2018-05-23 07:45:15 UTC
When the rivers of lava forced thousands to flee this month,
many people on Hawaii’s Big Island pointed with awe toward
the drizzle-shrouded volcanic crater where Pele — known as
“the woman who devours the earth” — usually dwells.
“Our deity is coming down to play,” said Lokelani Puha, 52, a
hula dancer and poet who evacuated as the lava encroached,
referring to Hawaii’s goddess of volcanoes and fire. “There’s
nothing to do when Pele makes up her mind but accept her will.”
Hawaiians have endured the overthrow of their kingdom, annexation
by the United States and policies aimed at obliterating the
Hawaiian language. But in a striking display of the resilience
and adaptability of Native Hawaiian culture, the exaltation
of Pele has not only persisted through the centuries, but
seems to be strengthening with every bone-rattling eruption
of Hawaii’s volcanoes.
The Kilauea volcano has already laid waste to dozens of homes this month,
triggering earthquakes, releasing lethal gases and setting forests ablaze,
and on Monday it showed few signs of subsiding.
And yet many living in Kilauea’s shadow welcome the eruption, express
reverence for Pele and thank her — even when the lava destroys their home.
“My house was an offering for Pele,” said Monica Devlin, 71, a retired
schoolteacher whose home was destroyed by a lava flow. “I’ve been in her
backyard for 30 years,” she reflected, doing the math on when she moved
here from Northern California. “In that time I learned that Pele created
this island in all its stunning beauty. It’s an awe-inspiring process
of destruction and creation and I was lucky to glimpse it.”
The last paragraph suggests an interesting possibility. In western
culture the geological age of the Earth was only discovered a
few centuries ago. The Polynesians could see volcanoes spew out lava,
see the lava flow downhill, and see lava cool into rock, adding to
the bulk of the island. They could also see volcanic islands of
widely different sizes. If they believed that the entire volume
of a big island like Oahu had come from lava flows, then comparing
the size of the island to the observed accumulation of new material
over a person's lifetime would give some measure of how old the
island would have to be.
Mo-hole! Mo-hole! A driller's life for me!