The Curse of Pele: A Tourist Legend

A followup to my #FolkloreThursday article on the Saga of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanos and fire, and her sister Hiiaka.

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Some time in the early or mid 1980s, a package arrived at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, containing lava sand taken from Black Sands Beach in 1969. The woman who took the sand evidently loved the Hawaiian islands a lot, as she and her husband returned frequently, despite the gradually escalating mishaps that struck them every time:

1st time-Cut my foot
2nd time-Scraped my arm at airport
3rd time-Lost my hearing and broke eardrum on crater in Maui
4th time-Sprained two toes on cement steps
5th time-Cut my finger
6th time-Husband had heart attack and I fell twice-1st time broke my left elbow; 2nd fall broke my kneecap in two places and crushed it.

Finally, in 1982, our two unlucky tourists saw a display at Volcano House, the historical hotel on the edge of Kilauea volcano, traditionally said to be Pele’s dwelling place. This display showcased letters from other tourists who had suffered the Curse of Pele: bad luck that struck them after they had taken lava rocks from Pele’s volcano. All these victims returned what they had taken, in hopes of lifting the curse. And so this couple did, too. I hope their future trips to the islands went better.

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The Saga of Pele and Hiiaka: New article on the #FolkloreThursday Blog

1891 kilauea

I have another article on the #FolkloreThursday blog! This one tells the saga of the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele and her sister Hiiaka.

This one especially struck me because I started the research soon after Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman movie came out. That movie was a big sensation among (especially) female action movie and comic fans: finally, we have a movie of our own! Everyone loved the strong portrayals of woman by Gal Godot, Robin Wright, and even (in a minor, but not completely fluff, role) Lucy Davis as Steve Trevor’s secretary Etta Candy.

And then I started reading about Pele and Hiiaka and I realized — Hawaiian mythology has had this all along! The women in this saga — both major and minor characters — rule their own lives, with all the good and bad that this entails. It was a pleasure to discover it, and a joy to share it with other folklore aficionados.

A fiery-tempered, jealous deity; passionate friendship and love; brave warriors on a quest. These are elements of great myths and sagas from all over the world, but the saga of the volcano goddess Pele and her sister Hiiaka is special: it is a saga of powerful, self-actuated women. As John Charlot wrote, the Pele saga is “among the fullest, most interesting characterizations [of women] in world literature.”

In addition to the fascinating story, one of the best parts for me was discovering the hula and chant, Ke Ha`a Ala Puna, which commemorates one episode of the saga. I included a performance of the hula in the post.

Read about the saga here.

Enjoy!