Pele Legends in Hawaii

Pele, the goddess of fire, features in many Hawaiian legends, most of which showcase her fiery nature. Here are two, one used to explain the curious appearance of certain flowers, and another a cautionary tale about the consequences of stealing her lava rocks.

Kaua‘i Love Flowers

Naupaka shrubs have light green, somewhat waxy leaves and distinctive white flowers; they look like half flowers with petals missing. One species grows along the coast, another in the mountains. Several Hawaiian legends explain their unique appearance.

Close up of white-petaled naupaka flowers in the Oahu mountains.
The mountain variety of naupaka flower. Photo © Eric Broder Van Dyke/123rf.

One legend tells of Pele being so jealous that she turned two lovers into the plant, sending one to the mountains and one to the coast. Legend says that since they were soul mates, the flowers are incomplete, and when they are brought together they form a whole.

A Kaua‘i legend tells of the lovers Nanau and Kapaka, who broke a hula kapu (taboo) the night before their graduation. It’s said they fled across Limahuli Stream and passed Maniniholo Cave while chased by their kumu (teacher). When they reached Lumahai Beach, Nanau fled to the cliffs and Kapaka hid in a beach cave called Ho‘ohila. As the teacher approached the cliffs, Kapaka tried to block the kumu so her lover could escape. The kumu was enraged and killed Kapaka, continuing to chase Nanau. Eventually, Nanau was also struck dead, and later that day fishermen at Lumahai discovered a plant they’d never seen before growing where Kapaka had died. The kumu noticed the same plant growing where Nanau had died.

Another Pele legend says the goddess was enamored with a young man who was greatly devoted to his lover. No matter what she did, he remained loyal to his lover. Pele was angered and chased the young man into the mountains, throwing molten lava at him. Pele’s sisters saw this happen, and to save him they changed him into half of a naupaka flower and sent him to the mountains. Pele went after his young lover and chased her toward the ocean. Again, Pele’s sisters stepped in and changed her into the beach naupaka. It is said that if the mountain and the beach naupaka are reunited, the young lovers will be together again.

Don’t Take the Lava Home!

Legend has it that taking lava rock from Hawaii will bring you bad luck. Pele, the goddess of fire, does not like when her rocks leave Hawaii.

Every year Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park receives lava rocks returned to them by mail with notes of explanation handwritten by the recipients of bad luck. I am not saying either way whether or not I think this legend holds true, but I can say, it’s best not to take the rock.

Plants push up through the barren landscape of the Kileaua Iki Crater.
Along the floor of the Kilauea Iki Crater. Photo © Maria Luisa Lopez Estivill/123rf.

If you so happen to take something and want to send it back, you can send it to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. They have a pile of them. If you want your rock to return with a ceremony of forgiveness, with just a $15 donation you can send your rock to Rainbow Moon (Attn: Lava Rock Return, P.O. Box 699, Volcano, HI 96785). Your rock will be returned to its source wrapped in a ti leaf. In addition, Rainbow Moon will happily send you an email to confirm that your rock was returned appropriately.

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