Fire Goddess Pele and the Missionaries


“Had Vulcan employed ten thousand giant Cyclops, each with a steam engine of one thousand horse-power, blowing anthracite coal for smelting mountain minerals, or heaving up and hammering to pieces rocks and hills, their united efforts would but begin to compare with the work of Pele here.”

“Though our mission had now been in the islands nearly four years, yet some of the people of Puna and Hilo were as much afraid of the palapala, as they had been of Pele. Some retained their superstitious regard to the volcanic deities.”

“Some, in their self-complacency, questioned or doubted whether any benefit equal to the trouble, could be obtained by attention to missionary instruction.” (Hiram Bingham)

“Tho’ we do not dispair of benefiting the adults, many of whom are susceptible of religious and moral impressions, & some of whom we hope have already been brought into the kingdom of our Lord, yet generally speaking …”

“… this class of persons are so inveterately addicted to their ancient customs, and so deeply immersed in low and vicious habits, that it is to the rising generation we principally look for the subjects of the transforming grace of God.” (Thurston & Bishop, 1825)

“So far from renouncing their belief in the former Gods of Hawai‘i, it is supposed that more than two thirds adhere to them in some measure, and sacrifice unto them in private.”

“This is more especially the case in the remote parts of the island, where Pele, the god of Volcanoes, has a great number of votaries. Such in brief is the present condition of this people among whom we dwell.” (Thurston & Bishop, 1825)

“Many of the natives still believe that a deity exists in the volcano by the name of Pele. Some tried to dissuade Kapiʻolani from going up to the volcano. They told her that Pele would kill her & eat her up if she went there. She replied that she would go, & if Pele killed & ate her up, they might continue to worship Pele; but if not, i.e., if she returned unhurt, then they must turn to the worship of the true God.”

“Nothing very material occurred during the remainder of the way, except that at every place where they encamped for the night, Kapiʻolani’s first request would be to unite in prayer, to express her gratitude to the Most High for his loving kindness to her through the day. (Goodrich & Ruggles, 1825)

“Taking my field as a whole it has not differed much the past year in its general characteristics from previous years. Perhaps the long spell of warm & pleasant weather may be an exception. For this some believe, right or wrong, we are indebted to Madame Pele who has been most lavish even to prodigality of her warming & burning influences.” (Lyons, 1857)

“The volcano of Kīlauea is always in action. Its lake of lava and brimstone rolls and surges from age to age. Sometimes these fires are sluggish, and one might feel safe in pitching his tent upon the floor of the crater.”

“Again the ponderous masses of hardened lava, in appearance like vast coal-beds, are broken up by the surging floods below, and tossed hither and thither, while the great bellows of Jehovah blows upon these hills and cones and ridges of solidified rocks, and melts them down into seas and lakes and streams of liquid fire.” (Titus Coan)

“There is a remarkable variety in the volcanic productions of Hawaii, – a variety as to texture, form and size, from the vast mountain and extended plain, to the fine drawn and most delicate vitreous fibre, the rough clinker, the smooth stream, the basaltic rock, and masses compact and hard as granite or flint, and the pumice or porous scoria, or cinders, which, when hot, probably formed a scum or foam on the surface of the denser molten mass.” (Hiram Bingham)

“Steam and gases are constantly issuing from a thousand holes and fissures over the crater, but scarcely a spark of fire is to be seen by day or night. In fact Mother Pele has buried her fires, stopped her forges, extinguished her lamps and retired within the deep recesses of her infernal caverns.”

“Is she dead? Does she sleep? or has she only closed her adamantine doors, and with Pluto and Vulcan descended to the fiery bowels of the earth to prepare with deeper secrecy her magazines of wrath which shall one day burst forth with more desolating terror?”

“To us it is a lonely idea that the volcano should become extinct; for we confess that her mutterings, her thunderings, her flashings, the smoke of her nostrils and the shaking of her rocky ribs are music, beauty, sublimity and grandeur to us. They seem so like the voice of Almighty God, so like the footsteps of Deity.” (Lydia Bingham Coan)

“A mighty current instantly overflowed, and they ran for their lives before the molten flood, and ascended from the surface of the abyss to the lofty rim with heartfelt thanksgiving to their great Deliverer. This proves the real danger of meddling with Pele’s palace and trifling with her power.”

“Had this occurred in the days of unbroken superstition, it would doubtless have been ascribed to the anger of that false deity, and multiplied her worshippers.”

“But now such a deliverance was justly ascribed to the care and power of Jehovah, the knowledge of whose attributes displayed in the works of creation, providence, and grace, has introduced the Hawaiian race into a new life.” (Hiram Bingham)

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