Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Did someone forget their offering to Pele?

Steam rises from the interior of Kilauea caldera in 2006

Following up on notes from Ron Schott (Kilauea Summit Activity) and an amusing headline juxtaposition noticed by Andrew Alden (Headline Funny), the news of the day is activity in the main summit caldera of Kilauea, Halema`uma`u. An explosion in the wall tossed chunks of old lava up to a cubic meter over an area of about 75 acres (sorry for mixing measurement methods), damaging some of the parking areas and trails near the caldera rim.

I am often fascinated by the intrinsic connection between earth events and regional religious beliefs. The native Hawaiians had an excellent understanding of the basic geological relationships of the islands in their stories of Pele's search for a home in the isolated islands in the middle of the Pacific. In a similar way, the legends of native Americans in southern Oregon explained the formation of Crater Lake more accurately than some early geological interpretations.

I love the Hawaiian islands, and visit them whenever I can. I am an unusual tourist I suppose, avoiding Waikiki and Honolulu as much as possible, and spending as much time as possible in the island interiors rather than the beach. A story I once assumed was very simple (shield; hot spot, lava) has become delightfully complex: shield evolution, new hot spot interpretations, giant mega-tsunamis and landslides, evolutionary mysteries with the honey creepers, ravens, hawks, owls, and nene, the Hawaiian goose, and incredible diversity of landscapes from tropical rainforests to alpine barrens. And, there is nothing in the world quite like standing next to flowing basalt.

Many Hawaiians take the story of Pele very seriously, and there is almost always an offering left on the crater rim of Halema`uma`u. I have enjoyed Pele's beautiful gifts, and intend to leave an offering of my own next time I get the chance to stand at the edge of her home on the Big Island.

For the latest information on Kilauea and the new flows on the eastern flank of Pu'u'O'o and their recent entry into the sea, check out


Silver Fox said...

Very neat lava photo! Doesn't Pele supposedly like an offering of gin? If so, that part of the myth must not date back very far.

Unknown said...

I thought gin was traditional, too (although I think the leis/flowers are tradition as well).

I wanted to make my own offering a few years ago (for all the rocks I've carried back home), so I carried a bottle out to the active flows and deposited the contents into the lava - of course, I had to mess with the tradition and used Guinness instead of gin. Dipped the bottle into the lava and ended up with a nice (but heavy) memory of the trip. And a lot of rocks in my office... mahalo, Pele.