WHEN Pele came to the island Hawaii, seeking a permanent home, she found another god of fire already in possession of the territory. Ai-laau was known and feared by all the people. Ai means the "one who eats or devours." Laau means "tree" or a "forest." Ai-laau was, therefore, the fire-god devouring forests. Time and again he laid the districts of South Hawaii desolate by the lava he poured out from his fire-pits.
He was the god of the insatiable appetite, the continual eater of trees, whose path through forests was covered with black smoke fragrant with burning wood, and sometimes burdened with the smell of human flesh charred into cinders in the lava flow.
Ai-laau seemed to be destructive and was so named by the people, but his fires were a part of the forces of creation. He built up the
islands for future life. The process of creation demanded volcanic activity. The flowing lava made land. The lava disintegrating made earth deposits and soil. Upon this land storms fell and through it multitudes of streams found their way to the sea. Flowing rivers came from the cloud-capped mountains. Fruitful fields and savage homes made this miniature world-building complete.
Ai-laau still poured out his fire. It spread over the fertile fields, and the natives feared him as the destroyer giving no thought to the final good.
He lived, the legends say, for a long time in a very ancient part of Kilauea, on the large island of Hawaii, now separated by a narrow ledge from the great crater and called Kilauea-iki (Little Kilauea). This seems to be the first and greatest of number of craters extending in a line from the great lake of fire in Kilauea to the seacoast many miles away. They are called "The Pit Craters" because they are not hills of lava, but a series of sunken pits going deep down into the earth, some of them still having blowholes of sputtering steam and smoke.
After a time, Ai-laau left these pit craters and went into the great crater and was said to be living there when Pele came to the seashore far below.
In one of the Pele stories is the following
literal translation of the account of her taking Kilauea:
"When Pele came to the island Hawaii, she first stopped at a place called Ke-ahi-a-laka in the district of Puna. From this place she began her inland journey toward the mountains. As she passed on her way there grew within her an intense desire to go at once and see Ai-laau, the god to whom Kilauea belonged, and find a resting-place with him as the end of her journey. She came up, but Ai-laau was not in his house. Of a truth he had made himself thoroughly lost. He had vanished because he knew that this one coming toward him was Pele. He had seen her toiling down by the sea at Ke-ahi-a-laka. Trembling dread and heavy fear overpowered him. He ran away and was entirely lost. When he came to that pit she laid out the plan for her abiding home, beginning at once to dig up the foundations. She dug day and night and found that this place fulfilled all her desires. Therefore, she fastened herself tight to Hawaii for all time."
These are the words in which the legend disposes of this ancient god of volcanic fires. He disappears from Hawaiian thought and Pele from a foreign land finds a satisfactory crater in which her spirit power can always dig up everlastingly overflowing fountains of raging lava.