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Pele, goddess of fire, lightning, dance and volcanoes, in painting by Volcano Village artist
Arthur Johnson, on display at the Kilauea Visitor Center. She holds a digging stick in her
left hand and an embryonic form of Hiiak-i-ka-poli-o-Pele in her right.
The early Polynesian settlers of Hawaii, arriving from the Marquesas
and perhaps the Society Islands in their double canoes, must have
been impressed by the volcanic activity on the islands. They
worshipped Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes. And for good
reason, because fire and volcanoes had formed their new home.
Hawaii, the newest of the 50 states, is made up entirely of volcanic
islands in an archipelago in the central Pacific southwest of the
continental United States, southeast of Japan and northeast of
Currently, volcanic activity is limited to the southern half of the Big
Island, which is the 5th highest island in the world. Hawaii
Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii's Big Island is one of the few
places where you can come face to face with an active volcano.
There are three active volcanoes in Hawaii: Maunaloa and Kilauea
in the park and Loihi underwater off the southern coast. Maunaloa
last erupted in 1984, and Kilauea has been continuously erupting
These are not the typical steep conical peaks, but "shield"
volcanoes, which produce generally fluid lava flows that form gently
sloping, shield-like mountains. Maunaloa, the biggest mountain on
earth measured from its underwater roots, covers half of the Big
A new volcano, Loihi, is busily building an underwater cone to the
south of the Big Island, which is due to become yet another island
when it breaches the surface some 10,000 years from now.
Other notable volcano craters you can hike and explore include
Haleakala on Maui and Leahi (Diamond Head) and the National
Memorial of the Pacific at Punchbowl on Oahu.
Although there are more than 100 islands in Hawaii, most of us think
of it as the six major inhabited islandsâ€”Hawaii (the Big Island),
Maui, Lanai, Molokai, Oahu and Kauai, with the privately-owned
island of Niihau just off its west coast.
Although most volcanoes are near
plate boundaries, Hawaii is in the
middle of the Pacific Ocean, some
1,800 miles from the nearest plate
In 1963, J. Tuzo Wilson, a
Canadian geophysicist, posited that
the islands had been formed by
volcanoes from an underwater
magma source called a hotspot.
As the Pacific plate moves
northwest, the hotspot remains
stationary, slowly creating one
volcano--that grows into one
The geological history of the
Hawaiian islands is relatively short.
Kauai emerged from the ocean only
six million years ago.
Three scenes (above) from Hawaii
Volcanoes National Park.