Sacred Texts  Pacific  Index  Previous  Next 



MOUNT HUALALAI is on the western side of the island Hawaii. It has been announced as an extinct volcano because few signs of volcanic life appear at present; but in the year 1801 there was a very violent eruption from the foot of the mountain, and the expectation of future action is so strong that scientists classify Hualalai as "active."

Ellis, writing in 1824, says: "This eruption of 1801 poured over several villages, destroyed a number of plantations and extensive fish-ponds, filled up a deep bay twenty miles in length, and formed the present coast. An Englishman who saw the eruption has frequently told us that he was astonished at the irresistible impetuosity of the torrent. Stone walls, trees, and houses all gave way before it. Even large masses or rocks of ancient lava, when surrounded by the fiery stream, soon split into small fragments and falling into the burning mass appeared to melt again while borne by it down the mountain side.

{p. 147}

Numerous offerings were presented and many hogs were thrown into the stream to appease the anger of the gods, by whom they supposed it was directed, and to stay its devastating course. All seemed unavailing until one day King Kamehameha went to the flowing lava, attended by a large retinue of chiefs and priests, and as the most valuable offering he could make, cut off part of his own hair which was always considered sacred and threw it into the torrent. In a day or two the lava ceased to flow. The gods, it was thought, were satisfied. The people attributed this escape to the influence of Kamehameha with the deities of the volcanoes."

There are several very interesting "blowholes" in this lava. When the lava struck the waves, the surface and sides were hardened, but the red molten mass inside rolled on into the sea. Thus many sea-caves were formed, in to which waves beat violently with every incoming tide. If the shore end of a cave broke open, a fine out let was made for the torrents which were hurled up through the opening in splendid fountains of spray.

The account in the Kuokoa, a newspaper published in the native language, in 1867, adds to the story of the foreigner the element of superstition, and is practically as follows:

Pele began to eat Hue-hue, a noted breadfruit[1]

[1. Native ulu = Artocarpus incisa.]

{p. 148}

forest owned by Kamehameha. She was jealous of him and angry because he was stingy in his offerings of breadfruit from the tabu grove of Hue-hue. This was the place where the eruption broke out.

After she had destroyed the breadfruit grove, she went in her river of fire down to the seashore to take Kamehameha's fish-ponds. She greatly desired the awa fish with the mullet in the fish-pond at Kiholo, and she wanted the aku or bonita in the fish-pond at Ka-ele-hulu-hulu. She became a roaring flood, widely spread out, hungry for the fish.

Kamehameha was very much ashamed for the evil which had come upon the land and the destruction of his fish-ponds. Villages had been overwhelmed. Several coconut[1] groves had been destroyed, and lava land was built out into the sea.

There were no priests who could stop this a-a eruption by their priestly skill. Their powers were dulled in the presence of Pele. They offered pigs and fruits of all kinds, throwing them into the fire. They uttered all their known incantations and prayers. They called to the au-makuas (ancestor ghost-gods), but without avail.

Kamehameha sent for Ka-maka-o-ke-akua

[1. Cocos nucifera.]

{p. 149}

(The-eye-of-the-god), one of the prophets of Pele, and said: "You are a prophet of Pele. I have sent for you because I am much distressed by the destruction of the land and the ponds by the sea. How can 1 quiet the anger of Pele?"

The prophet bowed his head for a time, then, looking up, said, "The anger of the god will cease when you offer sacrifice to her."

The king said, "Perhaps you will take the sacrifice."

The prophet said: "From the old time even until now there has been no prophet or priest of the mo-o or dragon clan who has done this thing. It would not please the goddess. The high chief of the troubled land, with a prophet or priest, is the only one who can make peace. He must take his own offering to the fire as to an altar in a temple. Then the anger of the goddess will be satisfied and the trouble ended."

Kamehameha said: "I am afraid of Pele. Perhaps I shall be killed."

The prophet replied, "You shall not die."

The king prepared offerings and sacrifices for Pele and, as a royal priest, went to the place where the lava was still pouring in floods out of its new-born crater.

Kaahumanu, the queen, and many other high chiefs and chiefesses thought they would go and die with him if Pele should persist in punishing

{p. 150}

him. One of the high chiefesses, Ululani, had lost a child some time before. This child after death was given to Pele with sacrifices and ceremonies which would make it one of the ghost-gods connected with the Pele family.

A prophet told Kaahumanu: "The Pele who is in the front of this outburst of fire is not strange to us. It is the child of Ululani."

Kaahumanu took Ululani with her to the side of the lava flow.

There they saw the lava like a river of fire flowing toward the west, going straight down to the sea with leaping flames and uplifting fountains of smoke. There was a very strong flashing light breaking out at the front of the descending lava.

Ululani asked, "Who is that very strange fire in front of Pele?" The fire was active as if it had life in itself.

The prophet replied: "That is the child among the au-makuas. That is your first-born."

Then came great winds and a mighty storm. Houses were overturned and trees blown down.

Kamehameha and the prophet went up to the side of the lava and placed offerings and sacrifices in the flowing fire. They prayed to Pele, but the fire burned on. Kamehameha then cut some of the hair from his head and threw it in the fire as his last offering, thus giving himself

{p. 151}

to the god of fire. Then they came away and soon the fire went out.

It should be remembered that in recent years, when a lava flow came down on the city of Hilo, threatening its destruction, Princess Ruth, one of the last of the Kamehameha family, went from Honolulu to Hilo and up to the river of lava with the feeling that a Kamehameha who was under the especial protection of Pele could intercede for the welfare of the people. It is certain that she came at a very opportune time, for the eruption ceased in a day or so.


Next: XX. Kapiolani and Pele