Even in present-day, Hawai’ians report seeing Pele in her crone guise asking for a cigarette, then lighting it with a snap of her fingers before vanishing. Others see her as a red-clothed woman dancing on volcano rims, though it’s uncertain as to whether this is an incarnation of her, or one of her worshippers. Of all the world’s goddesses, Pele is one of few who still thrives in the beliefs of her people- not as a metaphor, but as a metaphysical reality, to whom offerings are still made when volcanoes threaten Hawai’ian towns.
She was born of the Earth goddess Haumea and spent her childhood watching fires and learning how to make them. Her experiments greatly displeased her sister, Na-maka-o-kaha’i, goddess of the sea. Their mother, seeing that Na-maka-o-kaha’i was mistreating her sister, suggested to Pele that she find a home of her own. Pele set out in a canoe, taking several of her siblings with her. Furious with the damage her sister had caused, Na-maka-o-kaha’i pursued Pele from Tahiti to Hawai’i. Pele first landed on Kaua’i, but every time she tried to use her digging stick to dig a pit for her home, the sea goddess would flood the pits. The pits she dug can still be seen as immense craters on the islands. Pele moved down the chain of islands in their order, eventually making her home on Kilauea. Even Na-maka-o-kaha’i was unable to send waves high enough then, to drown Pele’s fires, so she made her home on its slopes and welcomed her brothers there. A cliff on Kilauea is sacred to her eldest brother, Ka-moho-ali’i, ruler of sharks and keeper of the gourd holding the water of life, which gave him the power to restore the dead. Out of respect for her brother, Pele never allows her clouds of volcanic steam to touch his cliff. Of all her siblings, Pele’s favourite was her youngest sister, Hi’iaka. Hi’iaka hatched from an egg that Pele kept warm during her initial canoe ride to Hawai’i.
Pele sometimes slept in her crater and sent her spirit wandering over the islands. One night as her spirit wandered, she heard the sweet melodies of flutes and followed it until she came upon a group of sacred hula dancers. Among them was the handsome chief, Lohi’au. Pele fell in love immediately. She manifested herself as a young maiden and seduced him. She and Lohi’au spent three days making love for several days before her spirit had to return to her slumbering body on the Big Island. Before she left, she promised to send for him. When she awoke, she sent Hi’iaka to bring Lohi’au to her. The sisters made vows to each other- Hi’iaka promised to not encourage Lohi’au if he became attracted to her, and Pele promised to keep her fires and lava from burning a grove of flowering trees where Hi’iaka danced with her friend Hopoe, the goddess of poetry. When Hi’iaka found Lohi’au, she discovered that he had died of heartbreak after Pele disappeared. She was able to catch his spirit and push it back into his body to bring him back to life. They began their journey to the Kilauea. On their way back, a sorceress challenged Hi’iaka for possession of the man, but she refused. Lohi’au told her that he loved her even more than he loved Pele, but still Hi’iaka kept her promise to her sister. Pele’s suspicious nature had gotten the best of her. Forty days had passed since she’d sent her sister to retrieve Lohi’au, and she came to the conclusion that she had been betrayed. She flooded Hi’iaka’s flowering grove with lava, killing Hopoe as well. When Hi’iaka saw the smouldering trees and her friend entombed in lava, she flung herself into Lohi’au’s arms, making love to him on the rim of Pele’s volcano. In further vengeance, Pele set another stream of lava upon them, killing Lohi’au. Hi’iaka, being immortal, was not destroyed. Hi’iaka, not about to be defeated by her sister’s fury, descended to the underworld to free Lohi’au’s soul. When she had revived him once more, they returned to Kaua’i to live. Meanwhile, Pele had found another lover- the aggressive god of agriculture, Kamapua’a. His idea of seducing Pele included attempting to douse her flames with torrential rains and having his boars dig through her hardened lava. Their turbulent courtship continues still.
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