USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘pele’
Legends
Myths

Vanishing Hitchhiker Pele

Context: This myth was performed in an apartment to an audience of 3 people.

Background: The informant is from Hawaii, where this myth is popular.

“Pele was the goddess of Lava. One of the things that goes around that’s like a, I don’t know if it’s a myth. She was into some guy, but the guy was getting with her sister so she became some lava monster and chased him away. But they say if you’re driving under the mountain, because there’s a tunnel that goes under the mountain. That if you see an old lady with like white hair there and she’ll try to hitch hike. They’ll say that that’s Pele and sometimes she’ll just appear in your back seat.”

Car rides can be very boring, so it makes sense that the legend of Pele would be adopted into the form of a hitchhiking old lady: It serves as an interesting story which can help to pass the time during monotonous car trips.

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.

 

Legends
Narrative

The ghost of a godess

The informant, T, is 19 years old. He was born and raised on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. His parents were also born and raised on Oahu. His grandparents on his mom’s side came from Japan and from his dad’s side were raised on Oahu. He is majoring as an Industrial and Systems Engineer. He considers himself American and is full Japanese.

T- “Pele is the goddess of volcanoes so like currently the big island, which is the furthest right island in the Hawaii chain, is like active like a volcano erupting and it is said that Pele lives there. In the volcano in the big island. There’s many ghost stories about her like that. Like there is stories about an old lady asking for hitchhiking on like a highway and they ignore her and keep going, but after a few minutes the guy looks in his rearview mirror and he sees Pele sitting in his back seat and he freaked out. Yea there’s like a lot of stuff like that. “

Have you seen this ghost?

T-“No I haven’t but I have some friends that experienced some ghost or something during a 6 grade camp trip”

Do you tell this story?

T-“I only share it when I have in depth conversations about my culture, which isn’t often”

 

Analysis- The fact that the informant does not share the story to others proves that he does not really believe in it. He, however, understands and considers it as part of his culture. The story is also meant to show the power that the Hawaiian gods have, according to the local people. The driver is not able to escape from Pele even if she is alone in the middle of nowhere and appears to be helpless. It is a demonstration that people are nothing when it comes to the gods and that you should make them angry.

Folk Beliefs
Myths
Narrative

Pele and the Legend of Maui

Pele is the goddess of the volcano I’m pretty sure there’s like… there are white rock beaches… that… if you remove rocks it’s really really bad.

Well somehow Maui is a god that is related to Pele because they’re all related… and he is younger and there’s like… he did all these things that had to do with ropes. His mom was Hina the moon and like… she, the moon, couldn’t get all her work done in one day, so Maui tied a noose around the sun to keep it from rising so that the moon could get all her work done that day. And then, he also went fishing with his brothers one day, and caught some fish and he had always been ridiculed for not being a good fisherman, and this one day whatever he caught was really big, and they were pulling for a long time and an island popped out and that’s why it’s called Maui.

 

Background: This interview was conducted live, so this story was given to me in person. The informant has learned this piece by hearing bits and pieces of the original story over the years from many people, as she is from Maui. She knows this piece because it is one of the famous myths about how Maui came to be, which is important for a small island to find some sort of national identity or to figure out how or why they came to be as a small island in the middle of the sea. I think this piece is really interesting and I had no idea that this was the reason the island was called Maui. I had heard about Pele before and how if you stole things from Hawaii like rocks or flowers or anything that one would be cursed or something, but I did not know there was a whole accompanying back story where all these gods were related and that that is how the name of Maui came to be.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Magic
Myths
Tales /märchen

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
Legends
Narrative
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.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

‘Ohi’a Lehua

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.


 

There was a man named ‘Ohi’a and a woman named Lehua, and they were in love. But the goddess of fire, Pele, was also in love with the man. Out of jealousy towards the Lehua, and to punish ‘Ohi’a for not returning her affections, Pele cursed ‘Ohi’a into a tree so that the couple could no longer be together. Lehua was devastated, and would cry day after day next to her lover who was now a tree. Out of pity for Lehua, Pele turned her into a blossom on the tree, so the couple could be reunited. To this day, if you pick a flower from an ‘Ohi’a Lehua tree, it will start to rain, because you have separated Lehua from her lover, and the rain is her tears of grief.

Background & Analysis

The informant was raised in Hawaii, and she had heard the legend from friends and teachers at school, as well as from the guides when taking tours of different Hawaiian gardens. The informant does believe in the legend and the superstition of Lehua blossom picking, so she will not pick any flowers from the tree. In the past, a classmate of hers had done so once on a field trip, and within the hour, what was a sunny day, became cloudy and rainy.

This legend has a hint of Romeo and Juliet to it, in that the lovers cannot bear to be separated from one another. It’s also a bit tragic, given how when one goes down, so does the other. This legend is very widespread throughout Hawaii, and this particular variation illustrates the power of Pele, as well as the power of love.

*For another version of this legend, see <http://www.lovebigisland.com/big-island-mythology/ohia-lehua/> or <http://americanfolklore.net/folklore/2010/10/peles_revenge.html>

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Don’t Pluck the Red Lehua Blossom

This informant is Hawaiian and a freshman student at USC.  I asked him for any traditional Hawaiian stories and he gave me this story:

The Ohia tree is often the first plant to grow on new lava flows, but don’t ever pick its red Lehua blossom because both the tree and flower are rooted in Hawaiian legend. Ohia and Lehua were young lovers, he a handsome trickster and she the most beautiful and gentle girl on the island. But, one day Pele came across Ohia and wanted him for herself. When he refused her, she turned him into a twisted, ugly tree. Pele ignored Lehua’s pleas to change him back, but the other gods felt sorry for the young girl. They couldn’t reverse Pele’s magic, but they did turn Lehua into a beautiful red flower and placed her on the tree so that the two young lovers would never again be apart. It is said that as long as the flowers remain on the tree, the weather is sunny and fair. But when a flower is plucked from the tree, rain falls like tears since Lehua still cannot bear to be separated from her beloved husband Ohia.

After a few follow-up questions I figured out that Pele is the God of Fire, who has a short temper. The story didn’t really teach a lesson but it does exemplify how much emphasis the Hawaiian culture places on nature and the environment.

Folk Beliefs
general
Myths
Narrative
Protection

“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.”

Legends
Narrative

Pele’s Curse – Hawaii

Growing up in Hawaii, I was told never to take any natural objects from the islands.  I’m not sure when I was first told that, I just remember always being told to leave everything where it was, and to make sure what belonged on the islands stayed on the islands.  I’m pretty sure tourists are told this legend, especially because when they want to bring back a cool souvenir from Hawaii they usually go for a lava rock or sand or something of that nature.

The legend goes that if you take a lava rock – I was also told not to take sand or Pele’s hair, a plant that grows on the islands – from Hawaii, Pele will curse you and you will experience bad luck until you return the rock to Hawaii.  Pele is the goddess of volcanoes, and is a very jealous and bitter goddess who holds grudges.   I’ve heard many stories of people who experience bad luck after taking a lava rock from the islands, and in order to break the curse and streak of bad luck they must personally take the rock back to Hawaii.  There are some companies that will take shipments and return the lava rocks for people, but according to the legend the person who took it has to return it themselves or else the curse will not be broken.

This legend taught me from a young age to respect Hawaii’s natural habitat, as well as nature everywhere.  People in Hawaii in general tend to have a lot of respect for nature, and I think this legend greatly contributes to that mindset.

Tasia knows quite a few Hawaiian legends, but she said that her sister is much more tied to the land than she is.  They aren’t native Hawaiians, but living in Hawaii immerses you fairly wholly into Hawaiian culture (regardless of if you are a native).  I go to Hawaii about 3 times a year, and have heard this legend before.  I too have known from a young age not to take anything from Hawaii’s habitat.  I have never experienced the curse as I have never taken anything from Hawaii, but when I used to go to the kids camps in the hotels, the people in charge would tell us stories of people who were cursed with very bad luck after stealing a lava rock from the island.  I too respect Hawaii’s natural habitat, probably even more so than the environment here, which is kind of sad.

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