Sacred Texts  Pacific  Index  Previous  Next 




THROUGH the fleeting hours of Tuesday, January eighth, in the year nineteen hundred and seven, earthquakes were felt all over the island of Hawaii. Soon after midnight as the stars of the new day Wednesday, January ninth, looked down on the melting snows of Mauna Loa, a glorious fire-light broke out on the southern slope. This light filled the sky above the mountain and was visible from all parts of the island.

The Hawaiians said "Pele has come again." For some hours great floods of lava poured forth with extraordinary activity, quickly covering a vast area of land on the side of the mountain about four thousand feet below the summit crater. Then as the brilliant light of the sun took the place of the glow of volcanic fires, clouds of eruptive gases and smoke marked the course of the lava in its flow down the mountain side. Moreover, for nearly two days the lava found an underground channel from

{p. 20}

which it burst forth at times with explosions attended by earthquakes which shook the western coast of the island. Puffs of smoke by day and pillars of fire by night marked the course of this underground channel. Thus for nearly three days the country throbbed with excitement because of the uncertainty attending the continued action of the lava flow. Then came Friday evening and a sky flooded with an ocean of fire. The lava burst from the side of the mountain about half-way between the summit and the sea in magnificent tossing waves, a river hundreds of feet across, dashing over old lava flows, burning the ferns and trees of the forest which had grown on lava a hundred years and more of age. Down it forced its way, sometimes cooling in great stone masses, crunching and crushing against each other, sometimes a rough mass of cinders resting upon a moving bed of fire and sometimes a swiftly moving liquid stream pushing from under a cooling surface and continually pressing downward toward the sea.

Meanwhile, as this lava flow was making its descent, another branch broke away westward. A little hill of lava frozen ages before into a massive breastwork of black stone standing in the front of this flow of 1907 divided it so that this western branch took its own way to the ocean

{p. 21}

beach. Thus this mighty force of melted rock from the underworld hurled its vast mass down the mountain, piling itself over all life in its path and leaving only towering heaps of desolation to cover the earth. Between these two branches of the lava river lay stretched a tract of ancient lava several miles wide, desolate and dreary save for small clumps of trees and patches of ferns and grass.

At the end of this uncovered old lava two symmetrical mounds rise from the rugged splintered rocks. These are marked on the maps of the large island as "Na Puu o Pele" (The hills of Pele).

In the summer of 1905 two friends journeyed across the desolate country which has been made more desolate by the eruption of 1907. Wearied by the hours passed in travelling over lava sharp as broken glass these friends found a grass-covered resting-place and there waited for their fatigue to pass away. In a little while some Hawaiians drew near.

"Aloha oukou [Friendship to you]!" was the greeting to them.

"Aloha olua [Friendship to you also]!" was the reply.

"This place is deserted by almost all life. Surely one cannot expect it to add any story to Hawaiian mythology."

{p. 22}

"Ay, there is a story which belongs to the two hills of Pele down by the sea."

That summer day, on the lava of long ago, so long ago that its date is not recorded, we heard the story of the chiefs of Kahuku and the fiery and voluptuous goddess of the volcanic forces of the Hawaiian Islands.

Kahuku, the land now under past and present lava flows, was at one time luxuriant and beautiful. The sugar-cane and taro beds were bordered by flowers and shaded by long-branching trees. Villages here and there marked the population which supported the chiefs of Kahuku.

Two of the young chiefs were splendid specimens of savage manhood. They both excelled in the sports and athletic feats which were the chief occupation of those days. Wherever a hillside was covered with grass and the ground properly sloping, holua races were carried on. Very narrow sleds (holua) with long runners were used in these races.

Maidens and young men vied with each other in mad rushes over the holua courses. Usually the body was thrown headlong on the sled as it was pushed over the brink of the little hill at the beginning of the slide. Sometimes the more courageous riders would rest on hands and knees while only the very skilful dared stand upright during the swift descent,

{p. 23}

Pele, the goddess of fire, loved this sport and often appeared as a beautiful and athletic princess. She carried her sled with her to Kahuku to the holua hillside, and easily surpassed all the women in grace and daring.

Soon the two handsome young chiefs saw her and challenged her to race with them. For hours they sported together, the chiefs led captive by the charms of the goddess.

Jealous of each other, they strove to win Pele each to his own home. Thus the days passed by, filled with sports and pleasures,

At last the young men became suspicious of their companion, her love was so fitful and capricious, sometimes burning with a raging fire toward her friends and sometimes filled with hot anger on very slight provocation.

At last a warning came that this beautiful stranger might be the goddess Pele from the other side of the island; that her home was in Halemaumau (The continuing house) of the volcano Kilauea; her attendants the always leaping flames; the caves filled with rolling waves of fire her dwelling-rooms; that she carried the control of the fires of the underworld with her wherever she went.

The young chiefs talked together concerning their experiences and then began to draw away from their dangerous visitor.

{p. 24}

But Pele made it difficult for them to escape from her presence. She continually called them to race with her.

At last the grass began to die. The soil became warm, and the heat intense. Slight earthquakes made themselves felt. The tides were more snappy as they cast their surf waves along the beach.

The chiefs became afraid. Pele saw it and was overcome with anger. Her appearance changed. Her hair floated out in tangled masses, touched by the breath of hot winds. Her arms and limbs shone as if enwrapped with fire. Her eyes blazed like lightning, and her breath poured forth in volumes of smoke. In great terror the chiefs rushed toward the sea.

Pele struck the ground heavily with her feet. Again and again she stamped in wrath. Earthquakes swept the lands of Kahuku. Then the awful fiery flood broke from the underworld, and swept down over Kahuku. On the crest of the falling torrent of fire rode Pele, flashing the fires of her anger in great explosions above the flood.

The chiefs tried to flee toward the north, but Pele hurled the fiercest torrents beyond them to turn them back. Then they fled toward the south, but Pele again forced them back upon their own lands.

{p. 25}

Then they hurried down to the beach, hoping to catch one of their canoes and escape on the ocean. Quickly these young men leaped on. Swiftly came the fiery flood behind them. Pele was urging the underworld forces to their utmost speed. Shrieking like fierce, whistling winds, tearing her hair and throwing it away in bunches, Pele sped after the chiefs. The floods of lava, obeying the commands of the goddess, spread out over all the land of the chiefs so that from the mountain to the sea the luxuriant lands became desolate.

Nearer and nearer to the sea came the swift runners. It seemed as if they had found the way of escape, for the surf waves waited eagerly to welcome them, and a canoe lay near the beach.

But Pele leaped from the flowing lava and threw her burning arms around the nearest one of her former lovers. In a moment the lifeless body was thrown to one side. The lava piled itself up around it, while at the command of Pele a new gush of lava rose up like a fresh crater and swallowed up all that was left.

The other chief was petrified by fear and horror. in a moment Pele seized him and called for another outburst of lava, which rose up rapidly around them. In a few minutes the Hills of Pele were built.

Thus the lovers of Pele died and thus their

{p. 26}

tombs were made. For many years, even from ancient times, they have marked the destruction of the beautiful lands of Kahuku.

Later lava flows have turned aside to spar, the monuments of the chiefs with whom Pele played for a time, and the two hills of Pele are still seen near the shore of the ocean.

Next: V. Pele and the Chiefs of Puna