Pele and Hiiaka

Kate Farrell (author of Story Power) celebrates the power of love between two women in this Hawai’ian myth.

Pele, Volcano Goddess

Once, when Pele was living in the pit of Kilauea, she roused up from her couch on the rough hearth-plate and said to her sisters, “Let us make an excursion to the ocean and enjoy ourselves, open the opihi shells and sea-urchins, hunt for small squid and gather sea-moss.”

To this all joyfully assented, saying, “Yes, let us go.”

The sisters formed quite a procession as they tramped the narrow downhill path until they came to the hill Pu’u-Pahoehoe—a place in the lower lands of Puna. Pele herself did not visibly accompany them on this journey; that was not according to her custom: she had other ways and means of travel than to plod along a dusty road. When, however, the party arrived at the rendezvous, there, sure enough, they found Pele awaiting them.

In the midst of their pleasurings, Pele caught sight of Hopoe and Haena as they were indulging in a dance and having a good time by the Puna sea. She was greatly pleased and, turning to her sisters, said, “Come, haven’t you also got some dance that you can show off in return for this entertainment by Hopoe and her companion?”

They all hung their heads and said, “We have no hula.”

Hiiaka, the youngest, had stayed behind to gather lehua flowers, and when she came along laden with wreaths, Pele said to her, jestingly, “I’ve just been proposing to your sisters here to dance a hula in response to that of Hopoe and her fellow, but they decline, saying they have not the art. I suppose it’s of no use to ask you, you are so small; but, perhaps, you’ve got a bit of a song.”

“Yes, I have a song,” Hiiaka answered, to the surprise of all.

“Let us have it, then; go on!” said Pele.

Then the little girl, having first decorated all of her sisters with the wreaths, beginning with Pele, sang as follows:

Puna’s a-dance in the breeze,
The hala groves of Keaau shaken:
Haena and Hopoe are swaying;
The thighs of the dancing nymph
Quiver and sway, down at Nana-huki—
A dance most sightly and pleasing,
Down by the sea Nana-huki.

Pele was delighted. “Is that all you have?” she asked.

“I have something more,” said the girl.

“Let us hear it then.”

Hiiaka put even more spirit into the song as she complied:

The voice of Puna’s sea resounds
Through the echoing hala groves;
The lehua trees cast their bloom.
Look at the dancing girl Hopoe;
Her graceful hips swing to and fro,
A dance on the beach Nana-huki:
A dance that is full of delight,
Down by the sea Nana-huki.

At the conclusion of this innocent performance—the earliest mention of the hula that has reached us—Hiiaka went to stay with her friend Hopoe, a person whose charm of character had fascinated the imagination of the susceptible girl and who had already become her dearest intimate, her inspiring mentor in those sister arts, song, poesy and the dance.

Pele herself remained with her sister Hiiaka-i-ka-pua-enaena (Hiiaka-of-the-fire-bloom), and presently she lay down to sleep in a cave on a smooth plate of pahoehoe.

Before she slept she gave her sister this command: “Listen to me. I am lying down to sleep; when the others return from fishing, eat of the fish, but don’t dare to wake me. Let me sleep on until I wake of myself. If one of you wakes me it will be the death of you all. If you must needs wake me, however, call my little sister and let her be the one to rouse me; or, if not her, let it be my brother Ke-o-wahi-maka-o-ka-ua—one of these two.”

When Ke-o-wahi-maka-o-ka-ua, who was so closely related to Pele that she called him brother, had received this command and had seen her lapse into profound sleep he went and reported the matter to Hiiaka, retailing all that Pele had said. “Strange that this havoc-producer should sleep in this way, and no bed-fellow!”

Said Hiiaka to herself. “Here are all the other Hiiakas, all of equal rank and merit! Perhaps it was because my dancing pleased her that she wishes me to be the one to rouse her.”

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Source: Pele and Hiiaka: A Myth From Hawaii, by Nathaniel Bright Emerson. Honolulu Star-Bulletin Limited, 1915

Note: Moe aikāne refers to intimate relationships between partners of the same gender, known as aikāne, in pre-colonial Hawai’i. These relationships were particularly cherished by aliʻi nui (chiefs) and the male and female kaukaualiʻi performing a hana lawelawe or expected service with no stigma attached.

Moe aikāne were celebrated in many moʻolelo (legends and history), including the Pele and Hiʻiaka epics.