very powerful so there’s a lot of legends of if you take a rock off the island then you’ll anger Pelé and she’ll exact revenge by covering your house in like, lava because she’s like a volcano. Or there’s legends of, she liked a boy, and because a girl stole him, she turned the girl into a flower. So, that’s why you don’t take rocks from Hawaii… Once I took a rock from there, and um… because my sister is really into geology and she convinced me to, and then I felt like I was under a curse. And then I’d go to all of my Hawaiian friends and be like, ‘haha, Pele got me cause I took a rock,’ and then they’d be like, ‘OH MY GOD, you can’t do that!’ Like, it’s a real thing. Even though, you know, even though it’s a legend, people actually really like, respect it and they’re like, ‘OH MY GOD YOU CAN’T DO THAT!’ I even told it to my grandma and she’s like ‘WHAT… DID YOU DO!?’”

Beliefs about what to do and what not to do based on myths and legends are quite common in folklore. While it’s interesting to observe these beliefs, it’s even more interesting to observe who takes part in them, who doesn’t and who is in-between. The informant seems to be in the in-between category, because she seemed to not take the myth seriously enough to avoid taking a rock off of the island, but then she seemed to believe that she was cursed after she had committed the violation.

Folk Beliefs
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Protection

Hitchhiker on Saddle Road

The informant is my younger sister, and over Spring Break, she and her friend had stayed with me. This is one of the legends she told me while we were getting ready for bed.


If you are driving along Saddle Road, and you see a either a young and beautiful, or older woman with long white hair, who may or may not have a dog with her, you are supposed to pick her up, because she is actually the goddess Pele in disguise. If you don’t, the next time the volcano is erupting, your house will be destroyed by the lava.

The legend that goes along with this superstition, describes two different men. One had been driving on saddle road but refused to pick up a hitchhiking woman with white hair. A second man however, stopped and gave her a ride. When the volcano later began to erupt, the lava flow demolished the first guy’s house, but went right around the second man’s house.

Background & Analysis

The informant was raised in Hawaii, and she had heard the legend from friends telling scary stories at sleepovers. Since the informant is very superstitious, she definitely believes there could be Pele in disguise that wander Saddle Road, just waiting for someone to pick her up.

This legend is specific to the Big Island of Hawaii. Saddle Road, which connects Kailua-Kona on the west side to Hilo on the east side, is known to be dangerous to drive at night. Many of the legends and scary stories associated with Saddle Road stem mainly from the belief that Saddle Road is haunted since there have been a lot of accidents along it. The real causes of the accidents however, tend to be due to low visibility from the fog since the road is at a high altitude, or the rain, and that fact that the road has not been repaved for many years.

This legend is very well-known among residents on the west side, and is a popular one among the tourists as well. Since Saddle Road is often travelled by tourists making their way around the island, they can never resist a good old local superstition to keep their eyes peeled. Also, since the volcano Kilauea is currently erupting and the lava flow has been heading towards parts of Hilo, I wouldn’t put it past some of the strongest believers to be seeking out Pele in her human form to ask for help or mercy.

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