Goddess of the Month - Pelehonuamea


WHO IS PELEHONUAMEA?

Pele by Arthur Johnsen
Pele by Arthur Johnsen from The Hawaii Paintings of Arthur Johnsen, the original hangs at the visitors center of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Pelehonuamea, also known as Pele, is one of the great aumakua or ancestral spirits of the Hawaiian people. She is considered to be a living part of the islands and their people, and Her blood flows through their veins. Her name means 'The Red Earth' or 'Lava' and She is said to reside in the crater of Halema’uma’u at the summit of Kilauea, but all of the big island of Hawaii is considered to be Her especial domain. She is also the Goddess of lightning, dance, fire, and all volcanic activity. Because She is first and foremost the great volcanoes of the islands, She is a Goddess of destruction, yes, but also creation, and She has added more than 70 acres to the Big Island just in the last two decades. Some of Her other titles include:


She-Who-Shapes-The-Sacred-Land
Pele Ai Honua - Pele Who Devours the Earth
Pele Honua Mea - Pele of the Sacred Earth
Tutu Pele - Grandmother Pele

The Legends of Pele

There are many origin stories of Pele, but they all agree that Her mother was Haumea, daughter of the supreme beings, Papa, Earth Mother, and Wakea, Sky Father. Pele is said to have been born in a land far from Hawaii and She voyaged over the ocean chased by Her angry Sister Na-maka-o-kaha'i, the Sea Goddess, because She seduced her brother-in-law, the fire god Lono-makua, and eventually landed on the island of Kaua'i. However, when She tried to dig a home there, Her Sister would flood the pits, and Pele once again had to flee. She touched on all the Hawaiian islands looking for refuge until She landed on the big island and took shelter on Mauna Loa, which is the tallest mountain on Earth, if you measure it from its base on the ocean floor. Na-maka-o-kaha'i could not send Her waves high enough to reach Pele on Mauna Loa, so there She remained, and sent for Her beloved brothers to join Her. Pelehonuamea and Her brothers and Sister are a constant presence in the islands to this day. Her brothers are Ka-moho-ali'i, king of the sharks and the keeper of the gourd that held the water of life, which gave him the power to revive the dead, whose sacred home is on a cliff of Kilauea, which Pele never allows to be touched by Her volcanic steam; Kane-hekili, lord of thunder; Ka-poho-i-kahi-ola, lord of explosions; Ke-ua-a-kepo, lord of the showers of fire; and Ke-o-ahi-kama-kaua, lord of the spears of lava that escape from fissures in the Earth.

Pele's lovers are many, but one of the most famous - and for the islands, beneficial - is Kamapua'a, the pig god who brings the rains. They had a tumultuous relationship because whenever She covered the land with lava, he would send the rains to extinguish the fires, and then send in his sacred boars to dig in the new earth which prepared it for seeds to grow. Their arguments were the stuff of legend. It is said it grew so bad that Pele's brothers begged Her to give in to Kamapua'a for fear that his rains would extinguish Her fire sticks and kill Her power to restore fire. There is a place called Ka-lua-o-Pele, where the land is torn up in such a way that it looks as though some great struggle took place; the legend says that here Pele and Kamapua'a spent Their passions ferociously, which eventually resulted in the birth of a child.

Pele in the Modern Age

The Main Caldera of Kilauea erupting
Even though Christians came to the Hawaiian islands in the 18th century and attempted to convert the people to their religion, Pele's influence remains strong. In 1819, when the old religion was abolished by the royal family who had converted, a group of Christian missionaries, accompanied by the high chiefess Kapi'olani, ventured to the big island to defy Pele. They went to Her sacred caldera of Halema'uma'u and there ate ohelo berries without first asking Pele's permission or giving Her proper offering. The people were horrified by this act, though the missionaries and the chiefess all proclaimed that nothing would happen from so offending the Goddess, because, of course, only their Christ had any power now. Then Kapi'olani threw rocks into the caldera. Her people, fearing Pele's retribution, broke small branches from the ohelo and threw them into the caldera in offering to make up for the chiefess's impiety. There is a prayer said even to this day for this specific kind of offering:

E Pele, eia ka 'ohelo 'au;
e taumaha aku wau 'ia 'oe
e 'ai ho'i au tetahi


Oh, Pele, here are your branches
I offer some to you
some I also eat
Even now in the 21st century, when the volcanoes erupt or earthquakes shake the land, the people will say, "There goes Pele again!" Every year, at the beginning of the Merrie Monarch Festival, all the hula dancers gather on the rim of Kilauea, to petition Pele as Goddess of the dance, to bless them and to give Her honor. In this gathering, the dancers dance for Pele's pleasure and chant songs to Her. Afterwards they throw Pele many flowered leis as an offering. The people of the big island of all faiths acknowledge that they live there on Pele's sufferance and at Her pleasure She may destroy their homes to create new lands. Those who live near Her sacred home often report of seeing a beautiful young woman with long brown hair and a flowing red dress dancing on the edge of the crater. Others report seeing Her other manifestation, Tutu Pele, which is an old woman with a little white dog. In this aspect, She often speaks to Her people and gives advice or warns of impending disaster. People know they have encountered Tutu Pele because the little old woman will speak with them, then light her cigarette without a lighter, and vanish.

Visitors to the Big Island are reminded to be most respectful of Pele. To not remove stones or sand from Her volcanoes, and to be mindful of the land or aina, and if they wish to pay Her respect by giving Her offering to buy the offering and not take plants or flowers from Her volcanoes to give to Her. Those who have taken from Her home improperly end up having terrible luck or bad dreams. They end up sending those items back to Hawaii along with coins and flowers and fruit as offerings. These have been received many times by the staff at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and they are all addressed to 'Madam Pele'.

Call to Pele by Ka Wahine Ahi

Aloha Pele Honua Mea!
Aloha Pele Ai Honua!
E komo mai!

I smell sulphur in the air and feel heat rising from deep in the Earth below.
The ground trembles beneath my feet.
You light the night in crimson, gold and orange,
As lava and flame flow from Your domain at the world's core.

I ask You to hear my call and grace me with Your awesome presence.
I ask You to hear my call and bestow Your Protection on me.
I ask You to hear my call and enlighten me with Your wisdom.
I ask You to hear my call and heed my entreaty.

Ignite my passion!
Kindle my fire!
Send Your blazing energy to inspire!


back to the Goddess of the Month pageBack to the main page...