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Smoke on the water...

india Updated: Feb 11, 2008 22:00 IST
Yojana Yadav
Yojana Yadav
Hindustan Times

A HOLIDAY in Hawaii! The thought conjured up images of sun-kissed beaches, turquoise waters, swaying coconut trees, lilting music, Hula dance, exotic flowers, delicious seafood, charming people... the holiday of a lifetime. They were all there, but there was more. Seven months on, the Hawaiian holiday is fresh in the mind, more for the trip to the smoking caldera of the Kilauea volcano and the legend of Pele (not the Brazilian footballer!), the Goddess of the island’s volcanoes, than for the beaches and numerous rounds to the Hilo Hattie souvenir shop.

Amid the black expanse of dried up lava fields, the sight of steam gushing out of cracks in the earth and the acrid smell of sulphur greet visitors to the Volcano National Park. Signboards pointing to recent lava flows and the plume of smoke on the horizon where the molten lava from underground tubes meets the Pacific add to the drama of witnessing an island under construction.

The Hawaiians, who are of Polynesian descent, have a legend to explain the phenomenon. They believe Pele, who arrived from Tahiti, had a love-hate relationship with Kamapua’a, the hog-man demigod. He could transform himself into a tall, handsome chief, often wearing a cape to conceal the pig bristles on his back or into a gigantic eight-eyed pig, the largest land animal known to the Polynesians.

Kamapua’a wooed Pele but she scorned him. A battle ensued and she hurled fire and molten lava at him and chased him into the ocean. But he turned himself into a fish whose skin protected him from the heat of the lava in the ocean. Again he approached her, and again she attacked him. He retaliated with storm and rain. When Pele’s brothers realised she was losing, they ordered her to yield. Though Pele decided to accept Kamapua’a as her lover, she could not live with him. So they divided Hawaii between them, Pele taking the drier leeward side where the slopes are streaked with lava flows, and Kamapua’a taking the windward side, with a green landscape.