A Volcanic Birthing


By Kumi Alice Iida

About 70 million years ago, Pele-honua-mea (Pele of the Sacred Earth); the goddess of fire, lightning, wind and volcanoes, left her homeland of Tahiti where she lived with her brothers, sisters, and earth goddess mother Haumea, on a canoe carrying the egg of her unborn youngest sister Hi’iaka. As she journeyed the seas, from land to land, she eventually came upon what we now know as the Hawaiian Islands. Here, her sister was born, and would become Hiʻiaka-i-ka-poli-o-Pele (Hi’iaka in the bosom of Pele); goddess of hula, chant, sorcery, and medicine. The two sisters would come to create a dance that would birth a volcanic evolutionary process through the eons, forming an archipelago of islands in the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain.

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This dance has become a beautiful testament to the creative process. Pele, with her passion to erupt and destroy all which no longer serves, forming new land wherever she would go, followed by her sister Hi’iaka, who would bring the healing energy of fertility to Pele’s hot, new land. Together, their union would bring forth the life that would grow on her cooling lava. Such has been their dance for millennia, passed down through oral tradition and hula. This creative process would come to establish itself on the island of Hawai’i, atop Kīlauea, where Pele eventually found a home on what has become one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Generations of cycling through this birth-death process has seen a combination of unique islands, each going through their individual evolutionary cycles, shedding light not only on the birth of the Hawaiian Islands, but also on the evolution of life itself.

As I write from the District of Puna on the Big Island of Hawai’i, those of us who have chosen to be here at this time are finding ourselves in a holding space as doulas for this cycle of destruction and creation. Although there is nothing new about the dance of Pele and Hi’iaka, each dance throughout time has varied radically, depending on the generation or era in which it came to fruition.

Pele by Autumn Skye Morrison

Pele by Autumn Skye Morrison

Today, we live in a time where many who have been called to this dynamic island have made businesses and homes on the arterial systems of Pele’s flow (much more so than days past). The past couple of years have seen a phase where this part of the island has seen a rapid expansion and inflation. Real estate prices have been rising, home construction at an exponential all-time high, tourism on the upswing, and a growing supply of vacation rentals as profitable business ventures while affordable housing becoming a thing of the past. Meanwhile, our relationships taking on a whole new dynamic with the advent of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The increasing sense of community strengthened by this coconut wireless of the ethers through weekly offerings, dances, workshops, and get-togethers. We had been riding the peak of an earthly economic wave.

At the same time, Pele had been beckoning people who have been searching for a more integral way of life. Many of us came, built a community, established our lives and livlihoods, and made our homes here. This is the community who now holds space in this emergence of a new story.

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As I sit here writing, lava has made its way to the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV). Flows nearing the plant are currently prompting growing fears about a worst-case scenario: lava inundating wells at the plant and triggering a release of toxic gases. Civil defense officials ramping up contingency plans, as the paradox of our modern consumer-based society goes head to head with the force of nature that creates the very land we live on. The irony of an archipelago’s only Geothermal Power Plant housed on the active arterial zone of a living, volcanic island; mixed with stories of shadowed self-serving economic corruption. PGV has a long history in Hawai’i and is possibly one of the most controversial developments on the islands. And now, Pele and PGV, have come face to face.

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She has moved slowly, giving ample time to remove the 60,000 gallons of stored pentane, time for people to be fully aware and prepared of repercussions, time for officials to close off the existing wells on the property, time for “we the people” to state our case and ask questions. We have come to a critical vantage point. A powerful force of nature has come eye to eye with an unexamined trance of the modern world. The dance between Pele and Hi’iaka has us standing as doulas for a new story where we come together to recognize how profoundly connected everyone and everything is.

I believe that what is in the present can be looked at with the consciousness of the past that allowed this moment to be. In the same way, the consciousness in which we serve the present moment, is the consciousness that will lead us to what will one day be.

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March gave us two luscious full moons (the last until the year 2020), its Blue Moon marking the “Hua,” - the fruition of the egg, as we entered the last month of gestation before a new cycle of Pele’s birthing would begin. The 55th annual Merrie Monarch festival then marked the beginning of April, a symbolic yearly event marking the oral traditions and song through Hawaiian dance, ensuring these very stories of creation remain vibrant through future generations. I smile to myself as I notice that the number 55 marks the sum of all our numbers (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10=55), its numerology representing the changing of old ways for something new to emerge.

The Merrie Monarch celebrates Pele in all her glory, in the chants, mele, and hula as represented by volcanoes and fire. During this time every year, many hula hālau travel up to Halemaʻumaʻu before the Merrie Monarch festival to pay homage to Pele, offering her lei and ho'okupu (a gift, meaning “to grow”) wrapped in ti leaves, chants and hula. 

The end of April marked the approach of the full moon where lava would overflow from Kīlauea’s summit crater, pouring onto the floor of Halemaʻumaʻu. This expansion would be the largest recorded overflow of lava from this crater. On the day of the full moon in April, the Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater floor on Kīlauea Volcano’s East Rift Zone, collapsed. This marked the rupturing of a volcanic membrane in the birthing process. On this very day, a teacher of mine happened to transition from this earthly plane, and in my sadness, I picked up a book I had not read in a long time: “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.” I began to read as the contractions began; earthquakes beneath our feet in a permanent earthly rumble. We had never felt this type of movement, and it became eerily clear that something was about to unfold. Then, when I came to the chapter of “Impermanence” on May 3, her lava finally crowned to the surface.

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In the past weeks since she began her flow, many of my beloved community members have evacuated, been displaced, and lost their homes. Businesses have been forced to shut down, as well as long loved community hubs (like Kalanihonua’s Retreat and Wellness center). A confusion arising from this geological phenomenon has given rise to hurried goodbyes, communities seemingly separated and torn apart, loss of income for many, and psychospiritual exhaustion. Children have experienced the trauma of being displaced from the familiarity of their homes. Animals have been rehoused, some with new owners. Relationships have been torn apart, with couples breaking up, and cracks in friendship appearing like the cracks on our East Rift Zone streets. I’ve seen grudges bubble to the surface, with friendships that should have ended long ago now reaching their time. Like a dog shakes the water off after a swim, many people have left the island in droplets of water. Some of us, however, remain, as solid doulas of an evolutionary process that many may never have the opportunity to experience.

I return here to the chapter where it all began: impermanence. We are going through an incredible process of change, and often this change equates sudden loss and suffering. I believe that we are actually holding space for a global phenomenon, and something new to emerge on a macrocosmic scale. Modern day living has us assuming that permanence provides security, and impermanence does not. Yet, the realization of impermanence is paradoxically the only thing we can hold onto. Like the sky or earth, no matter how much everything around us may change or collapse, they endure. Now and again the earth trembles, to remind us that nothing can be taken for granted. In the past month, our fiery Volcano goddess has stripped the egos of many, bringing forth some of our greatest fears, and our greatest lessons to overcome.

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The whole universe, scientists now tell us, is nothing but change, activity, and process: a totality of flux that is ground of all things: Every subatomic interaction consists of the annihilation of the original particles and the creation of new subatomic particles. The subatomic world is a continual dance of creation and annihilation, of mass changing into energy and energy changing into mass. Transient forms sparkle in and out of existence, creating a never-ending, forever newly created reality.

Pele shows us that her eruptions are nature’s way of gathering an energy together that needs to be released. With a release of tension, we can only trust that relief and freedom will soon follow, often with a fresh perspective and a renewed sense of hope for the future. The eruptive wisdom gives us the gift of bringing things to a head, and clearing them away, so that the energy can be freed from a pattern that has had its day and is ready to become something new. Even if we don’t understand what is happening, those chosen to hold space mustn’t lose confidence in their ability to successfully bear its progression. Every doula to this process carries the light to see that this is a passing process.

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As we approach another full moon, I am reminded of something Kekuhi Keliʻikanakaʻole, an eighth-generation hula Kumu says, “This is creation right in the front of our faces. If we want to think of anything close to that, watch the birth of your child, watch the birth of your friend’s child. I think that’s the closest we can get to that form of Pele as a divinity. The goddess is an energy. The goddess is a resource………stories that we read in the Pele and Hi’iaka books now, those are the things that are happening in front of people’s eyes. So what do we do? Let’s write it down, let’s journal it. Everybody who has the opportunity to pick ash up from their windshield and go oh my God, this was just made, and it just popped out of the earth not ten minutes ago. Write it down! Be the community geophysicist so that we have stories for our great grandchildren for the next 100 years.”

Keliʻikanakaʻole wisely tells us that this island will go through this very cycle producing new land for a very long time to come. It is important to reframe the space that we hold. This isn’t a destruction, but a creation. We don’t know when it will happen, and for how long, and despite the grieving that we may experience, the story we are living at this moment will be one that will be told hundreds of years into the future.

In Tibetan Buddhism, bardo is a space of existence between two lives on earth. Metaphorically, bardo can also describe a time when our usual way of life becomes suspended, often fruitful for spiritual progress because external constraints (as we are seeing now) diminish. It is said that the state of consciousness that one holds when transitioning from one bardo (death), directly affects the state of consciousness in which we transition into the next bardo (rebirth). May we continue to hold space and pray, with the highest versions of ourselves, as a story to be told for generations to come, unfolds.


Kumi Alice Iida is an award-winning author, writer, mother, Yoga Therapist, and Feng Shui Consultant who lives on the Big Island of Hawai’i, where she is stewarding two acres of land and building an off-grid retreat and home with her family. She believes that the secrets of life can be found in energy, frequency, and vibration. Follow her on Instagram @intentional_living_designs and her website at here

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