Mānoa Heritage Center



Moʻolelo of ʻŌhiʻa & Lehua

Adapted from “The Goddess Pele” by Joe Mullins

A long time ago, there was a handsome Hawaiian chief named ʻŌhiʻa, he was in love with a beautiful Hawaiian maiden named Lehua. ʻOhiʻa and Lehua had promised to be true to each other for always.

One day, Pele, the goddess of the volcano, saw ʻŌhiʻa and wanted him for herself. Pele was known for her angry tantrums and jealousy. When she got angry, she would call forth burning lava to destroy everything around her. 

Pele appeared to ʻŌhiʻa as a lovely woman. “I am the goddess, Pele” she said, “and I want you for my husband.”

When ʻŌhiʻa heard her, he was afraid. “Ōhiʻa knew if he refused to marry Pele, she might get really angry, but if she was just testing his love for Lehua, then if he said yes, sheʻd still be angry. Either way, Pele could destroy his land and kill all his people. ʻŌhiʻa didnʻt know what to do.

“Before I answer, will you promise not to use your volcanic power no matter what I answer?”

“Yes, I promise,” answered Pele, she didnʻt tell ʻŌhiʻa that she had many other powers that she could use. 

“Then, I cannot marry you,” ʻŌhiʻa said, “for I have already given my heart to beautiful Lehua and have promised to be true to her. Besides, I am only a mortal and not worthy of marrying a goddess.”

Pele was furious. “How dare you defy me!” she cried. “If I canʻt have you then no one will!” With that, she cast a spell and turned ʻŌhiʻa into a twisted tree with gray leaves. 

When Lehua saw what Pele had done to ʻŌhiʻa, she begged the goddess to change him back, but Pele ignored her and left for her home in the volcano, still angry.

Lehua sat at the base of the tree that was ʻŌhiʻa and cried. How can I live without ʻŌhiʻa” she sobbed. “I would give my life to change him back.”

When the other gods heard poor Lehua, they took pity on her. They each tried to change ʻŌhiʻa back, but Peleʻs magic was too powerful. At last, they came up with a solution that would unite the lovers forever. 

The gods cast a spell that changed Lehua into a beautiful red flower on the ʻŌhiʻa tree. ʻŌhiʻa and Lehua were together at last, and Pele could never separate them.