Legend of Pele and Kahawali

“During the rule of Kealiikukii, an ancient king of Hawaii, there was a tribe called the Puna, and its chief was named Kahawali.  For fun, Kahawali used to go sledding down the sloping side of a hill with a friend.  People used to come from all around to watch them sled. One day, the crowds attracted the attention of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. She assumed the appearance of a woman and challenged Kahawali to a sled race.  Kahawali won the race due to Pele’s inexperience.  The two returned to the top of the hill and Pele asked Kahawali to give her his sled.  Kahawali refused because Pele appeared to be no more than an average native woman.  Kahawali then shot down the hill on the sled.  In response, Pele transformed into her supernatural form and pursued him down the hill.  Upon reaching the bottom of the hill, Kahawali saw Pele chasing him with lightning, earthquakes, and streams of lava.  Then, he found a broad spear and his friend and the two fled together.  As they fled, Kahawali ran past his favorite pig, his mother, his children, his wife, his sister and his brother and grieved for them as he passed.  While his family and pig were consumed by the lava, Kahawali and his friend were able to escape using the broad spear as a bridge to cross a crevice and as a sail for their getaway canoe.  The pair settled on the island of Oahu, and lived there for the rest of their days.”


My informant is a park ranger for the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, and part of his job description is to learn as many legends as possible about Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess.  He learned this particular story by reading a book on Hawaiian folklore in the park’s gift store.  The mother’s side of my informant’s family is of native Hawaiian descent, and his relatives have told him several legends, but they had never taught him this particular legend.

This is my informant’s favorite Pele legend, and he tells it to everyone that stops to talk with him at the information desk.  He finds it the most interesting because of the ruthlessness of Pele’s pursuit of Kahawali.  He believes that this legend is still shared in some households of native Hawaiians, just as a way to connect with their ancestry, and that no one really believes Pele is responsible for all volcanic activity.  He also suggested that the legend was originated by the Hawaiians of the past to explain a volcanic eruption that occurred during a thunderstorm.

This story is a legend because it occurs in the real world and invites discussion as to whether or not this event ever happened.  The story gives a time frame, sometime during Kealiikukii’s rule, and occurs in a real place, on the island of Hawaii.  Also, while unlikely, one could argue that Pele exists and is responsible for all volcanic activity and that she chased a Hawaiian chief out to sea.

My personal opinion about this Hawaiian legend is that it is told as a warning to be as prepared as possible for a natural disaster.  No one from Puna survived except for Kahawali and his friend.  If possible, the tribe should have built their houses on hilltops so that a wave of lava wouldn’t consume their homes and families.  Or, if that’s not possible, the tribe could have an evacuation route to the sea planned.  Instead leaving his family behind and grieving for their eminent deaths, Kahawali might have been able to run to the sea with them if an escape route had been made.