Have you ever wondered what a volcano looks like? To be honest, there’s not much to it. Haleakalā is the island of Maui’s pivotal volcanic peak and is known, as well as translated, to be the house to the sun.
This mauna, mountain, is equivalent to Mauna Kea in Hawaiʻi Island. We hold many moʻolelo, significances, and connections to this 10,023-foot tall place we call home. The view from the top may not be, for many, more than a strip of barren land, but to its people, our mountain radiates beauty beyond one’s ability to see.
Mauna Haleakalā’s creation and importance is told through the moʻolelo of Pele, a prominent female god in Hawaiʻi who carries one of our islands’ many origin stories. Pele encompasses lava, whilst her sister Nāmakaokahaʻi is that of water — the siblings opposite nature intensifies their rivalry.
Their conflict began in their homeland of Kahiki. Seeking refuge from her sister, Pele and the rest of her siblings voyaged to Hawaiʻi where Pele created shelter — in hopes they had escaped their sister. In doing so, Pele used her ʻōʻō, digging stick, to forge craters, however, these wahi, places, never lasted long. Nāmakaokahaʻi utilized the kai, ocean waters, to her advantage and found her siblings quickly.
Once Nāmakaokahaʻi found them, the two sisters fought again. This pattern of fleeing, finding, and fighting continued down the Hawaiʻi island chain, creating not only the islands along the way, but also establishing important wahi.
One of these wahi pana, sacred places, is Haleaklā. Fleeing Molokaʻi, Pele came to Maui and like the rest of the islands before her, created Haleakalā and its crater with hopes to call a permanent home after the constant attacks by her sister. On Maui is where Nāmakaokahaʻi finally achieved her win — at least in some ways. Pele was torn apart by her sister in Hāna, our island’s Eastern-most point, but was not slain — instead this is where she achieved her full form as an akua, goddess.
Within her lava-like form as an akua, and Nāmaka’s belief that she was dead, Pele slipped away to Hawaiʻi island and created her last home, Halemaumau Crater at Mauna Kīlauea, where she is currently known to reside.
Within our western-influenced colonial mindsets, this moʻolelo is merely just another mythological story. But even through science, we are able to see some truth behind it. The formations of islands originate from underwater volcanoes and the ability of land masses to be created is through the mixture of water and lava. And through the Hawaiian moʻolelo, Nāmakaokahaʻi and Pele coming together. No matter what way you see it, Hawaiians told Pele’s moʻolelo long before scientists discovered underwater volcanoes. Our people knew science before it was even called science.
Furthermore, we see this moʻolelo occurring before our very own eyes on Hawaiʻi island. Kīlauea, Pele’s current home, still erupts; and, when the lava flows to the kai, the siblings’ rivalry can still be seen. Your choice in strictly believing the science or believing the traditional story resides in western influence on your opinions.
Knowing the formation of Haleakalā and how its creation alone is embedded within such rich cultural importance, we see how Maui’s people carry a strong honor to the land mass. We should still strive to characterize the mountain with greater importance by acknowledging an even more important moʻolelo to the mountain — the moʻolelo of demigod Māui himself.
It first must be known that our island is not named after this demigod, and that Māui also has his own creation story where he uses his hook — yes, Disney’s Moana had a slightly accurate depiction — to uprise islands. Moreover, Māui is a Polynesian figure, prominent in moʻolelo all across Oceania, and despite all his known moʻolelo the short one I share with you is how Māui snared the sun.
To Hawaiians, Māui is one of the four sons of the goddess Hina and ʻAkalana. Hina, at the time, was known for her kapa making, a fiber fabric worn as clothing in traditional times. Despite Hina’s master of the art, she never had the ability to dry her kapa in time. The sun was a selfish individual who raced across the sky, never providing long-enough days for the Hawaiian people.
When Māui came across his saddened mother, Māui knew his kuleana, responsibility, to ensure his mother had the time she deserved within a day, so he made it his mission to slow down the sun.
This moʻolelo has several depictions of how he accomplished this task. Some of these variations include him turning into a rooster, using his grandmother’s hair strands to create the rope, having his other brothers help him, but each story includes him journeying to Haleakalā.
Māui traveled to the mountain’s peak, which was known to be where the sun lives. His journey took place at night when the sun was sleeping and its heat was not as intense as it was during the day. Upon his arrival, Māui lassoed one of the sun’s rays, and, using his strength, held him down to prevent the sun from quickly escaping.
With the demise and capture of the sun by Māui, the sun finally gave in and listened to Māui’s request. For the people of Hawaiʻi, Māui demanded the selfish sun to slow down and give his light and time to the people of Hawaiʻi so they, and most importantly his mother, could accomplish their tasks. After some hesitation, the sun finally agreed to do so.
From this moʻolelo, Hawaiians thank Māui and his rigorous fight, as it was because of him that we have the time in the day to complete our tasks. This moʻolelo also explains why we have seasons and why the sun stays out longer during certain times of the year.
We as kānaka, Native Hawaiians, use these moʻolelo to seek purpose and cultural explanation. For Maui people, these moʻolelo define not only the land we come from, but what make us proud to call Maui our one hānau, birth place.
As previously mentioned, one might find these moʻolelo to be myths — deemed fake and unrealistic — but I consider them my history. I find these cultural stories as equivalent and real as the American story of Lewis and Clark’s expedition in the 1800s and their “discovery” of the rest of the United States and its Pacific Coast.
One’s perspective on life is a product of what influences from society they are within. Because western society and beliefs are founded within truth and fiction, accepting that these moʻolelo actually took place will likely never happen.
There exists the action of decolonizing the mind — a process that rejects the norm of copying the ideas of those who came before and recognizing how influential colonial truths have heavily skewed common thought. To us in Hawaiʻi, the colonial means of thinking has been forced down our throats by U.S. society since we were kids. Regretfully, I say that even though I’m working to undo it, I too am heavily white-washed.
To me, Haleakalā is so much more than home. People come to Hawaiʻi to admire our islands for their beauty, solely seen through the eye, but little do they know that what surrounds them has immense history and active being.
Our minds and perspectives are founded in everlasting ideals that were formed in us before we even knew. In order for one to truly understand the world around them, one must reconsider their values and look at things through another lens. Seeking a change in perspective is the only way to know the deeper moʻolelo in a wahi.
Last updated 9/22/20
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