Pele and Poliahu
by Betty Fullard-Leo
PELE - Goddess of Fire.
Pele has survived as the best-known, most-revered goddess
of ancient times, but in legends, she was anything but
a kind and lovable being, and she had many competitors.
Among those generally considered her enemies were four
mythological maidens attired in luxurious white mantles,
the goddesses of the snow-covered mountains. Three of
these beauties have fallen into obscurity. Lilinoe was
known as both a goddess of Haleakala on Maui and as
a goddess of Mauna Kea. Her husband was thought to be
Nana-Nu'u, a survivor of a great flood who lived in
a cave on the slopes of Mauna Kea. Another snow maiden
of Mauna Kea, Waiau, was associated with Waiau Lake,
a glistening pool of water in a cinder cone on the mountain.
The third snow goddess, Kahoupokane, was associated
with Mount Hualalai. But it was Poliahu, a snow-goddess
who loved to cavort with mortals along the eastern cliffs
of Mauna Kea, who was Pele's primary nemesis.
One day, it is said, Poliahu and her friends had come
down from Mauna Kea to a grassy sloping hillside south
of Hamakua for holua sledding. Pele loved he'eholua,
the exhilarating race that took place on sleds with
runners set only six inches apart. A narrow piece of
matting attached to sticks lashed to the runners provided
a place for the racer to rest his chest. A racer held
the holua sled in his right hand as he ran pell-mell
to the crest of the downhill track, hurled himself upon
the sled, grabbing a hand-hold on the left side of the
sled, as well, and then plummeting down-slope toward
On this day, Pele appeared in the guise of a beautiful
young woman and the unsuspecting Poliahu welcomed her
to join in their sport. As the ground grew hotter and
hotter, Poliahu realized the beautiful stranger was
none other than Pele, her arch enemy. Pele called forth
fire from the depths of Mauna Loa, sending fire fountains
after Poliahu as the terrified goddess fled to the summit.
Red hot lava licked at the edges of Poliahu's white
mantle, but she grasped her robe and managed to escape.
Regaining her strength, she flung her white mantle
over the mountain peak. The grounds trembled, fire licked
the heavens, and the snow goddess unleashed snow from
frozen clouds overhead. Pele sent rivers of lava down
the hillside, which cooled and hardened so quickly it
choked the yawning chasms that spewed the molten rock
and drove the streams of lava underground into Kilauea
and Mauna Loa, but not before the land masses that comprise
Laupahoehoe and Onomea were formed.
From time to time, Pele continues to hurl fire and
lava from Mauna Loa and Kilauea, but legend says that
Poliahu always gains the upper hand in these battles.
She and the other snow goddesses keep the mountain tops
barren under their icy mantles, allowing melting streams
to form the rivers that feed the fertile valleys and
give the Hamakua Coast and North Kohala a green, misty
surrealistic beauty. Ironically, Pele's hot, lava-strewn
domain is limited to the southern part of the island
of Hawai'i, to much of the area now dotted with grand
resorts for sun-loving visitors.
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appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and
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