Arthur Johnsen’s painting of Pele won the Volcano Art Center competition in 2003 and is now displayed at Volcano National Park.

Arthur Johnsen’s painting of Pele won the Volcano Art Center competition in 2003 and is now displayed at Volcano National Park.

According to Hawaiian myths, the creator of the Hawaiian Islands is the goddess Pele.

There are several versions of Pele’s story. In all, she has many siblings – up to five sisters and seven brothers! In one legend, Pele lived in Honua-Mea, part of what is now Tahiti, and longed to travel. She borrowed a canoe from her brother, the king of the sharks, and sailed northwest with some of her siblings. (In other versions, their jealous older sister drives Pele and her siblings from their home.)

After much travel, Pele arrives at what is now Hawaii and uses her Pa’oa (a big stick) to strike deep into the earth. She digs several “fire pits” that create the volcanoes of Hawaii. Pele is later killed by her jealous older sister and becomes a goddess on the islands. She lives in the Halema’uma’u crater at the summit of Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth.

Many have claimed to see Pele wandering the islands, saying that she constantly travels over her domain, much like the lava flows. She appears as a tall, beautiful young woman or a very old, frail woman. She is often accompanied by a white dog and likes to test those who sight her. Those who pass the test are rewarded, but those who steal from or disturb her home are cursed.

-Tiffany Rhoades
Program Developer
Girl Museum Inc.

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