|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:
Pele Ai Honua - Pele Who Devours the Earth
Pele Honua Mea - Pele of the Sacred Earth
Tutu Pele - Grandmother 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.
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'.