The Hawaiian goddess of fire, Pele, is probably the only one out of the pantheon of local deities that still lives on and is worshipped on the islands to this day. That is not surprising, since the effects of her activity can be observed on a daily basis. Her house, Halemaumau, is open to any visitor of the Volcano National park peeking inside the crater of the Kilauea Volcano. Pele’s temper has always been bold and unpredictable; in a way, she resembles the Greek goddess Hera, being just as feisty, jealous and vindictive.

Pele is easy to anger, and her wrath is fearsome. But sometimes, on a whim, she decides to have mercy and grants a miraculous salvation. There are new legends about Pele being born every day. In one of them, she appears before mortals in the form of a young beautiful woman when they are up in the mountains, and takes on the form of an old, hunched lady if you meet her by the ocean.

 At the easternmost point of the island, on Cape Kumukahi, there is a lighthouse. It’s a completely unremarkable metallic tower with a light and an antenna on top. What is strange, though, is the fact that this lighthouse is completely surrounded by lava walls standing over a meter tall; in some areas, the lava comes as close as 50cm away from the fence. It must have been pretty hot here on January 13th, 1960, when a fiery mountain of lava nearly half a mile long shot up in a sugarcane field nearby, just outside the town of Kapoho…


Ten days later, on a rainy night, there was a knock at the lighthouse keeper’s door. That was unusual — the house stood secluded on Cape Kumukahi, with several miles separating it from the nearest town. The cape hasn’t been much of a tourist attraction lately either, ever since that crater opened up nearby and started spewing rivers of lava that were slowly advancing towards the lighthouse. Lighthouse keeper Joe Pestrella opened the door and saw an old, hunched woman standing in the rain. Where could she have come from, especially in this kind of weather? The woman mumbled something about a broken car, streams of water dripping from her clothes. Joe invited her to come inside, despite the woman acting very strange and ignoring all questions. But it was getting late, the rain was not about to let up, and the oncoming lava’s fiery glow was clearly visible at some distance away. Joe offered dinner and shelter to the woman. His wife disagreed, saying the woman is acting suspicious and that their child is very frightened, but Joe insisted; it was late, and being outside was not safe at that moment. The peculiar lady stayed the night and was gone without a trace in the morning. Shortly afterwards, the wall of lava has finally reached the lighthouse. Joe’s family, and eventually he himself had to evacuate, so they weren’t there to see the wall of lava split up into two streams and go around the lighthouse. The keeper’s house was destroyed, and the fuel tanks for the generator powering the lighthouse blew up and were overtaken by lava as well. But the lighthouse itself was not harmed, and the feeble fence surrounding it stood untouched. All that Pele left behind was a narrow strip of land surrounding the lighthouse, before she reunited the streams and rushed on forward towards the ocean.


The lighthouse survived, miraculously. Shortly after, the local electrical company was able to extend a line from the nearby town of Kapoho, and the lighthouse has been operated remotely ever since. Joe Pestrella moved his family to Oahu and became the keeper of a different lighthouse. In the end, the Kapoho eruption has added on 2 square kilometers of dry land to the island, and covered about 10 square kilometers of soil with lava. The lighthouse does not stand on the ocean’s shore like it used to, and is now separated from the water by a field of lava about 500m wide. And that is the end of this tale about Madame Pele…

Katya Belykh

Ursa Travel Corp.

932 Central Blvd Hayward Ca 94542


Skype: katya.belykh


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