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Goddess of Fire

Apr 18, 2019 | 795 videos
Video by Bradley Tangonan

In the Hawaiian religion, Pele is the goddess of volcanoes, fire, and lightning. She is believed to have created the Hawaiian islands, and is considered to be a sacred, primordial force.


Like many native Hawaiians of his generation, Keoni Kaholoʻaʻā, a park ranger at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, wasn’t exposed to much information about his indigenous roots. “I never grew up learning the culture,” Kaholoʻaʻā says in Bradley Tangonan’s short documentary Kaholoʻaʻā. “It left a massive void in me.”


Recently, he discovered the true meaning of his family name—“flow of jagged rock”—which, according to tradition, makes Kaholoʻaʻā a direct descendent of Pele. This understanding has renewed Kaholoʻaʻā’s sense of purpose. When the volcano Kilauea erupted in 2018, Kaholoʻaʻā joined other native Hawaiians in welcoming and expressing reverence for the deity, rather than fearing the damage the lava flow might cause.


“In the Hawaiian belief system, kanaka 'oiwi, or Hawaiian people, are descendants of the deities that constitute the natural world,” Tangonan told me. “Humans are a small component of this system of natural entities and processes, whose complex operation relies on a delicate balance. The reverence that Keoni bears toward Pele reflects the humility that Hawaiians believe we owe to nature as a whole.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.