Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of fire. She is credited with creating what is known today as the Diamond Head Crater. On our hike to the top of the crater this week, we felt her power and understood that she is believed to be both a creator and a destroyer. The word on the street is that she has destroyed more than 100 structures on the Big Island since 1983, and perhaps even more awesome than that, she has added more than 70 acres of land to the Island’s southeastern coastline.
Diamond Head State Monument encompasses 475 acres of militaristic, geologic, and cultural history. As we gained almost a mile in elevation, we bumped up against 300,000-year-old layers of volcanic tuff, 225-foot tunnels, fire control stations, spiral bunker stairs that seem to lead to the clouds, and vistas that were so refined they looked like paintings.
Pele is most famous for the legendary curse she places on anyone who takes pieces of Hawaii home with them. We all saw that Brady Bunch right? Wrong! We watched tourists actually chisel volcanic rock from the walls of the crater as souvenirs. When we joked with the woman at the visitor center about why anyone would buy souvenirs at her stand if they could just mine their own, she told us a story. Each year, thousands of lava rocks are mailed back to Hawaii after people claim to have horrible misfortune upon leaving the Islands and unknowingly angering Pele. There are even companies that ask for a donation in exchange for returning the rock, carefully wrapped in ti-plant leaves and orchids as an offering to Pele.
We could feel, during our hike, that the message is not about luck, superstition, or memorabilia. It is about the courage to be present wherever we are to the extent that the power of the place changes us. That memory is the only souvenir we will ever need.
What we loved about the legend of Pele is that she is often depicted as a wanderer, constantly traveling. Madame Pele, as she is often referred to, represents protection as well as change, tradition as well as creativity, and unity as well as growth.