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Many Hawaiians accept their fate at the hands of a fire, land-devouring goddess amid Kīlauea eruptions

By Michael Kuhne, AccuWeather staff writer
May 17, 2018, 11:12:30 AM EDT

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Amid the fiery, lava flows of Kīlauea's eruption, many of the Big Island's residents are attributing the recent bout of activity to the ancient volcano goddess, Pele.

"Pelehonuamea, or Pele of the sacred earth, is also known as 'ka wahine ai honua,' woman who devours the land," according to a recent report from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The volcanic activity has claimed dozens of structures, displaced residents and closed portions of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

According to the Star-Advertiser, many Native Hawaiians and other residents accept the volcanic activity "as demonstrations of Pele’s power and beauty," knowing the forces at work are unstoppable.

Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano USGS

Lava from Hawaii's Kīlauea Volcano as seen from the air on Thursday, May 3, 2018. (Photo/USGS)


According to Hawaiian legend, Madame Pele or Tutu Pele, as she is sometimes referred, is the overseer of a family of fire gods who govern the activities of Kīlauea and its powerful lava flows, Ulukau.org reports.

Ulukau.org provides an online library of Native Hawaiian reference material for language studies through the resources of the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Pele is a major figure in Hawaiian culture and is considered to be an "akua," or sacred, elemental earth spirit, represented by fire and volcanoes.

As the daughter of Earth mother, Haumea, Pele's origins began in Tahiti where a fight with her sister Namaka, the goddess of the sea, led her on a family journey to search for a new home.

According to the stories, Pele traveled across the Hawaiian island chain before finding a new home in the heart of Kīlauea's caldera, the Halemaʻumaʻu crater.

A total of 20 fissures have cracked open since the volcano's eruption on Thursday, May 3. Twenty-six homes and more than 35 structures have been destroyed, and hundreds evacuated from the Leilani Estates community as dangerous sulfur dioxide gas continues to spew into the air.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) officials reported the possibility of additional lava outbreaks, keeping residents on edge as the increase in volcanic activity continues to threaten health and homes.

Chants, prayers and gifts are made to akua as a part of Hawaiian tradition. The recent activity from Kīlauea has garnered different responses from locals honoring Pele, according to the Star-Advertiser.

Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, a professor at the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, told USA Today that there are more than 400,000 elemental gods in Hawaiian tradition, but Pele is the Kame'eleihiwa family's personal akua.

"I usually use Tutu Pele because she’s an ancestor to me and one of our family aumakua, or family guardian, so we have great respect for her," Kame'eleihiwa told the Star-Advertiser, referring to the prefix Tutu, which means grandmother.

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While many view Pele's work as a "cleansing of the land," others who have experienced the loss of their homes accept the unstoppable force of nature Pele embodies.

In hopes she will spare their homes, some have put markers around their properties, the Star-Advertiser reported, while others have cleaned out their homes and have offered up gifts to the goddess.

“If there were no houses in her way, we would all be admiring her dancing down the mountain,” Kame‘eleihiwa told the newspaper.

More information about Native Hawaiian traditions, culture and legends regarding Pele, and many other gods and goddesses can be found at Ulukau.org.

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