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Sisterly Love: The relationship between Hawaiian goddesses Pele and Namakaokahai

In Hawaii, ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.

Since we’ve done a blog on Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, lightning, wind, dance and volcanoes, we could not very well leave out her elder sister Namakaokahai, the Hawaiian goddess of the sea.

Like most sisters, the two are polar opposites. One rules over the fiery volcanoes of Hawaii Island, the other over the cool, majestic waves of the ocean. But that isn’t where their differences end.

According to ancient legend, Namakaokahai was married to a mighty sorcerer, Aukelenuiaiku. Upon meeting him she was impressed by his warrior spirit, showed him all her forms and taught him her magical powers. But easily swayed, Aukelenuiaiku was seduced by Namakaokahai’s younger, beautiful sister, Pele. Aukelenuiaiku betrayed Namakaokahai by taking Pele as his wife.

Overcome by rage, Namakaokahai sent high tides and floods to destroy Pele’s home. Pele and her family fled, but could not escape her sister’s wrath. Everywhere that Pele opened a crater for her volcanic fire to rest, the smoke would signal Namakaokahai of her whereabouts.

Namakaokahai followed Pele throughout the Hawaiian Island chain, until Pele finally settled in the high mountains of Mauna Loa, which proved too high for the ocean’s waves to reach. Pele gained confidence here and engaged in battles with Namakaokahai. To this day, Pele’s eruptions from Hawaii Island’s volcanoes flow thick and hot till they reach the sea — symbolizing the match in strength between the sisters of fire and water.

The Summer Swell

Just as Pele mesmerizes audiences with her fiery display of explosive lava and energy, Namakaokahai is responsible for the ocean’s swells reaching the Hawaiian Islands’ shores. Summer in Hawaii brings waves for the south shore, while winter months brings a swell of swarthy surf to the islands’ north shores.

While Namakaokahai is portrayed as the fierce goddess of the sea – feared for her power to create strong tides that destroys land – she is also to be treated with respect. Hawaii is connected spiritually to the legends and myths of these mighty goddesses and many tie significant natural occurrences to cultural stories. Namakaokahai’s jealousy towards Pele has been said to cause riptides, swells and tsunamis. Waves break by her force. Surf generates at her call.

Just as many search for the face of Pele in the clouds of smoke rising above an erupting volcano or in the curves of a bubbling lava flow, look for the face of Namakaokahai in the ripples of waves lapping against Waikiki or in the foamy surf of Waimea Bay.

Now, when you visit the Hawaiian waters, you can swim in your memories of these stories – a swell way to spend any visit to Hawaii.