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The Hawaiian language is full of beautiful words that roll off the tongue, often poetically describing the natural features and phenomena of the islands. One such word is Pele, which refers to both the Hawaiian volcano goddess and the lava she produces.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Hawaiian word for lava is Pele.

In this comprehensive article, we will dive deep into the origins and meanings behind Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. We’ll explore how Pele came to be associated with lava in Hawaiian culture and language. With over 3000 words, this in-depth piece covers the mythology, legends, and folklore around Pele and her connection to the volcanic forces that created the Hawaiian archipelago.

The Origins of Pele in Hawaiian Mythology

In Hawaiian mythology, Pele is the goddess of volcanoes, fire, lightning, and wind. She holds a significant place in the hearts and minds of the Hawaiian people, as she is believed to be the creator of the Hawaiian Islands. The word “Pele” itself means “lava” in the Hawaiian language, reflecting her association with volcanic activity.

Pele as a Goddess

Pele is often depicted as a powerful and fiery deity, capable of both creation and destruction. She is known for her volatile temper, which manifests in the form of volcanic eruptions. In Hawaiian folklore, it is said that Pele resides in the Halema’uma’u crater at the summit of the Kīlauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. The fiery glow emanating from the crater is believed to be a manifestation of her presence.

Pele’s Arrival in Hawaii

The legends surrounding Pele’s arrival in Hawaii vary, but most stories agree that she traveled from her homeland, Kahiki (possibly Tahiti or another Polynesian island). Some legends say that she arrived in a canoe, while others claim she emerged from a cave or was born from the union of sky and earth. Regardless of the specific details, Pele’s arrival marks the beginning of volcanic activity on the Hawaiian Islands.

The Battle with Namakaokaha’i

According to Hawaiian mythology, Pele had a fierce rivalry with her sister, Namakaokaha’i, the goddess of the sea. Their ongoing battle was characterized by volcanic eruptions and the creation of new land. Pele would send forth rivers of lava, only to have Namakaokaha’i extinguish them with her waves. This ongoing conflict symbolizes the constant interplay between fire and water, creation and destruction.

One of the most famous legends involving Pele and Namakaokaha’i is the story of the creation of the Big Island. As Pele traveled from island to island, she was constantly pursued by her sister. When she reached the Big Island, Pele dug her underground home in the Kīlauea volcano, creating a safe haven where she could continue her fiery battles with Namakaokaha’i.

Today, Pele continues to be revered by the Hawaiian people, who offer prayers and offerings to her in order to appease her fiery temper. The ongoing volcanic activity on the Big Island serves as a reminder of her power and presence. To learn more about Hawaiian mythology and the fascinating stories of Pele, visit

Pele and Her Association with Lava

Lava, the molten rock that flows from volcanoes, holds great significance in Hawaiian culture. It is deeply intertwined with the legends and beliefs surrounding Pele, the goddess of volcanoes. According to Hawaiian mythology, Pele is a powerful and volatile deity who controls the flow of lava. Her association with lava is rooted in the rich volcanic activity of the Hawaiian Islands, where eruptions and lava flows have shaped the landscape for centuries.

Pele as Goddess of Volcanoes

Pele is considered the supreme deity of volcanoes in Hawaiian folklore. She is revered as both a creator and destroyer, capable of causing eruptions and shaping the land with her fiery power. Pele is often depicted as a beautiful and fierce woman who resides in Halema’uma’u, the crater at the summit of Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Hawaiian people have a deep respect for Pele and believe that she must be appeased to prevent her wrathful eruptions.

Lava Flows Created by Pele

The lava flows created by Pele are awe-inspiring and have both positive and negative impacts on the Hawaiian Islands. On one hand, they contribute to the formation of new land and the expansion of the coastline. The lava flows also provide fertile soil for agriculture and create unique habitats for plants and animals. On the other hand, volcanic eruptions can be destructive, displacing communities, destroying infrastructure, and threatening lives. The flow of lava is unpredictable and can change course, posing challenges for residents and emergency response teams.

Offerings to Pele Before Lava Flows

Hawaiian tradition emphasizes the importance of making offerings to Pele before lava flows. These offerings, known as ho’okupu, are given as a sign of respect and to appease the goddess. They can include items such as flowers, food, and even traditional chants and prayers. The purpose of these offerings is to show gratitude for the land and seek Pele’s favor, hoping that she will guide the lava away from populated areas. Many locals and visitors alike participate in these rituals, recognizing the spiritual connection between Pele and the land.

Lava Terminology in the Hawaiian Language

The Hawaiian language has a rich vocabulary when it comes to describing lava, reflecting the close relationship between the people and the volcanic landscape of the islands. The term “lava” itself is commonly referred to as “Pāhoehoe” or “ʻAʻā” in Hawaiian, but there are other specific words and phrases that are used to describe different aspects of lava and its behavior.

Pele Specifically Referring to Lava

In Hawaiian mythology, Pele is the goddess of fire, lightning, wind, and volcanoes. When referring to lava, the term “Pele” is often used to specifically denote the molten rock that flows from volcanoes. It is believed that Pele controls the flow and formation of lava, and her presence is considered sacred by many Hawaiians. The use of the term “Pele” adds a spiritual and cultural dimension to the understanding and appreciation of lava.

Other Hawaiian Words for Lava

Aside from Pele, the Hawaiian language has other words that describe different types and formations of lava. One such term is “Pāhoehoe,” which refers to smooth, ropey lava that is often formed from slow-moving, low-viscosity flows. Another term is “ʻAʻā,” which describes rough, jagged lava with a blocky texture, typically formed from faster-moving, higher-viscosity flows. These words not only differentiate between the physical characteristics of lava but also provide a deeper understanding of its formation and behavior.

Poetic Uses of Lava Terminology

Within Hawaiian literature and poetry, lava terminology is often used metaphorically to convey deeper meanings and emotions. For example, the image of “Pāhoehoe” lava may be used to describe something smooth and graceful, while “ʻAʻā” lava may be used to depict something rugged or tumultuous. These poetic uses of lava terminology showcase the creativity and versatility of the Hawaiian language, allowing for a unique way of expressing ideas and emotions.

For more information about the Hawaiian language and its connection to lava, you can visit

Legends and Folklore Around Pele and Lava

The Hawaiian word for lava is “pāhoehoe,” which refers to the smooth, ropy texture of certain types of lava flows. The island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island, is home to some of the most active volcanoes in the world, including Kilauea and Mauna Loa. These volcanoes have shaped the landscape of the island and have been a significant part of Hawaiian culture for centuries.

Protecting Oneself from Pele’s Wrath

In Hawaiian mythology, Pele is the goddess of fire, lightning, wind, and volcanoes. She is believed to reside in Halema’uma’u Crater, located within the Kilauea Caldera. According to legends, Pele can be both benevolent and wrathful. To protect themselves from her fiery anger, Hawaiians have traditionally performed certain rituals and observances.

One such ritual is the offering of ʻōhelo berries and ti leaves to Pele. These offerings are made as a sign of respect and appeasement, in the hopes of preventing any misfortune or disaster. It is believed that Pele appreciates these gestures and may spare those who show reverence towards her.

Appeasing the Volcano Goddess

Another way Hawaiians seek to appease Pele is through the practice of hula and chant. Hula, a traditional Hawaiian dance, is often performed as an offering to the goddess. The movements and gestures of the dancers are believed to channel Pele’s energy and bring about harmony with the volcanic forces.

Chants, known as oli, are also used to honor Pele. These chants are recited with great respect and often include stories about Pele’s adventures and her power over the land. By sharing these stories and acknowledging Pele’s influence, Hawaiians maintain a deep connection with the volcano goddess.

Hawaiian Proverbs Related to Lava and Volcanoes

The significance of volcanoes in Hawaiian culture is reflected in various proverbs and sayings. One well-known proverb is “He aliʻi ka ʻāina, he kauwā ke kanaka,” which translates to “The land is a chief, man is its servant.” This proverb highlights the respect and reverence Hawaiians have for the land, recognizing its power and the need to live in harmony with it.

Another proverb related to volcanoes is “He pūkoʻa kani ʻāina,” which means “A coral rock that resounds throughout the land.” This proverb emphasizes the impact and influence of volcanic activity, as the sounds and vibrations of eruptions can be felt far and wide.

The Modern Legacy and Significance of Pele

Pele Today in Hawaiian Culture

Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes, continues to hold a significant place in Hawaiian culture today. She is revered as a powerful and unpredictable force of nature, embodying both creation and destruction. Many Hawaiians believe that she still actively shapes and influences the volcanic activity on the Big Island of Hawaii. This belief is evident in the rituals and offerings made to Pele by locals and visitors alike.

People from all over the world come to witness the awe-inspiring sight of lava flows and volcanic eruptions, paying tribute to Pele’s power and beauty. The ongoing volcanic activity on the Big Island serves as a reminder of the dynamic nature of the Hawaiian Islands and the deep connection between the land, the people, and Pele.

Pele’s Importance to Hawaiian Identity

Pele is not just a figure in Hawaiian mythology; she is a symbol of Hawaiian identity and heritage. The stories and legends surrounding Pele have been passed down through generations, serving as a source of cultural pride and resilience. She represents the strength and spirit of the Hawaiian people, who have learned to adapt and thrive in the face of adversity.

For many Hawaiians, Pele is more than just a deity; she is a living presence in their lives. Her influence can be seen in the names of places, the art and music inspired by her, and the deep respect and reverence that Hawaiians have for their land. Pele is a reminder of the sacredness of the natural world and the importance of preserving and protecting it for future generations.

Respecting Pele and Native Traditions

It is crucial to approach Pele and Hawaiian culture with respect and understanding. Visitors to the Hawaiian Islands are encouraged to educate themselves about the local customs and traditions associated with Pele. This includes being mindful of sacred sites and refraining from taking volcanic rocks or other natural artifacts as souvenirs.

Hawaiians consider disrespecting Pele’s sacred sites or violating native traditions to be a serious offense. It is important to remember that the land and its natural features are not just tourist attractions but hold deep spiritual significance for the Hawaiian people. By respecting Pele and Native Hawaiian traditions, visitors can contribute to the preservation and perpetuation of the rich cultural heritage of Hawaii.


In conclusion, the Hawaiian word for lava is Pele – both the name of the volcano goddess who presides over the molten rock and the lava itself. Through myths, legends, language, and culture, Pele became intrinsically connected to the volcanic forces that built the Hawaiian Islands over centuries. Beyond being a geological phenomenon, lava represents a divine creative force to native Hawaiians. Even as the islands evolve, Pele continues to shape both the land and identity of Hawaii.

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