Myth – Hawaii

As a citizen of Hawaii, Katie grew up hearing the myth of Pele and the Ohia Lehua flower.  According to Hawaiian culture, the goddess Pele, the volcano goddess, had a sister who was in charge of protecting the sacred ohia lehua trees.  One day, however, Pele found out that her sister had been having sexual relationships with her lover.  In anger, she destroyed her sister’s ohia lehua grove by pouring lava all over the trees.  Even now, she continues to erupt volcano lava onto the island and destroy the trees.  Therefore, the myth states that if an individual picks a flower from the ohia lehua tree without first performing the proper ritual, and thereby respecting her sister rather than herself, Pele will become angered and respond by pouring out lava over the land.

This myth is widely known in Hawaii and taught by the older members of the community.  Katie Tamai learned the story when she was young from her grandmother.  She was taught to respect the goddess Pele and never to pick a flower from the ohia lehua tree.  Though she is not highly superstitious, she says that she will never pick lehua flower in fear of the possibility that something could happen.  Because the superstition is so immersed in the Hawaiian culture, it is difficult for individuals to ignore the potential consequences of picking the flower.  She also says that respect for the goddess Pele prevents her from taking a lehua flower.  The tree is seen as something that is very sacred.

The superstition branching from this myth is also intertwined with the rules of the island.  Under state law, it is illegal to pick lehua flowers.  Therefore, the legend not only enriches the culture of Hawaii but also serves to enforce the rules protecting the tree by instilling superstitious thoughts into the minds of the natives.  The story attracts tourists to the sites while also protecting the trees from being damaged by eager tourists.