USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘volcano’
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.

 

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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.

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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
general
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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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It is bad luck for tourists to remove Hawaiian lava rocks from the islands

My informant has lived on the island of Hawaii his whole life.  He currently works at the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.  He first heard of the superstition when his parents would complain about the increasing amount of tourism to the island.  They would justify their discontent by acknowledging that all of the tourists who would return home with volcanic rock would be stricken with bad luck.

At the national park, my informant has been taught, and is expected to know, the details of the superstition.  Apparently, the volcanic goddess, Pele, curses visitors who return to their homelands with a lava rock.  At the national park, they frequently receive packages which contain lava rocks that people have taken and wish to return because of their bad luck.  They expect that by returning the rocks, their luck will change for the better.  The worst instance he has heard of was a man who was laid off of work and broke his leg in the same month.  He believes the superstition was created by native Hawaiians trying to discourage tourists from disturbing the landscape.  He has never left the island with a volcanic rock before, so he doesn’t have any firsthand experience with the curse.

In my opinion, the lava operates as an item the tourists can blame their misfortunes on.  Then, whenever something goes wrong, they think of the lava rock instead of brushing it off.  Then the tourists feel like they have to free themselves of the burden the rock has put them in.  Also, I have heard of how much the native Hawaiians hate tourists, so it’s likely this superstition was started to discourage tourist activity.  Also, this makes sense because tourism to Hawaii has only become popular in the last century.  To tie an ancient figure like Pele to a more modern practice makes it evident that the curse is not genuine and the native Hawaiians just don’t like tourists taking pieces of Hawaii home with them.

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