Explore the Legends of Pele the Fire Goddess

Big Island Guide Travel Guide

Origins of the Legends of Pele

An ancient Hawaiian deity that continues to hold a special significance in traditional Hawaiian culture, Pele is the Fire Goddess of Hawaii, ruler of fire, lightning, volcanoes, wind, and creator of all the Hawaiian Islands.

According to some accounts, the Polynesian goddess of the volcano was born in Honua-Mea in Tahiti to Haumea, an ancient Earth goddess and Kane Milohai, creator of the sky, earth, and heavens. One of thirteen children, Pele was exiled to the Hawaiian Islands by her father due to her legendary volcanic temper.

Pele’s oldest brother, Kamohoali’i, gave her a mighty canoe in which her and several of her siblings could travel across a great expanse of the seas. Her battles with her sister Namakaokahai, the sea goddess, made their journey rife with struggle. Pele carried her favorite sister, Hi’iaka, in an egg to the Hawaiian Islands, where she became the first Hawaiian-born descendent of the Pele family.

Pele’s Creation of Hawaii
Once she and her party arrived in the Hawaiian Islands, she used her pa’oa (or o’o) stick on Kauai, penetrating the Earth to the core, but was attacked by Namakaokahai. She fled to Oahu, digging fire pits that can be seen in the craters around the island. Pele then created volcanic features on Molokai before going to Maui and originating the volcano Haleakala.

The volcanic activity on Maui again attracted Namakaokahai, where she once again fought Pele. Pele was torn apart by her sister, leaving her bones to form a hill on Kahikinui in Maui, while her spirit moved on to the Island of Hawaii. Pele’s death resulted in her becoming a god, making her home on the Big Island and digging her eternal fire pit in Halemaumau Crater atop Kilauea Volcano. Many of Pele’s siblings also reside on the Big Island, such as Poliʻahu, the Hawaiian goddess of snow who lives atop Mauna Kea.

Hawaiian Relationship with Pele and the Volcanoes
Throughout Hawaii, one can see evidence of the reverence ancient and modern Hawaiians hold for Pele. Portraits of the deity are found at the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as well as throughout the many galleries and historic sites on the Big Island. Hula halau, or hula groups, will often hold ceremonial dances and offerings to Pele as a form of respect and to honor her power, hoping for protection against her might.

Furthermore, photographers and lava viewers sometimes see glimpses of Pele in volcanic eruptions, but evidence of Pele’s final form are found throughout the Big Island. Known as Pele’s Hair, these tiny, hardened strands of volcanic glass around the active craters are formed when lava splatters and is pulled into thin fragments by the wind.

While she’s perhaps never been seen by human eyes, the power and presence of Pele is evident throughout the Big Island’s volcanic regions, and as with other important Hawaiian legends, the areas she inhabits should be treated with great respect.

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