Pele and Poliahu

Continuing to focus on the idea of the Mauna as the Piko, or center and continuing the discussion of “why?” the Mauna is sacred historically, presently and always:

There are four maidens with white mantles in the mythology of the Hawaiians. They are all queens of beauty, full of wit and wisdom, lovers of adventure, and enemies of Pele, the goddess of volcanoes. They embody the mythical ideas of eternal warfare between heat and cold, fire and frost, burning lava and stony ice. They rule the mountains north of Kilauea and dwell in the cloud-capped summits. They clothe themselves against the bitter cold with snow-mantles. They all have the power of laying aside the white garment and taking in its place clothes made from the golden sunshine. Their stories manifest the omnipotent power of nature as godly recognizing the power of snow and cold. Sometimes the 4 maidens clothe the mountain tops and upper slopes with white, which melts as the maidens came down closer to the sea through lands made fertile by flowing streams and blessed sunshine…

Poliahu, the best-known among the maidens of the mountains, loved the eastern cliffs of the great island Hawaii — the precipices which rise from the raging surf which beats against the coast known now as the Hamakua district. Here she sported among mortals, meeting the chiefs in their many and curious games of chance and skill. Sometimes she wore a mantle of pure white kapa and rested on the ledge of rock overhanging the torrents of water which in various places fell into the sea.

It may have been before or after this strange legendary courtship that the snow-maiden met Pele, the maiden of volcanic fires. Pele loved the “holua” — the race of sleds, long and narrow, coasting down sloping, grassy hillsides. She usually appeared as a woman of wonderfully beautiful countenance and form — a stranger unknown to any of the different companies engaging in the sport. The chiefs of the different districts of the various islands had their favorite meeting-places for any sport in which they desired to engage.

These were sheltered places where gambling reigned, open glades where boxing and spear throwing could best be practiced, coasts where the splendid surf made riding the waves on surfboards a scene of intoxicating delight, and there were hillsides where sled riders had opportunity for the exercise of every atom of skill and strength. Poliahu and her friends had come down Mauna Kea to a sloping hillside south of Hamakua.

Suddenly in their midst appeared a stranger of surpassing beauty. Poliahu welcomed her and the races were continued. Some of the legend-tellers think that Pele was angered by the superiority, real or fancied, of Poliahu. The ground began to grow warm and Poliahu knew her enemy. Pele threw off all disguise and called for the forces of fire to burst open the doors of the subterranean caverns of Mauna Kea. Up toward the mountain she marshaled her fire fountains. Poliahu fled toward the summit. The snow-mantle was seized by the outbursting lava and began to burn up. Poliahu grasped the robe, dragging it away and carrying it with her. Soon she regained strength and threw the mantle over the mountain. There were earthquakes upon earthquakes, shaking the great island from sea to sea. The mountains trembled while the tossing waves of the conflict between fire and snow passed through and over them. Great rock precipices staggered and fell down the mountainsides.

Clouds gathered over the mountain summit at the call of the snow goddess. Each cloud was gray with frozen moisture and the snows fell deep and fast on the mountain. Farther and farther down the sides the snow mantle unfolded until it dropped on the very fountains of fire. The lava chilled and hardened and choked the flowing burning rivers. Pele’s servants became her enemies. The lava, becoming stone, filled up the holes out of which the red melted mass was trying to force itself. Checked and chilled the lava streams were beaten back into the depths of Mauna Loa and Kilauea.

The fire rivers, already rushing to the sea, were narrowed and driven downward so rapidly that they leaped out from the land, becoming immediately the prey of the remorseless ocean. Thus the ragged mass of Laupahoehoe was formed and the great ledge of the arch of Onomea, and the different sharp and torn lavas in the edge of the sea which mark the various eruptions of centuries past.

Poliahu in legendary battles has met Pele many times. She has kept the upper part of the mountain desolate under her mantle of snow and ice; but down toward the sea most fertile and luxuriant valleys and hillside slopes attest the gifts of the goddess to the beauty of the land and the welfare of men.

Out of Mauna Loa, Pele has stepped forth again and again, and has hurled eruptions of mighty force and great extent against the maiden of the snow mantel, but the natives say that in this battle Pele has been and always will be defeated. Pele’s kingdom has been limited to the southern half of the island Hawaii, while the snow maidens rule the territory to the north.

via Mauna a Wakea.

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