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Pele's Life

Although the Hawaiian gods were toppled literally and figuratively in 1819, there remains many stories about Pele, the fire goddess who resides at Kilauea Caldera.

It seems that the beautiful young goddess, from a large family of gods, was struck by wanderlust. Tucking her young sister under her armpit, she set out to see the world.

One adventure includes her encounter with Kama pua'a the pig god. Kamapuaa was a huge tattooed "beast-man;" even his own family on Oahu called him a pig. He responded by killing as many of them as he could, plundering their domains, and ravaging their young women. Because Kama pua'a was eventually defeated in Oahu, he travelled to the Puna district where he had heard about Pele. He then sought out to met Pele. At first, he tried to control himself and woo Pele in traditional manner. He asked Pele to marry him, but Pele refused and called him a pig.

Kama pua'a responded by massacring some of Pele's family. Pele, in turn, hid in a cavern deep inside the mountain while Kama pua'a tried to force his way in. Suddenly the massive olcano erupted and a river of molten rock chased the evil man all the way into the sea to his boat.

In addition to her battles with Kama pua'a, Pele fought desperately with her sister, Namaka o Kahai, over the love of a handsome young chief. Pele's sister stalked her and smashed her bones on the Hana coast of Maui at a spot called Kaiwi o Pele (the Bones of Pele).

Pulling herself back together, Pele set out to make a love nest for her lover and herself. She chose the firepit at Kilauea Volcano and has long been responsible for its lava flows, heat, and fire. In addition to her heated powers, Pele's moods are equally as fiery. Pele can change her form from a withered old woman to a ravishing beauty and her moods can change from gentle to fiery hot. She is traditionally appeased with ohelo berries that were cast into her fire.

Pele's myth was shattered by the Hawaiian Queen Kapiolani, one of the earliest and most fervent converts to Christianity. In the 1820s this brave queen made her way into the Kilauea fire pit and defiantly ate ohelo berries sacred to Pele. She then cast stones into the pit and cried in a loud voice, "Jehovah is my god! . . . It is my God, and not Pele, that kindled these fires!"

Nonetheless, stories abound of Pele's continuing powers. Modern-day kahuna are always consulted and prayers offered over construction of an imu, which falls under Pele's fire domain. It's said by traditional Hawaiians and educated haole that when Kilauea erupts, the lava miraculously stops before or circles around a homestead over which proper prayers were made to the fire goddess. In addition, the rangers at Volcanoes National Park receive hundreds of stones every year that were taken as souvenirs and then returned by shaken tourists, who claim bad luck stalked them from the day they removed Pele's sacred stones from her volcano. And, no one who has lived in the islands for any length of time will carry pork over the volcano at night, lest they offend the goddess. She's perhaps still angry with that swine, Kama pua'a. Hence, Pele's powers continue to linger and haunt us through the stories of Hawaii.