Pele and ʻAi Lāʻau

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There seems to be much misunderstanding about Pele, her family, and her legends. I have read in a post from a malihini (who obviously hasn’t read much on the Pele lore) crediting the forest eater god, ‘Ai Lā’au, as being the one “eating” Leilani Estates. The undertone of that of course is based on Western sexism–that men only have the power to destroy. 

ʻAi Lāʻau was an ancient Native Hawaiian akua whose home was Kilauea. As the name implies, he lived off of burning forests. When Pele arrived on the island of Hawaiʻi, ʻAi Lāʻau knew his power to be weaker than hers and eventually fled. Sometimes ʻAi Lāʻau was invoked when clearing forests to make way for loʻi or taro terraces but he largely disappears from Hawaiian mythology. The general theme in many Hawaiian myths is quite the opposite of what that malihini commentator stated. One of Pele’s titles literally meant earth eater so Native Hawaiians did recognize that aspect of her and her ability to destroy and create lands–on her own. Several Hawaiian stories speak of her burning lehua grooves and forests as punishment for misdeeds and slights in fact.

In addition, Pele, as well as other Hawaiian female deities like Papa and Hina, are normally always stronger than their male counterparts–and in fact their male counterparts often weakens them with their fickle emotions. This would make sense to someone who understands the Hawaiian language and deep culture. Men had to build heiau and conduct rituals to invoke the mana of the ancestors that women already naturally possessed. Thatʻs why thereʻs fewer female temples–women did not need the rituals.  In stories such as Pele, we find the creative and destructive side of nature and when I mean nature I mean nature as in the environment but also in human nature as Kanaka Maoli once (and still do) view it. This thought of crediting a long forgotten male akua over a female akua– that many still believe in–is simply iʻa palahō (rotten fish) compared to the rich, nuanced and powerful roles Hawaiian women played in Hawaiian mythology and in Hawaiian society (then and now).

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