Hawaiian Volcanoes

Hawaiian Volcanoes

[Illustration: Volcanic Eruption]

Molten rock erupts into the air, pouring tons of lava down the flank of the volcano.  The river of lava eventually flows to the sea where it explodes in great fiery bursts as it enters the water.  Welcome to the island of Hawai‘i.

A saying from ancient times was: Ka ‘ohu kāku o Kīlauea.” (The draping mists of Kīlauea.), which is explained to mean, The mists in the crater of Kīlauea look like drapery along its cliffs.”[i]


Volcanoes on the Island of Hawai‘i—An Overview

The island of Hawai‘i was formed by six volcanoes, including the submerged Mahukona Volcano off the northwest shore, and five volcanoes above sea level: Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Kohala, Hualālai and Kīlauea.  Kīlauea Volcano is currently the most continuously active volcano on Earth, having covered more than 500 square miles (1,300 sq. km) with lava in the last 1,100 years, and erupting almost continuously since 1983.

Kīlauea and Mauna Loa Volcanoes are considered active, while Mauna Kea, Hualālai and Haleakalā volcanoes are considered dormant but not extinct.  The numerous other volcanoes of the Hawaiian Islands are considered extinct. 

Mauna Kea’s last eruption occurred about 4,500 years ago.  Mauna Loa erupted 36 times between 1843 and 1995, including eruptions in 1859, 1942, 1950, and 1975, and 1984. 

Beginning on May 12, 2002, Mauna Loa showed inflationary activity in its summit crater and outward spreading along a northeast rift (see below).  Historic eruptions of Hualālai Volcano include three eruptions between 800 and 1100, an eruption around 1300, and an eruption in the years 1800-1801.

Lava flows from Hualālai and Kohala volcanoes (along with coral deposits) have now buried most of Mahukona Volcano, including its summit (though a west rift zone remains prominent).  Mahukona Volcano has been extinct for about 410,000 years. 

Its summit once rose to more than 800 feet (244 m) above sea level, but sunk beneath the sea about 435,000 years ago. Researchers may now view the historic record of the subsidence of Hawai‘i Island by examining the stair-step pattern of sunken coral reefs on Mahukona’s southwest-facing and northwest-facing flanks.


The Legend of Pele

Pele, the legendary goddess of fire and volcanoes, is also the daughter of Wākea, the Sky Father, and Papa (Haumea), the Earth Mother.  Pele is a creator of mountains and islands, including the Hawaiian Islands.  She is also a destroyer and a burner of lands.

Legend has it that Pele’s island home was near Tahiti, but she was chased from there by her sister because she had slept with her sister’s husband.  Pele first took refuge on Ni‘ihau where she dug a crater home to protect her sacred fires.  Her sister followed her and used the sea to extinguish Pele’s fires. 

Pele fled again, and was chased from island to island, but each time her sister destroyed her home and chased her away until finally Pele was killed.  Upon death, Pele’s spirit was freed and she became a goddess, just as her sister became goddess of the sea.

According to legend, Pele protects her sacred fires today in Halema‘uma‘u Crater at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano on Hawai‘i Island.  Halema‘uma‘u means “House surrounded by the ‘ama‘u fern,” referring to the ferns that surround the volcanic crater.  These ferns are said to be the embodiment of the demi-god Kamapua‘a, who pursued Pele’s love but was rejected.

The battle between Pele and her sister continues today on the island of Hawai‘i’s southeast coast where the lava meets the sea in fiery explosions.  Pele is found everywhere that fire comes up through the earth to light the sky. 

It is said that wherever the ground is hot and steam hisses up from cracks in the earth, wherever the incandescent glow of molten rock and the smell of sulfur fill the air, wherever lava erupts in fiery fountains into the sky, “‘ae aia la ‘o Pele”—“there is Pele.”


Kino lau.

Many bodied.

Said of a god who was able to assume other forms, such as plant,

animal, fish, or human, at will.  Pele is referred to as akua kino lau because of her ability to change into a child, a beautiful maiden,

a plain matron, or a very old woman.

                                                                        (Pukui: 1803-194)


[Illustration: Pele]

[i]p. 163, Pukui, Mary Kawena.  ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings.  Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1983.  Proverb 1512.