Tag Archives: pele

Madame Pele at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel

T is 70 years old. He is a retired teacher. He was born in Southern California and raised in Hawaii. He was 7 years old when his family moved there in 1959. He is very animated and speaks very quickly. He shared this piece with me in conversation.

“The legend of Pele used to frighten me as a child. She was always seen before a volcanic eruption… someone would see her… she was very regal, tall, long flowing black hair, flaming red dress flowing behind her… she was elegant. She would appear walking somewhere… This was in 1960, what happened was the volcano did erupt and we lived on Kailua at the time, the eruption was on the big island, I forget which volcano it was, but the pumice, that’s when the lava flows on the water, anyway the pumice flows onto the beach… people use it to scrub their face, anyways people said they saw her walking through the wall in the Hawaiian Village hotel. She’s not happy about how the island is going, you know… what’s happened to the native Hawaiians and the Polynesian culture… So I was really scared of her and I used to think I would see her walking through my bedroom but I never did. So if you see her walking around, that means a volcano will erupt pretty soon. They call her the goddess, Madame Pele.”

Pele is part of Hawaiian mythology but interestingly endures in contemporary times through many sightings, sometimes as a hitchhiker, sometimes dressed in white with a white dog, and sometimes as a beautiful young woman dressed in red or as a female figure within lava itself. These contemporary iterations of Pele take the form of ghost story figures. The version T told me coincides with accounts documented on websites such as https://www.hauntedrooms.com/hawaii/haunted-places/haunted-hotels & https://frightfind.com/hilton-hawaiian-village/ and does seem to serve as a cautionary tale or lesson particularly in light of the fact that the sighting happens in a tourist hotel and that Pele is not happy about native land dispossession and the display of Polynesian culture as tourist attraction.

For more information about Pele and contemporary sightings see https://www.academia.edu/189854 & https://www.hawaiimagazine.com/people-cant-stop-seeing-pele-in-the-lava/.

The Chinaman’s Hat

T is 70 years old. He is a retired teacher. He was born in Southern California and raised in Hawaii. He was 7 years old when his family moved there in 1959. He is very animated and speaks very quickly. As he explains in the piece, he likes it because his father worked for a tour company on Oahu and it is one of the stories he remembers the tour guides telling tourists. He told it to me in conversation.

“It was one of the small islands, Oahu, where we lived… but um… one thing dad was, was he worked for Trade Wind Tours and because… we didn’t have a lot of money but we did go on a lot of tours, so we went on bus tours… like Pearl Harbor tours… there was one called Circle Island Tours… it was boring but they had free food, so… The tour guides would tell stories and one was the legend of the Chinaman’s hat. There’s a Hawaiian name for the island but I don’t remember… but people call it Chinaman’s hat. What the legend is, is that there was an evil Chinese giant that ruled over the menehunes… they were like elves or leprechauns, and he ruled over them and was mean and the menehunes got together with Pele who was the goddess of the volcanoes… she was not a happy woman… anyway she got together with them and the Chinaman liked to eat turtles, so there’s an island across the way and they tricked him into going out into the ocean and it was further away and deeper than the Chinaman could swim, so he sank and drowned. Anyway his hat is still there sticking out of the water.”

There is an island off Oahu that is known as the Chinaman’s hat. The island’s name in Hawaiian is Mokoli’i. According to www.haaiian-culture-stories.com/chinamans-hat.html, “Pele’s sister, Hi’iaka, slew a giant lizard and threw its tail into the ocean… the island of Mokoli’i remains a remnant of the lizard’s back, poking through the water.” The same site references a 1983 painting by artist Dean Howell showing a cross section of the island and the Chinese giant below the ocean. A google search revealed Dean Howell was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and studied art at Brigham Young University in Hawaii. He also have published a book called The Story of the Chinaman’s Hat in 1990. A 2007 article published in Pacific Business News https://www.bizjournals.com/pacific/stories/2007/05/07/story9.html cites a failed resolution to discourage the use of “Chinaman’s Hat” to refer to Mokoli’i which means “little lizard” in Hawaiian according to https://www.to-hawaii.com/oahu/attractions/chinamanshat.php.

Menehune are a mythological race of diminutive people who live in the forest and stay hidden, coming out at night to build temples, roads, houses, etc. According to Wikipedia, Folklorist Katharine Luomala posits that “the Menehune are a post-European contact mythology created by adaptation of the term manahune (which by the time of the colonization of the Hawaiian Islands by Europeans had acquired a meaning of “lowly people” or “low social status” and not diminutive in stature) to European legends of brownies.” Brownies being household spirits of Scottish folklore. So it’s interesting that T recalled the Menehune as elves or leprechauns.

The story T remembers hearing tour guides tell illustrates the history of colonialism, Asian labor migration, and touristic exploitation in Hawaii. Efforts to discourage the use of “Chinaman’s Hat” in favor of the Hawaiian name Moloki’i, show the role and power of folklore in terms of national identity and culture. The elements that make up the story show the complexity of folklore as a living tradition that can resist easy definition as well as how fakelore (assuming the tour guides simply made up the story for tourists) can become disseminated and accepted.

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.

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.


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.