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In the Hawaiian religion, Pele (pronounced [ˈpɛlɛ]), is the goddess of volcanoes and fire and the creator of the Hawaiian Islands. Often referred to as "Madame Pele" or "Tūtū Pele" as a sign of respect, she is a well-known deity within Hawaiian mythology, and is notable for her contemporary presence and cultural influence as an enduring figure from ancient Hawaii.[1] Epithets of the goddess include Pele-honua-mea ("Pele of the sacred land") and Ka wahine ʻai honua ("The earth-eating woman").[2]

The goddess pele by arthur johnsen.jpg
The Goddess Pele (2003), by Arthur Johnsen
AbodeHalemaʻumaʻu crater
Personal information
Kāne Milohai

In different stories talking about the goddess Pele, she was born from the female spirit named Haumea. This spirit is important when talking about Hawaii's gods due to how she is a descendant from Papa, or Sky Father, who is a supreme being. Due to Pele being born, she has become a notable deity known to the Hawaiian culture. She is also known as "She who shapes the sacred land", known to be said in ancient Hawaiian chants.[3][4]



According to legend, Pele lives in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater Kīlauea

Kīlauea is a currently active volcano that is located on the island of Hawaiʻi and is still being extensively studied.[5] Many Hawaiians believe Kilauea to be inhabited by a "family of fire gods", one of the sisters being Pele, who is believed to govern Kilauea and is responsible for controlling its lava flows.[6] There are several traditional legends associated with Pele in Hawaiian mythology. In addition to being recognized as the goddess of volcanoes, Pele is also known for her power, passion, jealousy, and capriciousness. She has numerous siblings, including Kāne Milohai, Kamohoaliʻi, Nāmaka and numerous sisters named Hiʻiaka, the most famous being Hiʻiakaikapoliopele (Hiʻiaka in the bosom of Pele). They are usually considered to be the offspring of Haumea. Pele's siblings include deities of various types of wind, rain, fire, ocean wave forms, and cloud forms. 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.[7]

Pele shares features similar to other malignant deities inhabiting volcanoes, as in the case of the devil Guayota of Guanche Mythology in Canary Islands (Spain), living on the volcano Teide and was considered by the aboriginal Guanches as responsible for the eruptions of the volcano.[8]

Legend told that Pele herself, journeyed on her canoe from the island of Tahiti to Hawaii. When going through with her journeys, it was said that she tried to create her fires on different islands, but her sister, Nāmaka, was chasing her wanting to put an end to her. In the end, the two sisters fought each other and Pele in the end was killed. With this happening, her body was destroyed but her spirit lives in the Halemaumau crater on Kilauea. They say, "Her body is the lava and steam that comes from the volcano. She can also change form, appearing as a white dog, old woman, or beautiful young woman" (2).[9]

In addition to her role as goddess of fire and her strong association with volcanoes, Pele is also regarded as the "goddess of the hula".[10] She is a significant figure in the history of hula because of her sister Hiʻiaka who is believed to be the first person to dance hula.[11] As a result of Pele's significance in hula, there have been many hula dances and chants that are dedicated to her and her family. The hula being dedicated to Pele is often performed in a way that represents her intense personality and the movement of volcanoes.[12]

Expulsion versionEdit

In one version of the story, Pele is the daughter of Kanehoalani and Haumea in the mystical land of Kuaihelani, a floating free land like Fata Morgana. Kuaihelani was in the region of Kahiki (Kukulu o Kahiki). She stays close to her mother's fireplace with the fire-keeper Lono-makua. Her older sister Nā-maka-o-Kahaʻi, a sea goddess, fears that Pele's ambition would smother the home-land and drives Pele away. Kamohoali'i drives Pele south in a canoe called Honua-i-a-kea with her younger sister Hiʻiaka and with her brothers Kamohoaliʻi, Kanemilohai, Kaneapua, and arrives at the islets above Hawaii. There Kane-milo-hai is left on Mokupapapa, just a reef, to build it up in fitness for human residence. On Nihoa, 800 feet above the ocean she leaves Kane-apua after her visit to Lehua and crowning a wreath of kau-no'a. Pele feels sorry for her younger brother and picks him up again. Pele used the divining rod, Pa‘oa to pick a new home. A group of chants tells of a pursuit by Namakaokaha'i and Pele is torn apart. Her bones, KaiwioPele form a hill on Kahikinui, while her spirit escaped to the island of Hawaiʻi.[13]:157 (Pele & Hi'iaka A myth from Hawaii by Nathaniel B. Emerson)

Flood versionEdit

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:

O the sea, the great sea!
Forth bursts the sea:
Behold, it bursts on Kanaloa!

The sea floods the land, then recedes; this flooding is called Kai a Kahinalii ("The sea of Ka-hina-liʻi"), as Pele's connection to the sea was passed down from her mother Kahinalii.[13]:158[14][15]

Pele and PoliʻahuEdit

Pele is considered to be a rival of the Hawaiian goddess of snow, Poliʻahu, and her sisters Lilinoe (a goddess of fine rain), Waiau (goddess of Lake Waiau), and Kahoupokane (a kapa maker whose kapa making activities create thunder, rain, and lightning). All except Kahoupokane reside on Mauna Kea. The kapa maker lives on Hualalai.

One myth tells that Poliʻahu had come from Mauna Kea with her friends to attend sled races down the grassy hills south of Hamakua. Pele came disguised as a beautiful stranger and was greeted by Poliʻahu. However, Pele became jealously enraged at the goddess of Mauna Kea. She opened the subterranean caverns of Mauna Kea and threw fire from them towards Poliʻahu, with the snow goddess fleeing towards the summit. Poliʻahu was finally able to grab her now-burning snow mantle and throw it over the mountain. Earthquakes shook the island as the snow mantle unfolded until it reached the fire fountains, chilling and hardening the lava. The rivers of lava were driven back to Mauna Loa and Kīlauea. Later battles also led to the defeat of Pele and confirmed the supremacy of the snow goddesses in the northern portion of the island and of Pele in the southern portion.[16]

Modern timesEdit

Belief in Pele 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.[17]:236 After a long journey to the volcano Kīlauea with little food, Ellis eagerly ate the wild berries he found growing there.[17]:128 The berries of the ʻōhelo (Vaccinium reticulatum) plant were considered sacred to 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.[17]: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 crater 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.[18] Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) wrote a poem about the incident in 1892.[19]

When businessman George Lycurgus ran a hotel at the rim of Kīlauea, called the Volcano House, from 1904 through 1921, 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.[20]

William Hyde Rice included an 11-page summary of the legends of Pele in his 1923 collection of Hawaiian legends, a reprint of which is available online from the Bernice P. Bishop Museum's Special Publications section.[21]

In 2003 the Volcano Art Center had a special competition for Pele paintings to replace one done in the early 20th century by D. Howard Hitchcock displayed in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park visitors center. Some criticized what looked like a blond caucasian as the Hawaiian goddess.[22] Over 140 paintings were submitted, and finalists were displayed at sites within the park.[23] The winner of the contest was Puna, Hawaii artist Arthur Johnsen.[24] This version shows the goddess in shades of red, with her digging staff Pã'oa in her left hand, and an embryonic form of her sister goddess Hi'iaka in her right hand.[25] The painting is now on display at the Kilauea Visitors Center.[26]


Pele's other prominent relatives are:

Other dataEdit

Pele shares features similar to other malignant deities inhabiting volcanoes, as in the case of the devil Guayota of Guanche Mythology in Canary Islands (Spain), living on the volcano Teide and was considered by the aboriginal Guanches as responsible for the eruptions of the volcano.[27]


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, and Limu o Pele (Pele's seaweed). A volcano on the Jovian moon Io is also named Pele.[28]

In popular cultureEdit

  • 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 alternatively, as boys worshipping Pele.[citation needed]
  • 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."[citation needed]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • Steven Reineke created a musical composition called "Goddess of Fire" which was inspired by the story and life of Pele.[citation needed]
  • 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.[29][third-party source needed]
  • Pele appears on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch in the episode "The Good, the Bad, and the Luau" as Sabrina's cousin, who gives her the final clue to the family secret. This version of Pele has a humorous tendency to unwittingly set things on fire.[citation needed]
  • In the Wildefire book series written by Karsten Knight, Pele is one of many deities that are reincarnated in teenagers along the centuries. Ashline Wilde and her two sisters (Evelyn and Rose) represent the spirit of the goddess (the Flame, the Spark and the Fuse), which was divided in three by the Cloak because of the (self)destructiveness of hers.[citation needed]
  • Pele appears in a 1969 Hawaii Five-0 episode 'The Big Kahuna' in which her appearance is faked by a couple of crooks intent on frightening their uncle into selling his property to them.[citation needed]
  • The song Budding Trees by Nahko and Medicine for the People references the Hawaiian goddess Pele.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ 'Iolana, Patricia (2006). "TuTu Pele: The Living Goddess of Hawaii's Volcanoes". Sacred History.
  2. ^ H. Arlo Nimmo (2011). Pele, Volcano Goddess of Hawai'i: A History. McFarland. p. 208. ISBN 0-7864-6347-3.
  3. ^ Wong, Alia (11 May 2018). "Madame Pele's Grip on Hawaii". The Atlantic. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  4. ^ "Pele - Goddess of Fire" Coffee Times,, retrieved on 8 April 2018.
  5. ^ Donald A. Swanson, "Hawaiian oral tradition describes 400 years of volcanic activity at Kilauea,"Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal 176 (2008): 427-431. Retrieved on 6-Apr-2018.
  6. ^ Martha Warren Beckwith, Hawaiian Mythology (Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 1970).
  7. ^ William Westervelt (1999). Hawaiian Legends of Volcanoes. Mutual Publishing, originally published 1916 by Ellis Press.
  8. ^ Ethnografia y anales de la conquista de las Islas Canarias
  9. ^ "Who is the goddess of Pele and how is she related to the origin of the Hawaiian Islands?" Oregon State University System website,, N/A, retrieved on 9 April 2018.
  10. ^ H. Arlo Nimmo. "Pele, Ancient Goddess of Contemporary Hawaii," Pacific Studies vol. 9, no. 2 (1986): 158-159. Retrieved on 9 April 2018.
  11. ^ H. Arlo Nimmo. "Pele, Ancient Goddess of Contemporary Hawaii," Pacific Studies vol. 9, no. 2 (1986): 158-159. Retrieved on 6 April 2018.
  12. ^ "Ancient Hula Types Database," Hula Preservation Society. Retrieved on 6 April 2018.
  13. ^ a b Martha Warren Beckwith (1940). Hawaiian Mythology. Forgotten Books. ISBN 978-1-60506-957-9.
  14. ^ Nicholson, Henry Whalley (1881). From Sword to Share; Or, A Fortune in Five Years at Hawaii. London, England: W.H. Allen and Co. p. 39.
  15. ^ "Pele and the Deluge," Access Genealogy Hawaiian Folk Tales A Collection of Native Legends [1], 1907, Retrieved on 24 October 2012.
  16. ^ W. D. Westervelt, Hawaiian legends of volcanoes. Boston, G.H. Ellis Press, 1916.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Penrose C. Morris (1920). "Kapiolani". All about Hawaii: Thrum's Hawaiian annual and standard guide. Thomas G. Thrum, Honolulu: 40–53.
  19. ^ Alfred Lord Tennyson (1899). Hallam Tennyson, ed. The life and works of Alfred Lord Tennyson. 8. Macmillan. pp. 261–263. ISBN 0-665-79092-9.
  20. ^ "The Volcano House". Hawaii Nature Notes. National Park Service. 5 (2). 1953.
  21. ^ William Hyde Rice, preface by Edith J. K. Rice (1923). "Hawaiian Legends" (PDF). Bulletin 3. Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu. Retrieved 2010-01-08.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ "Visions of Pele, the Hawaiian Volcano Deity" (PDF). Press release on Volcano Art Center Gallery web site. August 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-05. Retrieved 2010-01-08.
  24. ^ "Fresh face put on volcano park". The Honolulu Advertiser. August 16, 2003. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  25. ^ Nimmo, H. Arlo (2011). Pele, Volcano Goddess of Hawai‘i: A History. McFarland. p. 170.
  26. ^ "Arthur Johnsen: Painter". Arthur Johnsen Gallery web site. Retrieved 2010-04-28.
  27. ^ Ethnografia y anales de la conquista de las Islas Canarias
  28. ^ Radebaugh, J.; et al. (2004). "Observations and temperatures of Io's Pele Patera from Cassini and Galileo spacecraft images". Icarus. 169: 65–79. Bibcode:2004Icar..169...65R. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2003.10.019.
  29. ^ Wonder Woman (vol. 3) #35-36

External linksEdit