Mount Kilauea: Burning With the Fire of Hawaiian Mythology

The Big Island is home to several areas of volcanic activity, including one of the world’s most active volcanoes: Mount Kilauea. This astounding location has a long history of erupting, and an even longer history within Hawaiian folklore. In fact, native Hawaiians might lead you to believe that the characters of this folklore are the very same forces that drive such scorching activity both to this day and in centuries long sincepast.
Kilauea has been in a state of constant activity for hundreds of years, but violent eruptions are far and few between. The earliest eruption on written record was said to occur back in 1820. Even before notes of the eruptions were transcribed, the volcano had a history of reigning fire. Sometime in 1790, Kilauea is said to have erupted forcefully, killing a group of Hawaiian warriors and their families. These same warriors were reportedly followers of Keōua Kuahuula, who was the last chief on the Big Island to hold out against Kamehameha the 1st’s unification of the island of Hawaii, on his way to conquering all of the Hawaiian Islands. Another noteworthy early nineteenth century individual associated with this impressive volcano is Admiral Lord Byron. Byron, who was the cousin of the famous poet of the same name, (minus the “Admiral”) spent some time at Kilauea, camping at a coordinates that can still be found today known as Byron’s Ledge. We might assume that this more recent lord felt similar to his elder cousin, retreating to the slopes of Kilauea because he “love[s] not man the less, but Nature more. One reason to reconsider that love of nature when it comes to volcanoes happened in the early twentieth century. One of Kilauea’s most powerful eruptions occurred during this era after water that had accumulated in the Halema’uma’u Crater drained into the volcano below. The ensuing clash of magma and water created an enormous explosion that was said to have cast volcanic ash, steam, and fiery rock projectiles as far as twelve miles into the Hawaiian sky. This amazing display of Mother Nature’s power occurred in 1924, and is surely reminiscent of similar events that precede recorded Hawaiian history. When one considers this fact, it’s easy to understand why the Hawaiian people held this — and the other big island volcanoes– with such high respect. Having seen mother-nature’s fury first hand, their natural reaction was to attribute it to their gods, namely Pele, who has a long fiery history of activity throughout the islands. Pele, or the Hawaiian Volcano Goddess, was said to have been manifested in Kilauea. The volcano was thought to represent the actual body of this important Hawaiian deity. Certain lava formations even became associated with Pele’s physical attributes. Spatters of lava as they travel through the air take on a tear drop shape and sometimes harden before returning to land, retaining their form and becoming what are known as “Pele’s Tears.” When lava drips over itself, or spurts quickly through the air when it enters water, hair-like strands of volcanic glass are created, that you might be able to guess are referred to in Hawaii as “Pele’s Hair.” Pele’s legacy survives to this day in the form of these eruption products and photos of lava that sometimes seem to show Pele’s likeness within the blazing lava itself. Another physical sign of Pele and other Hawaiian gods’ actions are viewable at the previously mentioned Halemaʻumaʻu crater at Mount Kilauea. The Hawaiian rain god Kamapua’a, jealous of Pele’s amazing ability to demonstrate her power by causing fire to erupt forth from the ground, caused ‘ama ‘uma ‘u or a specific type of Hawaiian fern (which the Halemaʻumaʻu is named for), to cover the sides of the mountain. Choked by the smoke that was now trapped by the covering of lush foliage, Pele was forced to emerge from below ground and expose herself to her rival. The two powerful deities immediately realized that an all out battle between the two of them would certainly result in their mutual destruction. The two wisely reached a truce, splitting the Big Island between each other with Pele retaining control of the leeward side of the island, and Kamapua’a gaining total control of the windward side. To this day, the geography of the Big Island is strikingly contrasting, perhaps lending a bit of validity to this imaginative bit of Hawaiian legend. The Big Island of Hawaii is truly a one of a kind location that any visitor to the Hawaiian Islands should take some time to explore. Mount Kiluea in particular is frequently the highlight of many a vacation experience. Tours of the volcano area are a great way to get a chance to see Pele in all of her magnificence. Seeing these amazing spectacles of fire and rock will surely leave you wondering exactly what else besides a supernatural force could inspire such a constant flow.

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