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Recently, I watched a webinar that discussed Hawaiian stories and traditions. Hosted by the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, this webinar told the story of Pele and her journey towards creating a home for her and her siblings in the Hawaiian Islands.

Pele: A Goddess of Hawai'i

Pele is the goddess of volcanoes, fire, and the creator of the Hawaiian islands. 

Tūtū (grandmother) Pele also created geographical salt waters and peninsulas in Hawaiian culture. Legend says that she resides in Hawaii’s most active volcano, the summit of Kīlauea on the Big Island. 

Pele’s sister Hi’iaka is the goddess of Hula. 

Traditional hula celebrates the Hawaiian deities and their connection to Mother Earth. These dances, chants, and songs sometimes went on for days. 

Coconut bras and grass skirts are modern Hula attire.  

Traditional Hawaiian Hula outfits

Yes, the beloved Lilo and Stitch is partially to blame for spreading misinformation. Hula dancers actually wear ‘pa’u’ (skirt) or kapa (bark cloth) and pāʻū ma ōlō (blouse). Men also wear skirts, which are called malo

Women have agency and power in Native Hawaiian stories. 

In most of these stories and traditions, women are deemed sacred and powerful. In some stories, Hi’iaka encountered spirits, humans, and ghosts who needed her help.

Same-sex relationships are normalized in Hawaiian culture.

Even though same-sex marriage in Hawai’i officially passed in 2013, their history hasn’t discriminated against it. In fact, same-sex couples were cherished and celebrated! Hi’iaka is actually known as a Queer Hawaiian goddess.

Words are important and have power.

In a lot of her travels, Hi’iaka didn’t have any weapons. So, she uses her voice and intuition to defend herself. In a lot of these Hawaiian stories, one of the common themes is that words have power.

Makawalu literally means “eight eyes” and it equates to a lot of Hawaiian cultures and practices.

Sometimes makawalu describes the eight islands and the stories behind each of them. 

Women could not eat certain foods like bananas, pork, and coconuts because they resemble the phallic symbolism of these male gods. 

However, Pele and her followers rejected these teachings and practices. 

Do not take rocks or sand home from Hawai’i. 

Native Hawaiians believe you’ll suffer from Pele’s Curse, meaning you’ll have bad luck until you return the item. Plus, why would you want to mess with a volcano goddess, anyway? 

The Kilauea summit in Hawai'i

When visiting Kīlauea, do so respectfully. 

For many Hawaiians, Pele is an aumakua, a family god/ancestor. Aumakuas can manifest into physical objects like plants and animals. Pele is deeply respected, and it’s customary for anyone visiting this sacred land to ask for her permission. You can do this by offering her fruits, plants, and vegetables at Kīlauea’s crater.


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