Episode 93: Where Fire Meets Legend: Discover the Legend of Pele in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

by | Jun 28, 2023


In this episode of Hawaii’s Best, host Bryan Murphy is joined by Andrew Fowers from Shaka Guide to delve into the captivating Hawaiian Legend of Pele, the goddess of fire, lightning, wind, and volcanoes. They discuss the legend’s deep cultural significance, its impact on Hawaiian customs, as well as some interesting stories associated with Pele.

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Bryan and Andrew first explore the story of the ‘Curse of Pele,’ a tale about the wrath of Pele on those who disrespect her and her possessions by taking rocks or sand from the Hawaiian islands. They emphasize the importance of respecting local customs and the environment when visiting Hawaii, or any culture foreign to oneself.

The conversation shifts to the story of the Ohia Lehua tree. Andrew shares the fascinating legend of how Pele, out of jealousy and love, killed a couple, Ohia and Lehua, and turned them into a tree and its flowers, respectively.

They discuss the importance of the Ohia Lehua tree to the Hawaiian ecosystem and its significance in the cultural traditions, as well as the current threat faced by this tree due to a spreading fungus, rapid Ohia death.

Andrew concludes the episode with a brief explanation of how to see lava today, recommending a visit to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and suggesting the best times and places to observe the magnificent work of Pele. Bryan encourages listeners to check out Shaka Guide’s tour for the Volcanoes National Park.

If you want to delve deeper into the rich Hawaiian culture and its captivating legends, be sure to tune in to this enlightening episode!

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Legend of Pele

Legend of Pele

[00:00:00] Bryan Murphy: Well, since you're listening to this podcast, chances are you love Hawaii. And I think it's easy to agree that Hawaii is one of the most beautiful and special places in all the world. In addition to Hawaii's beauty, sunsets, resorts, drinks, and you know, it is deep in rich history, culture, and legends. And today we were discussing.

[00:00:22] Probably one of the most epic legends of all time, Pele, Hawaii's goddess of fire and volcanoes. This is one that you're not going to want to miss. So stay tuned. Let's cue the intro. Aloha. Welcome to Hawaii's Best. Here you'll learn what to know before traveling as we discover Hawaiian culture, local businesses, and more.

[00:00:44] And the experiences that make Hawaii one of the most incredible places in the world. And now your host, Brian Murphy. Welcome to another episode of Hawaii's Best where we talk about all things Hawaii. My name is Brian Murphy, the owner of Hawaii's Best. And [00:01:00] today I am joined with one of my good friends, Andrew Fowers, the co founder and CEO of Shaka Guide.

[00:01:08] Andrew, what's up, man? How you doing? Aloha. Aloha. So good to see you again. Yeah. Thank you. Glad to be on the podcast here. Maybe you could fill in those listening, just a brief overview of what Shotgun is all about. Yeah, thank you so much. So we started a company, it's been over 15 years really, but what we do is we help tell stories about the places in Hawaii as people are driving and walking.

[00:01:38] And how we do that is through an app called Shaka Guide that as visitors are cruising the island and, you know, checking out fun spots, uh, beaches, things to do, we have this Shaka Guide app that actually directs them around the island, telling them stories along the way, as well as helpful tips about things to check out, what to do, and also [00:02:00] safety about what to avoid when you're traveling.

[00:02:03] So. I love storytelling. I love, especially the stories of Hawaii. Currently we have four different apps, one for each island, 20 tours in total that basically crisscross every single part of the island. Those are available on the app store for download. Um, and there is a purchase per tour, but what's cool about the tours is there's no advertising.

[00:02:28] They are just straight up, highly researched. Content. We take a lot of pride in Shaka Guide that the stories are accurate and up to date, especially for culture, legends, folklore, and things that relate to Hawaii, we want to make sure that everything that we share with our visitors is accurate. And so I'm really happy to, you know, kind of come on the podcast today and maybe share some of those stories with the listeners.

[00:02:59] Yeah, I think that's [00:03:00] great because there's so much love and respect for the islands that it would be a disservice to not talk about these stories because it is so ingrained into what Hawaii is and I think what you guys have done so well is You've not only told these stories, but you've told them in a way that, that gives the respect and the honor that these stories and legends deserve.

[00:03:26] Definitely. Yeah. Me personally, I'm not one to get on the tour bus and like do the tour. That's just not my. You know, personality. I love being able to like get out there on my own. That's really what attracted me to ShakaGuide apps when we're on Maui and driving through Lahaina town and you have a, you have a set destination in mind, like, Hey, I want to go to, you know, that spot or this spot, but every single.

[00:03:52] Island, there's so much stuff along the way that you don't even realize is, is so historic or has so much [00:04:00] depth and, and, and culture behind it that you just kind of drive right past it. And I think exactly, you know, shocker guy does a great job of just kind of getting you, getting you to your destination safely, but also, you know.

[00:04:11] Talking story along the way. And, um, that's what we're doing today. We're talking about the goddess Pele. And I think for those of you listening, you've probably have heard Pele in the news these past couple of years with a few pretty major eruptions. And even recently she's, you know, decided to make an appearance again.

[00:04:30] I mean, if we're thinking about Pele, first off, we need to understand that for many people, she's very much real and alive. And for other people, this is a legend and a folklore, but for other people, this is a real fact and something that they. Really believe in is that there is a life force in these islands and it's governed and it's controlled by the goddess of fire, Pele.

[00:04:57] And so just the caveat here is [00:05:00] I respect her. I respect the stories. I also understand that there's many different interpretations and different versions of the story of Pele. And so the stories that we're sharing here have been researched and cross referenced. To try to give the best interpretation of Pele, the goddess of fire.

[00:05:21] Today, we're going to be going over three different stories that I personally really enjoy. The first story we're going to be going over is talking about Pele and Hiyaka. Basically, this story talks about how the Kilauea volcano was created. The second story is about the curse of Pele, giving a couple of references from modern times.

[00:05:46] The third story we're going to be going over is the story about Pele and the Ohia Lehua tree. So Brian, where should we start? We start with the first story and we're going to play a bit of that [00:06:00] story right now. So take a listen.

[00:06:33] The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is not only an area rich with history and geology, but also Hawaiian myths and legends, with Pele, the goddess of fire, lightning, and volcanoes. As the center of them all, Pele came from a family of siblings who each had a role to play in the shaping of the Earth. Her many brothers were each named after a destructive force in nature, but Pele's favorite [00:07:00] sibling was her little sister, Hi'iaka.

[00:07:03] It is said that Pele brought Hi'iaka with her to the Big Island in the form of an egg from her homeland in Tahiti, and in Pele's warm embrace, the egg was incubated and hatched. Though Pele's power often left nothing but destruction. Hiʻiaka, on the other hand, was gentle and kind, growing forests where Pele's hot lava cooled.

[00:07:27] Pele and Hi'iaka love the hula, and live together happily in their volcano home. However, though happy and kind at times, Pele can be very moody, jealous, and violent, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Volcanic eruptions are known to represent Pele's anger, or maybe they're just molten hot flashes.

[00:07:53] Either way, if anybody offends her, she will attack the person with molten lava. So I don't know [00:08:00] about you, but like I said before, I do not want to get on Madame Pele's bad side. So

[00:08:13] there you have like a on Pele and Hiyaka. Uh, interesting sibling dynamics and in a minute, we're going to hear this next story, how these sibling dynamics start to have a little bit of an issue, especially over love. And Pele is a very jealous lover. And so let's listen to this next part here. According to Hawaiian legend, the Kilauea crater was created by Pele and Hi'iaka.

[00:08:46] As the story goes, one day Pele fell into such a deep sleep. That her spirit separated from her body. And while her spirit wandered, she heard the most beautiful music of a nose flute.[00:09:00]

[00:09:08] Pele's spirit traveled from island to island in search of the maker of this heavenly music. Finally, she came to Kaua'i. Where she found Lohiao, a handsome young prince playing his flute, transforming herself into a young and very beautiful woman. Peli approached Lohiao and won over his heart. The couple then spent the next several days together.

[00:09:34] Back at home, Hi'iaka began to be worried over Peli's lifeless body. Finally, Peli awoke from her spirit journey and told her sister what had happened and how she yearned to be together with Lohiao again. But, Peli could not leave her volcanic fires unattended, or she would die. So, she asked Hi'iaka to go to Kauai and bring Lohiau to her.[00:10:00]

[00:10:00] Peli even gave Hi'iaka a strict deadline of just 40 days and instructed her not to fall in love with the handsome Lohiau. Hi'iaka agreed as long as Peli would protect her beloved ohia forests while she was away. Hi'iaka's journey was perilous to say the least. having to combat many monsters and demons along the way.

[00:10:24] However, Hi'iaka kept her sister's interest in mind and continued until she found Lohiau. But by that point, forty days had already passed. Pelli became impatient and jealous, thinking that her sister had betrayed her and seduced Lohiau. In her wrath, Pelli set fire to Hi'iaka's forest and burned it down.

[00:10:51] But Hi'iaka had in fact kept her promise to her sister and returned with Lohiau, as asked. When [00:11:00] Hi'iaka saw what Pele had done to her precious forest, in anger and retaliation, she embraced Lohiau in full sight of Pele. At the summit of Kilauea, Pele became furious with jealousy and heaved molten lava at them, burying Lohiau deep beneath the rapid lava flow,

[00:11:24] Hi'iaka regretting what she had done. started to dig furiously, hoping that she might be able to recover the body of Lohiao. Huge rocks flew as she continued digging deeper and deeper, and in the nick of time, Hi'iaka's older brother stopped her from going any further. For if she had kept digging, the water would have come in and killed Peli by putting out her fire.

[00:11:49] So this, according to the Kupuna, the keepers of Hawaiian legend, Is how the great Kilauea caldera came to be. And the moral of the story [00:12:00] is always keep your promises and never flirt with your sister's boyfriend. Especially if she throws molten lava.

[00:12:12] So Andrew, is this kind of like where the Paley that we know, this is kind of like one of those catalyst moments, right? This kind of this, this jealous heart. Yeah. Yes, Pele is a very jealous person in all folklore and all stories. And so here we have Pele's true character kind of coming out. She made an agreement with her sister.

[00:12:36] And once that deadline. Was exceeded. She got furious and I think it's so cool. The visual of this sense of betrayal from these two sisters. And if you were to actually go to the Kilauea caldera and see this massive, massive hole in the ground, I mean, the story totally ties it together [00:13:00] that you see this crater.

[00:13:02] being created out of a jealous heart because of a misunderstanding partially, but also this dynamics play between Hiyaka and Pele. And even to this day, there is lava in the caldera there. And it's what we call a lava lake. And so very interesting story and legend that I love to tell about the origin of the Kilauea volcano.

[00:13:32] Pele's wrath is still very much alive and present. And this legend has been perpetuated in a different form in modern day. There's actually a curse that is surrounding the taking of lava rock from any Hawaiian island. It has been said that you will be cursed by Pele. If you do so, you know, I've heard of people who have taken a rock and, [00:14:00] and have felt that, that guilt, or maybe a little bit of that wrath and decided to like, I gotta, I gotta send this back and there's post office that, that just get.

[00:14:11] inundated with lava rocks. Is that true? Yeah, it actually is true. So visitors, they see this really black rock and some of them are very shiny and smooth and just very unique. And so naturally, there's a lot of curiosity, like, wow, I want to take some of this home with me. And then they start to hear about this legend and And what happens is they start to attribute the bad things in their life to maybe this lava rock.

[00:14:36] And actually, I kid you not, there was a news article just recently in the local newspaper here in Hawaii, how, you know, the post office is getting tons and tons of lava rock. And they're basically saying to stop sending them to the post office because what they do is they just put the zip code. And then they put the name to like Madame Pele, right.

[00:14:57] And, and the post office, you can [00:15:00] tell because you shake it and it's just rocks. So the moral of the story is here and we'll, we'll listen to another story here in a minute, but the idea is just, just don't take them to begin with. Right. And if you did take one, maybe a couple of years ago and you're like, okay, I need to give it back.

[00:15:15] It's time to plan another trip to Hawaii and go present them back to Madam Pele. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So what do you think, Brian? Do you think Pele is real? I think legends are there to guide us. And I think this legend of Pele kind of helps to identify or at least bring some understanding to what could possibly be there.

[00:15:37] Yeah, definitely. And what I like about this is it gives a certain respect for Pele and her possessions. What I really cringe about is when people disrespect Pele and the culture here in Hawaii, you know, there was a time when the lava was actually flowing into the ocean a few years [00:16:00] back and people could actually ride bikes out to see, you know, the lava flow.

[00:16:05] And you could actually get so close to it that there were stories about people actually roasting marshmallows and cooking hot dogs next to the lava flow because it was so hot. And this is seen as a major, a major offense against Pele and disrespectful, kind of funny at first, but to really understand the culture here.

[00:16:26] It's something to be respected. And so what I like about this story and the curse of Pele is it helps reinforce that Pele is one to be respected and one to be cautious of consequences and to obey those rules, those unsaid rules about respect for her and her possessions. I mean, you kind of already hit on it, but just in general, when, when traveling, no matter, I think no matter what culture you're traveling yourself into is to put yourself in the posture of, of a learner, [00:17:00] of, of someone who is wanting to ask questions and to understand and have that sense of empathy as well.

[00:17:08] Because who are we to go into a culture and try to change it or try to not even want to understand it and just have our own agenda. And I think this is such a great example of just kind of posturing yourself. Wherever you travel, we're talking about Hawaii. So no matter, you know, what you do or where you go, even talking about as simple as buying the right type of sunscreen, because that is important to, to the land, INA and just educating yourself on that because Hawaii, yes, technically part of the United States is it's really its own culture, its own world, and understanding that is.

[00:17:51] Super important and having these types of stories and hearing legend and super important because [00:18:00] not only will you have. An epic vacation or travel to Hawaii, but it'll be, there'll be so much more depth and more understanding that yes, you'll remember that that sunset or whatever, but more important that Hawaii will leave with you.

[00:18:16] It'll leave in your heart and having understanding of its culture will even deepen that. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. The last story we're going to talk about is. The relationship of Pele and Lehua Ohia tree. Now, just a quick little background on this Ohia Lehua tree. It is a very crucial tree to the Hawaiian Islands.

[00:18:41] When lava first erupts, it's black and barren and seemingly lifeless. But actually there is a native tree called the Ohia lehua tree that is able to be one of the first trees to come in and start populating itself and growing [00:19:00] on this very rough and harsh lava rock. What's interesting about this Ohelehua tree is it actually has pores in it that it can actually close and open.

[00:19:11] And this is really important because living next to a volcano, there is a bunch of harmful carbon dioxide and a bunch of. harmful molecules in the air that could actually suffocate the tree. What this lehua tree has been, you know, designed to do over these, uh, many years is it actually can close its pores in its leaves.

[00:19:33] And this protects it when there is an eruption and there's harmful chemicals in the air that it can continue to survive. What's also really important about this Le'ohea lehua tree is it has these beautiful red flowers that the native Apapane bird feeds on. This is a native Hawaiian bird that is actually very closely.

[00:19:56] Reliant on this tree [00:20:00] for its survival. So there's a lot of interplay here in the ecosystem for Hawaii. And so much of Hawaiian folklore and culture is actually based around respects. And our understanding of this ohi lehua tree, it's a very important tree to the Hawaiian culture. And this next story talks a little bit about how that tree came to be, and it's not what you expect.

[00:20:27] It's another love story, and I'll just leave it at that. There was once a young man named Ohia. His beautiful lover was named Lehua. Pele became attracted to the handsome Ohia, but he was completely devoted to Lehua and ignored Pele's advances. In a rage and out of jealousy, Pelly killed the lovers.

[00:20:50] Scolded by her sister, Pelly's hot temper cooled and she became remorseful for what she had done. With a heavy heart, she turned Ohia's body [00:21:00] into a tree and Lehua's body into the flowers of the tree. And in this way, Pelly helped join the lovers together forever. See, what I like about that is, see, Pele isn't all that bad.

[00:21:13] Well, she definitely has a conscience, right? Sometimes she makes, uh, rash decisions and I think we all do that at time. And what, you know, what I like is that the human part of her, you know, she's, she's a God, but she definitely makes mistakes and she tries to write it when she does. Yeah, not to mention that she killed both of them, but in a way, it's also a gift to the Hawaiian people by killing them.

[00:21:42] She joined them together and in the form of a tree that's. Memory lives on, but yes, there is a lot of death and destruction in these stories and in Pele and in a lot of the folklore and stories for Hawaii, but there's also a lot of love. [00:22:00] It's very interesting. You know, I've been storytelling about Hawaii for many, many years and it's always, uh, someone always dies and it's usually related to love.

[00:22:10] Um, and usually Pele is, is somewhere in that story, either she killed them or she was jealous of them. What I like about this is just the meaning of this lehua tree. Every year they have the Merry Monarch Festival out in Hilo, Hawaii. When they do that festival, actually, much of the beautiful tiaras and leis and much of what they're wearing is made of the ohia lehua flower.

[00:22:40] It's a very beautiful, has these long strands with a flower at the core of it. It's just a beautiful flower. That's important to, like I said, many of the birds and trees here. And just as a side note, this, uh, Ohia lehua tree is under attack right now. It's, there is a [00:23:00] very aggressive fungus that's called rapid Ohia death.

[00:23:05] That is somehow being spread by the wind, by people. We're not exactly a hundred percent sure of how this fungus is spreading, but what this fungus does, it actually suffocates the tree. And I told you this tree can open and close its pores, but that's for its leafs. This fungus actually attacks the bark of the tree and what.

[00:23:29] It does is it grows in the bark and as a result, the tree cannot properly send water to its higher branches and eventually the tree dies. And so there's just been a huge amount of trees and these old, old Hohia trees that have been, you know, growing for 50 years or plus they're starting to die. And so there's a big effort right now in Hawaii to try and preserve them.

[00:23:54] Is that something that is found just on the island of Hawaii or throughout? It's found on all the Hawaiian [00:24:00] islands. I've been hiking in the highest peaks of Oahu here, and you'll see these beautiful old Ohia trees. There are also a huge Ohia forest in the Volcanoes National Park in the surrounding area.

[00:24:13] This actually started in Big Island, but now it's made its way to all of the islands, especially impacting the Big Island. So it's something we're trying to work on. Maybe, maybe we could ask Peli to help us out. I mean, she's solved a lot of other problems. Maybe, I don't know if lava will help or something, but yeah.

[00:24:35] I mean, she, she created this one, so maybe she can help save it. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. Andrew, this was not only educational, but I think for those listening and even myself just, you know, offering even more depth into Hawaii and it's rich culture. So thank you so much for your time and providing these incredible stories.

[00:24:55] Yeah, thank you. I love sharing them. In addition to learning about Pele and [00:25:00] the stories about Pele, I just wanted to briefly mention how is it that someone can actually go and see lava today? Well, first a little bit about the backstory prior to 2018, there was lava in this lake right next to the volcanoes visitor center for some 30 years, just this huge lava lake, you know, bubbling lava for many, many years.

[00:25:24] But in 2018, there was a huge eruption that affected the lava lake. So basically the entire lava lake drained out. And then for like two something years from 2018 to 2020, there was basically just a little pool of water in this huge crater called the Kilauea caldera or the Halema'uma'u crater. And so what's this interesting in 2020, you know, of all the years, right, there was a huge eruption that actually took place inside the crater.

[00:25:55] And then all of a sudden, this little kind of cesspool of water turned into this massive lava [00:26:00] lake. And so now it continues to erupt up to this point. So since December of 2020, it continues to erupt lava and the lava lake level has stabilized. So there is a. Kind of a black layer on top and then there's this like huge pool of, uh, hot lava underneath.

[00:26:19] So the best way to go see this lava is actually to go to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park yourself. Right next to the visitor center, just about, uh, you know, five minute drive. There used to be this, uh, Jaguar Museum where you could go and see this lava lake with a really nice overlook. But during that...

[00:26:39] Recent eruption. There's actually been a lot of damage to that area. There's cracks in the cement and whatnot. So that whole visitor center has been shut down. The best way to see the lava is just prior to that, you know, older Jagra museum, there's an overlook called the Kilauea overlook. And you basically can't miss it because the road ends.

[00:26:59] You [00:27:00] can't go any further. But in this Kilauea overlook, you can actually see the Hale Maumau crater. It is a little bit distant. So the best way to see it is actually at nighttime. And the reason it's cool at night is because there's this kind of smoke and steam that comes up from the crater. And you can actually see that red glow of the lava reflected on that smoke.

[00:27:24] So it just makes it a really cool kind of eerie, you know, lava feeling from the crater there. So yeah, totally recommend it. If you have chance, go and actually see Pele's handiwork. Drive out to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Welcome to check out our tour for the Volcanoes National Park. Not everyone has the chance to drive, listen to this.

[00:27:46] Tour in the Volcanoes National Park. So I just wanted to give everyone a little sample of some of the storytelling that we do here at Shaka Guide. I hope you enjoyed it. Awesome. Well, guys, thank you so much again for listening to another episode. And if you've made [00:28:00] it this far, just want to ask you to just take a couple extra minutes and leave a review and rating below.

[00:28:05] That has really helped the show quite a bit. We are one of the top Hawaii podcasts out there right now. And, um, that is thanks to you. So I just totally appreciate you and. Being a part of this community. Also, we want to hear from you. So go to speakpipe. com slash Hawaii's best, and you can leave any questions that you might have for myself or Andrew, or maybe some stories that you would like to hear about.

[00:28:30] Also, I'd love to hear just even some of your experiences in Hawaii. So go to speakpipe. com slash Hawaii's best to do that. Thank you so much for your valuable time. I appreciate you. Until next time, be well. Aloha.

[00:28:47] Mahalo for listening to this episode of Hawaii's Best. To stay up to date on future episodes, please subscribe and visit us at hawaiisbesttravel. com[00:29:00]

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