LEILANI ESTATES, Hawaii — As molten lava continues its relentless, unstoppable flow down the Kilauea volcano, many on Hawaii’s Big Island are looking to the ancient volcano goddess Pele for protection.
In Hawaiian folklore, Pele, or Pelehonuamea, is the ancient fire goddess, who lives in the Halema’uma’u crater at the top of Kilauea and is revered as the creator of Hawaii’s landscape.
She’s also known as Ka wahine ‘ai honua, the woman who devours the Earth, which gives a sense of her destructive power.
“Many native Hawaiians believe that lava is the kinolau, or physical embodiment, of volcano goddess Pele. Poking lava with sticks and other objects is disrespectful,” according to the National Parks Service.
Some people have said they can see Pele in the lava flow.
Pele is known to be unpredictable, so Hawaiians have traditionally left gifts and offerings to keep her happy. That tradition continues today, and some residents have left leaves in front of their homes and flowers in cracks caused by the volcano for good luck. The Hawaii Civil Defense said on Monday that Kilauea has destroyed 35 structures — including 26 homes — and a dozen fissures have formed spewing dangerous sulfur dioxide gas.
Volcanologists say that activity has died down at those fissures, but that could just be a temporary reprieve.
For some residents, that unpredictability is a reminder that Pele is in charge, not scientists.
“Pele moves up hill, sideways downhill, opens up in your back yard,” he said. “It’s totally unpredictable,” Randall Allen told CNN affiliate KHOU on Monday while waiting to return to his home.
His house had been spared and he was able to load up his pickup truck with important documents and other valuables.
Olivia Filoteo-Kekipi and her husband live about five minutes away from Leilani Estates and have helped set up a pop-up relief center that’s providing hot meals and other supplies to evacuees.
“The majority of the residents did leave their homes due to the unpredictability of Madam Pele,” she told CNN. “There was less than a day’s notice for the evacuation and most residents had left with just a backpack with a couple days clothes.”
The volcano’s unpredictability is causing “so much anxiety and panic,” she said.
“Right now everyone is taking it day by day, no solid plans just yet because we don’t know what Pele will do next.”