THERE were gods, goddesses, and ghost-gods in the Pele family. Almost all had their home in volcanic fires and were connected with all the various natural fire phenomena such as earthquakes, eruptions, smoke clouds, thunder, and lightning. Pele was the supreme ruler of the household.
She had a number of brothers and sisters. There were also many au-makuas, or ancestor ghost-gods, who were supposed to have been sent into the family by incantations and sacrifices. Sometimes when death came among the Hawaiians, a part of the body of the dead person would be thrown into the living volcano, Kilauea, with all ceremony. It was supposed that the spirit also went into the flame, finding there its permanent dwelling-place. This spirit became a Pele-au-makua.
Pele's brother, Ka-moho-alii, and her older sister, Na-maka-o-ka-hai, however, belonged to the powers of the sea. Ka-moho-alii, whose name was sometimes given as Ka-moo-alii, was king of the sharks. He was a favorite of the
fire-goddess Pele. Na-maka-o-ka-hai, a sea-goddess, as a result of family trouble, became Pele's most bitter enemy, fighting her with floods of water, according to the legends.
Thus the original household represented the two eternal enemies, fire and water. One set of legends says that Kane-hoa-lani was the father and Hina-alii was the mother. Kane was one of the four great gods of Polynesia,--Ku, Kane, Lono, and Kanaloa.
Kane-hoa-lani might be interpreted as "Kane, the divine companion or friend." A better rendering is "Kane, the divine fire-maker." In most of the legends and genealogies he is given a place among Pele's brothers.
There were many Hinas. The great Hina was a goddess whose stories frequently placed her in close relation to the moon.
--It seems far-fetched to give Hina a place in the Pele family. The name was evidently brought to the Hawaiian Islands from the South Seas and in process of time was grafted into the Pele myth.--
Another set of legends published in the earliest newspapers, printed in the Hawaiian language, say that Ku-waha-ilo and Haumea were the parents. Ku was the fiercest and most powerful of the four chief gods. Haumea had another name, Papa. She was the earth. This parentage
was carried out in the most diverse as well as the most ancient of the legends and seems to be worthy of acceptance. Ku-waha-ilo is in some legends called Ku-aha-ilo. In both cases the name means "Ku with the wormy mouth," or "Ku, the man-eater" (The cannibal), whose act made him ferocious and inhuman in the eyes of the Hawaiians.
Pele has long been the fire-goddess of the Hawaiians. Her home was in the great fire-pit of the volcano of Kilauea on the island of Hawaii, and all the eruptions of lava have borne her name wherever they may have appeared. Thus the word "Pele" has been used with three distinct definitions by the old Hawaiians. Pele, the fire-goddess; Pele, a volcano or a fire-pit in any land; and Pele, an eruption of lava.
King Kalakaua was very much interested in explaining the origin of some of the great Hawaiian myths and legends. He did not make any statement about the parents of the legendary family, but said that the Pele family was driven from Samoa in the eleventh century, finding a home in the southwestern part of the island Hawaii near the volcano Kilauea. There they lived until an eruption surrounded and overwhelmed them in living fire. After a time the native imagination, which always credited ghost-gods, placed this family among the most
powerful au-makuas and gave them a home in the heart of the crater. From this beginning, he thought, grew the stories of the Pele family.
The trouble with Kalakaua's version is that it does not take into account the relation of Pele to various parts of Polynesia.
The early inhabitants of the region around Hilo in the southwestern part of the island Hawaii, near Kilauea, brought many names and legends from far-away Polynesian lands to Hawaii. Hilo (formerly called Hiro), meaning to "twist" or "turn," was derived from Whiro, a great Polynesian traveller and sea-robber. The stories of Maui and Puna came from other lands, so also came some of the myths of Pele.
Fornander, in "The Polynesian Race," says: "In Hawaiian, Pele is the fire-goddess who dwells in volcanoes. In Samoan, Fee is a personage with nearly similar functions. In Tahitian, Pere is a volcano."
These varieties of the name Pele, Fornander carries back also to the pre-Malay dialects of the Indian Archipelago, where pelah means "hot," belem to "burn." Then he goes back still farther to the Celtic Bel or Belen (the sun god), the Spartan Bela (the sun), and the Babylonian god Bel. It might be worth while for some student of the Atlantic Coast or Europe to find the derivation of the name Pele as applied
to the explosive volcano of Martinique, and note its apparent connection with the Pacific languages.
In Raratonga is found a legend which approaches the Hawaiian stories more nearly than any other from foreign sources. There the great goddess of fire was named Mahuike, who was known throughout Polynesia as the divine guardian of fire. It was from her that Maui the demi-god was represented by many legends as procuring fire for mankind. Her daughter, also a fire-goddess, was Pere, a name identical with the Hawaiian Pele, the letters l and r being interchangeable. This Pere became angry and blew off the top of the island Fakarava. Earthquakes and explosions terrified the people. Mahuike tried to make Pere quiet down, and finally drove her away. Pere leaped into the sea and fled to Va-ihi (Hawaii).
A somewhat similar story comes in from Samoa. Mahuike, the god of fire in Samoa, drove his daughter away. This daughter passed under the ocean from Samoa to Nuuhiwa. After establishing a volcano there, the spirit of unrest came upon her and she again passed under the sea to the Hawaiian Islands, where she determined to stay forever.
In Samoa one of the fire-gods, according to some authorities, was Fe-e, a name almost the
same as Pele, yet nearly all the Samoan legends describe Fe-e as a cuttlefish possessing divine power, and at enmity with fire.
Hon. S. Percy Smith, who was for a long time Minister of Native Affairs in New Zealand and now is President of the Polynesian Society for Legendary and Historical Research, writes that the full name for Pele among the New Zealand Maoris is "Para-whenua-mea, which through well-known letter changes is identical with the full Hawaiian name Pele-honua-mea."
From several continued Pele stories in newspapers in the native language, about 1865, the following sketch of the Pele family, is compiled:
The god Ku, under the name Ku-waha-ilo, was the father. Haumea was the mother. Her father was a man-eater. Her mother was a precipice (i.e., belonged to the earth). Others say Ku-waha-ilo, had neither father nor mother, but dwelt in the far-off heavens. (This probably meant that he lived beyond the most distant boundary of the horizon.)
Two daughters were born. The first, Na-maka-o-ka-hai, was born from the breasts of Haumea. Pele was born from the thighs.
After this the brothers and sisters were given life by Haumea. Ka-moho-alii, the shark-god, was born from the top of the head. He was the elder brother, the caretaker of the family,
always self-denying and ready to answer any call from his relatives. Kane-hekili, Kane who had the thunder, was born from the mouth. Kauwila-nui, who ruled the lightning, came from the flashing eyes of Haumea. Thus the family came from the arms, from the wrists, the palms of the hands, the fingers, the various joints, and even from the toes. A modern reader would think that Haumea as Mother Earth threw out her children in the natural outburst of earth forces, but it is extremely doubtful if the old Hawaiians had any such idea. Yet the expression that Haumea was a precipice might imply a misty feeling in that direction.
The youngest of the family, Hiiaka-in-the-bosom-of-Pele, was born an egg. After she had been carefully warmed and nourished by Pele, she became a beautiful child. When she grew into womanhood she was the bravest, the most powerful, except Pele, and the most gentle and lovable of all the sisters.
The names of the members of the household of fire are worth noting as revealing the Hawaiian recognition of the different forces of nature. Some said there were forty sisters. One list gives only four. They were almost all called "The Hiiakas." Ellis in 1823 said the name meant "cloud holder." Fornander says it means "twilight bearer." Hii conveys the idea of
lifting on the hip and arm so as to make easy. Aka means usually "shadow," and pictures the long shadows of the clouds across the sky as evening comes. There is really no twilight worth mentioning in the Hawaiian Islands and Hiiaka would be better interpreted as "lifting sunset shadows," or holding up the smoke clouds while their shadows fall over the fires of the crater, conveying the idea of firelight shining up under smoke clouds as they rise from the lake of fire.
The Hiiakas were "shadow bearers." There were eight well-known sisters:
Hiiaka-kapu-ena-ena (Hiiaka-of-the-burning-tabu), known also as Hiiaka-pua-ena-ena (Hiiaka-of-the-burning-flower) and also as Hiiaka-pu-ena-ena (Hiiaka-of-the-burning-hills).
Hiiaka-i-ka-poli-o-Pele (Hiiaka-in-the-bosom-of-Pele), who was known also as the Young Hiiaka.
Some of the legends say that Kapo was one of Pele's sisters. Kapo was a vile, murderous,
poison-goddess connected with the idea of "praying to death," and in the better legends is dropped out of the Pele family. There were eleven well-known brothers:
Kane-pohaku-kaa (Kane-rolling-stones, or The-earthquake-maker).
Ka-poha-i-kahi-ola (Explosion-in-the-place-of-life, i.e., fountains of bursting gas in the living fire).
Ke-ua-a-ke-po (The-rain-in-the-night, or The-rain-of-fire-more-visible-at-night).
The Thunderer and the Child-of-War were said to be hunchbacks. According to the different legends Pele had four husbands, each of whom lived with her for a time. Two of these were with her in the ancient homes of the Hawaiians, Kuai-he-lani and Hapakuela. These husbands were Aukele-nui-a-iku and Wahieloa. Two husbands came to her while she dwelt in Kilauea, her palace of fire in the Hawaiian Islands. One was the rough Kama-puaa, the other was Lohiau, the handsome king of Kauai.
[1. Pule anana.
2. See "Home, of the Ancestors" Part II., Legends of Ghosts and Ghost-Gods.]