Passions of Pele: The Hawaiian Goddess of Fire

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Red flowers apparently left as an offering for the volcano goddess Pele at the edge of the Halema'uma'u Crater in the Kilauea caldera at Volcanoes National Park on the Island of Hawaii.

Passions of Pele: The Hawaiian Goddess of Fire

Kilauea, one of earth’s most active volcanoes located on the island of Hawaii, is believed to be inhabited by a family of gods. One member of the family has become the most visible of all the old gods and goddesses of Hawaii. Her name is Pele, the goddess of fire, lightning, wind and volcanoes as well as the creator of the Hawaiian Islands. She lives in the fire pit called Halemaumau crater, at the summit caldera of Kilauea. Although Pele governs Kilauea and is responsible for controlling its lava flows, her domain encompasses all volcanic activity on the Big Island of Hawaii. As a sign of respect, she is often referred to as ‘Madame Pele’ or ‘Tutu Pele’ and her epithets include Pele honua mea (Pele of the sacred land) and Ka wahine ʻai honua (The earth-eating woman).

Pele by David Howard Hitchcock, circa 1929. (Public Domain)

Pele by David Howard Hitchcock, circa 1929. (Public Domain)

Mai Kahiki ka wahine, o Pele,
Mai ka aina i Pola-pola,
Mai ka punohu ula a Kane,
Mai ke ao lalapa i ka lani,
5 Mai ka opua lapa i Kahiki.

(From Kahiki came the woman, Pele,
From the land of Pola-pola,
From the red cloud of Kane,
Cloud blazing in the heavens,
5 Fiery cloud-pile in Kahiki.)

“Unwritten Literature of Hawaii”, by Nathaniel B. Emerson (1909)

In addition to being known as the goddess of fire and being strongly associated with volcanoes, she is also a significant figure in the history of hula as one of her sisters Hiʻiaka (the patron goddess of hula dancers, sorcery and medicine) is believed to be the first person to have danced the hula. As a result of Pele's significance in hula, there have been many hula dances and chants that are also dedicated to her. The hula dedicated to Pele is often done in a way that represents her intense personality and the movement of volcanoes. 

Pele’s Perilous Journey to Her Home

In one version of Pele’s legend, she is the daughter of Kane-hoa-lani, the ruler of heavens, and Haumea, the goddess of fertility and childbirth, in the mystical land of Kuaihelani. She stayed close to her mother's fireplace with the fire-keeper Lono-makua. However, Namaka /Na-maka-o-Kahai, (or ‘the eyes of Kahai’), the goddess of water and the sea as well as Pele’s older sister, feared that Pele's ambition would smother their homeland and she drove Pele away. Another version of the same legend says that Namaka was angry because Pele had seduced her husband.

Pele’s oldest brother Ka-moho-ali-i, the god of the sharks, gave her a great canoe upon which she and her brothers traveled far from home, over the wide expanse of the seas, sailing on this great canoe eventually to find Hawaii. In this journey she carried her favorite sister Hi’iaka in egg-form all the way to the Hawaiian Islands, which led to her epithet Hi’iaka-i-ka-poli-o-Pele (Hi’iaka in the bosom of Pele). That makes Hi’iaka the first deity in Pele’s family to be born in Hawaii.

Kauai from space oriented (Public Domain)

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