When lava flows, a Hawaiian goddess’ name is invoked

HONOLULU — In rural Hawaii neighbourhoods where lava from Kilauea volcano has burned down or threatened to consume the homes, a name often comes up: Pele (peh-leh).

“You can’t really predict what Pele is going to do,” said Julie Woolsey, who evacuated on May 3 as a fissure opened on her street, oozing lava just 1,000 feet from her home.

Here is more information about Pele and why the goddess is revered:


Pele, known as the goddess of volcanoes and fire, is an important figure in Hawaiian culture.

She represents all the phenomena related to volcanos — the magma, steam, ash, acid rain.

Pele is an akua, or goddess, but not in the way people outside Hawaii might think of gods and goddesses. “A lot of people translate the word akua as god. But we feel that word has kind of a western connotation to it, so we use the word ‘element,”‘ said Kuulei Kanahele, researcher at the Edith Kanakaole Foundation, which focuses on Native Hawaiian cultural preservation and education. “They’re not like Greek gods or the biblical, western gods where they’re punishing you.”

According to chants, Pele and her family migrated from kahiki — an unspecified land outside of Hawaii. She first landed in the northwestern Hawaiian islands before making her way through the main Hawaiian islands, starting with Kauai, then Oahu, then Maui, before settling in Hawaii Island.

She dug craters on the islands, including Maui’s Haleakala and what’s known as Punchbowl and Diamond Head on Oahu. “She didn’t find a crater that was suitable to her liking,” Kanahele said, until Kilauea’s Halemaumau crater, where she now resides.


“In Hawaiian thinking and Hawaiian culture, Pele is the foundation, the creation of land,” said Piilani Kaawaloa, who teaches traditional Hawaiian literature, chant and hula at the Hawaii Island campus of Kamehameha Schools.

“People …read more

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