Friday, April 3, 2009

Pele and the 'Ohia Tree

After last week's Fun Fact about Pele's little sister, Hi'iaka, my hula sister Kepola (who, in 'ukulele class is known as plain old Debbie) suggested I share the story of the 'ohia tree and the lehua blossom. As you may recall, Hi'iaka enjoyed dancing the hula in a grove of 'ohia trees and she wore the red lehua blossom strung in a lei.

Wouldn't you know, Pele had something to do with the origin of the tree and the flower.

Kepola sent me the story, which I shared with hula class last night.

For reference, here are some photos I took on Hawai'i Island in February.

The top photo shows the steam billowing from the caldera of Kilauea, said to be the home of Pele, goddess of volcanoes. In the lower left corner is a twisted little 'ohia tree adorned with the red lehua blossoms.

Here is a closeup of the lehua blossom. And here's the story:

One day Pele met a handsome warrior named 'Ohia. Being a fiery lass, she immediately found herself burning with desire for him. She wanted him, then and forever. She announced that she planned to marry him.

'Ohia was surely flattered that such a powerful goddess had fallen for him. But it was too late. He had already fallen for the beautiful maiden, Lehua. 'Ohia had pledged his love to Lehua and nothing Pele could say or do would change the feelings of his heart.

He was probably as diplomatic as possible when he explained this to Pele. No one really knows because within an instant he was a twisted tree. You just don't say no to Pele without serious consequences.

Alas! Poor Lehua. Her boyfriend now was a crummy little tree. And he used to be so handsome! Lehua cried and cried. Hanging out with him just wasn't the same. And when she kissed him, she got bark in her teeth.

The gods took pity on her and told her she would never have to be parted from 'Ohia again. Zap! She was the pretty flower on 'Ohia's branches. Be careful what you wish for. Maybe Lehua should have asked for a new boyfriend, a non-tree one. But the lovers are still together. And it's said that when someone picks a lehua blossom from the 'ohia tree, the sky will weep because the lovers have been separated.

Pele, who caused all this misery, still pretty much gets whatever she wants. All along the crater at Kilauea we saw fruit set out as offerings to her. Our Hawaiian guide, Jeff DePonte, told us that the Japanese always leave fruit. The Hawaiians, who apparently know Pele better, leave booze. Gin seems to be Pele's favorite. It's mother's milk to her.

Pictured above is an offering of gin left for Pele along the rim of the volcano's crater. And if I'm not mistaken, it's nestled in an 'ohia tree. The lovers' triangle lives on!
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