The recent lava flow threatening Hawaii's Big Island brings to mind the mythology of Madame Pele. Here is the legend and lore of just why this tropical goddess gets so fiery mad, and what we can do (if anything) to appease her ire.
Countless stories abound as to the mysterious and fierce fire goddess, Pele. Ascribed to rule the region of the volcanoes, her passion and volatility coincide perfectly when paired with the image association with the physical earth erupting, spouting molten lava in explosive excess.
Pele is perhaps the best known of the Islands’ revered deities. Believed to dwell in the deep craters of Hawaii’s Big Island Kilauea Volcano, this hot mama has been making her presence known via volcanic blasts consistently for over 30 years now.
Ancient lore alludes to Pele as being birthed of the feminine spirit Hina, who was said to have been herself begat by Papa (the Earth Mother) and Wakea (the Sky Father). Scandalous from the very beginning, Pele’s journey to Hawaii is said to have been shadowed by the angry and jealous pursuit of her sister Na-maka-o-kaha'I, after Pele had supposedly stolen her husband's loyalty and affections. Legend has it that Mauna Loa (located on the Big Island) was the only place where Na-maka-o-kaha’I could not reach Pele in order to quench her fire, so it was here that Pele found her refuge and new home.
No matter how exactly Pele came to being, or how this divine goddess found her way to Hawaii, one thing we do know is that all accounts attribute to her tumultuous and unpredictably explosive personality. Herb Kawainui Kane, the author of the book Pele: Goddess of Hawai’i’s Volcanoes, gives further insight into Pele. “In folklore she may appear as a tall, beautiful young woman, or as an old woman, wrinkled and bent with age, sometimes accompanied by a white dog,” explains Kane. “When enraged she may appear as a woman all aflame or as pure flame.”
Among countless other books, a local dance company created a beautiful contemporary theater video "Holo Mai Pele" that further delved into the divine deity's capricious character. So, in light of her constantly shifting demeanor and all-too-common lava-laden outbursts when provoked to anger, just what do locals and experts have to say to appease Madame Pele?
After asking around, the clear consensus conforms to the belief that the good graces of Madame Pele may be won—and her anger appeased—by offering gifts of 'ohelo
berries or gin (among other food and drink), most often left dotted in reverence along the rim of her beloved volcano home. And in light of the recent lava flows filling the Big Island's Puna region, it's safe to say that many may be making that pilgrimage to proffer their own volcanic victuals.
by Andy Beth Miller