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According to legend, Pele lives in the Halema'uma'u crater of Kilauea

In the Hawaiian religion, Pele (pronounced [ˈpeh- lei] /ˈpeɪleɪ/ PAY-lay) is the goddess of fire, lightning, dance, volcanoes and violence. She is a popular figure in many stories of ancient Hawaii known as Hawaiian mythology.



There are several traditional legends associated with Pele in Hawaiian mythology. She has numerous siblings, including Kāne Milohai, Kamohoaliʻi, Nāmaka and 13 sisters named Hiʻiaka, the most famous being Hiʻiakaikapoliopele (Hiʻiaka in the bosom of Pele). They are usually considered to be the offspring of Haumea. Her home is believed to be the fire pit called Halemaʻumaʻu crater, at the summit caldera of Kīlauea, one of the Earth's most active volcanoes; but her domain encompasses all volcanic activity on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi.[1]

Expulsion version

In one version of the story, Pele is daughter of Kane-hoa-lani and Haumea in Kuaihelani. She stays so close to the fire god Lono-makua, that she catches on fire and her older sister Nā-maka-o-Kahaʻi, a sea goddess, drives Pele away. She travels in a canoe Honua-i-a-kea with her younger sister Hiʻiaka with her brothers Ka-moho-ali‘i, Kane-milo-hai, Kane-apua, and arrives at Hawaii from the northwest. There Kane-milo-hai is left on one small island and Kane-apua on another. Pele feels sorry for her younger brother and picks him up again. A group of chants tells of a pursuit by an older sister until they meet in Kahiki-nui on the island of Maui and Pele is torn apart. Her fragments form a hill called Ka-iwi-o-Pele (The bones of Pele) near Kauiki, while her spirit escaped to the island of Hawaii.[2]:157

Flood version

In another version, Pele comes from a land said to be "close to the clouds," with parents Kane-hoa-lani and Ka-hina-liʻi, and brothers Ka-moho-aliʻi and Kahuila-o-ka-lani. From her husband Wahieloa (also called Wahialoa) she has a daughter Laka and a son Menehune. Pele-kumu-honua entices her husband and Pele travels in search of him. The sea pours from her head over the land of Kanaloa (perhaps the island now known as Kahoʻolawe) and her brothers say:

"A sea! a sea!
Forth bursts the sea,
Bursts forth over Kanaloa (Kahoolawe),
The sea rises to the hills. . . ."
"Thrice" (according to the chant) the sea floods the land, then recedes. These floodings are called The-sea-of-Ka-hina-liʻi.[2]:158

Historical times

Pele belief continued after the old religion was officially abolished in 1819. In the summer of 1823 English missionary William Ellis toured the island to determine locations for mission stations.[3]:236 After a long journey to the volcano Kīlauea with little food, Ellis eagerly ate the wild berries they found growing there.[3]:128 The berries of the ʻŌhelo (Vaccinium reticulatum) plant were considered sacred to the Pele. Traditionally prayers and offerings to Pele were always made before eating the berries. The volcano crater was an active lava lake, which the natives feared was a sign that Pele was not pleased with the violation.[3]:143 Although wood carvings and thatched temples were easily destroyed, the volcano was a natural monument to the goddess.

In December 1824 the High Chiefess Kapiʻolani descended into the Halemaʻumaʻu creater after reciting a Christian prayer instead of the traditional one to Pele. She was not killed as predicted, and this story was often told by missionaries to show the superiority of their faith.[4] Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) wrote a poem about the incident in 1892.[5]

When businessman George Lycurgus ran a hotel at the rim of Kīlauea, called the Volcano House, he would often "pray" to Pele for the sake of the tourists. Park officials took a dim view of his habit of tossing items such as gin bottles (after drinking their contents) into the crater.[6]

Plantation owner William Hyde Rice published a version of the story in his collection of legends.[7] In 2003 the Volcano Art Center had a special competition for Pele paintings to replace one done in the early 20th century by David Howard Hitchcock displayed in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park visitors center. Some criticized what looked like a blond caucasian as the Hawaiian goddess.[8] Over 140 paintings were submitted, and finalists were displayed at sites within the park.[9] The winner of the contest was Volcano Village artist Arthur Johnsen. This version shows the goddess in shades of red, with a digging stick in her left hand (the ʻŌʻō for which the currently erupting vent was named), and an embryonic form of Hiʻiaka-i-ka-poli-o-Pele in her right hand. The painting is now on display at the Kilauea Visitor Center on the edge of the Kilauea crater.[10]


Pele's other prominent relatives are:

  • Hiʻiaka, spirit of the dance
  • Kā-moho-aliʻi, a shark god and the keeper of the water of life
  • Kaʻōhelo, a mortal sister
  • Kapo, a goddess of fertility
  • Ka-poho-i-kahi-ola, spirit of explosions
  • Kane-Hekili, spirit of the thunder (a hunchback)
  • Ke-ō-ahi-kama-kaua, the spirit of lava fountains (a hunchback)
  • Ke-ua-a-ke-pō, spirit of the rain and fire


Pele's hair, a volcanic glass in strands

Several phenomena connected to volcanism have been named after her, including Pele's hair, Pele's tears, Limu o Pele (Pele's seaweed). A volcano on the moon Io of Jupiter is also named Pele.[11]

Pop Culture References

  • The musician Tori Amos named an album Boys for Pele in her honor. A single lyrical excerpt from the song "Muhammad My Friend" makes the only outright connection, "You've never seen fire until you've seen Pele blow." However, the entire record deals with the ideas usually associated with Pele, such as feminine "fire," or power. Amos claims the title reflects the idea of boys being devoured by Pele, or alternately, as boys worshipping Pele.
  • Simon Winchester, in his book Krakatoa, stated about the Pele myth: "Like many legends, this old yarn has its basis in fact. The sea attacks volcanoes – the waters and the waves erode the fresh laid rocks. And this is why Pele herself moved, shifting always to the younger and newer volcanoes, and relentlessly away from the older and worn-out islands of the northwest."
  • In 2004, American composer Brian Balmages composed a piece entitled "Pele for Solo Horn and Wind Ensemble" on commission by Jerry Peel, professor of French Horn at the University of Miami Frost School of Music. It was premiered by the University of Miami Wind Ensemble under the direction of Gary Green, with Jerry Peel on Horn.
  • Pele is mentioned in the song "Hot Lava" by Perry Farrell on the South Park Album.
"And after the eruption, we lay dormant for a while
Let's just hold each other and talk,
For now, Pele sleeps"
  • Steven Reineke created a musical composition called "Goddess of Fire" which was inspired by the story and life of Pele.
  • In the 1990s a character claiming to be the goddess Pele appeared as a villainess in the DC Comics comic book Superboy. Pele later reappeared in the comic book Wonder Woman where she sought revenge against Wonder Woman for the murder of Kāne Milohai, who in that story was her father, at the hands of the Greek god Zeus.[12]
  • An eight-woman world-beat band (featuring djimbe drums, steel drums, and saxophone) called Pele Juju was based in Santa Cruz, California.
  • Pele appears on Sabrina the Teenage Witch in the episode "The good, the bad and the luau", as Sabrinas relative, who gives her the final clue to the family secret. This version of her has a slight tendency to unwittingly set things on fire.
  • In Borderlands, Pele is referenced in some rare weapon descriptions which explode causing fire damage on impact. The description reads "Pele demands a sacrifice!"


  1. ^ William Westervelt (1999). Hawaiian Legends of Volcanoes. Mutual Publishing, originally published 1916 by Ellis Press. 
  2. ^ a b Martha Warren Beckwith (1940). Hawaiian Mythology. Forgotten Books. ISBN 9781605069579. 
  3. ^ a b c William Ellis (1823). A journal of a tour around Hawai'i, the largest of the Sandwidch Islands. Crocker and Brewster, New York, republished 2004, Mutual Publishing, Honolulu. ISBN 1-56647-605-4. 
  4. ^ Penrose C. Morris (1920). "Kapiolani". All about Hawaii: Thrum's Hawaiian annual and standard guide (Thomas G. Thrum, Honolulu): 40-53. 
  5. ^ Alfred Lord Tennyson (1899). Hallam Tennyson. ed. The life and works of Alfred Lord Tennyson. 8. Macmillan. pp. 261-263. 
  6. ^ "The Volcano House". Hawaii Nature Notes (National Park Service) 5 (2). 1953. 
  7. ^ William Hyde Rice, preface by Edith J. K. Rice (1923). "Hawaiian Legends". Bulletin 3. Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu,. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  8. ^ Rod Thompson (July 13, 2003). "Rendering Pele: Artists gather paints and canvas in effort to be chosen as Pele's portrait maker". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  9. ^ "Visions of Pele, the Hawaiian Volcano Deity". Press release on Volcano Art Center Gallery web site. August 2003. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  10. ^ "Arthur Johnsen: Painter". Arthur Johnsen Gallery web site. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  11. ^ Radebaugh, J.; et al. (2004). "Observations and temperatures of Io’s Pele Patera from Cassini and Galileo spacecraft images". Icarus 169: 65–79. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2003.10.019. 
  12. ^ Wonder Woman (vol. 3) #35-36

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