Why Pele Doesn’t Like Geothermal

I went to my third County Council meeting in fifteen years last night.  Now I remember why I don’t go to them.  The agenda was geothermal but, as with everything in Puna, everyone in attendance was against it.  As a scientist, I expected to hear facts.  What I heard – for the first hour – was why drilling holes in solidified lava was killing the Goddess Pele.

OK, people can believe what they like – but Pele didn’t become a goddess until her sister killed her and goddesses don’t die.  This is one of her storiesThis is another one. One must respect people who choose to believe them, but Pele isn’t the only god/goddess, and in order to respect her, you have to go through a few others first and there are two distinct trails.

One breakdown of the Hawaiian pantheon consists of the following groups:

  • the four gods (ka hā) – Kū, Kāne, Lono, Kanaloa
  • the forty male gods or aspects of Kāne (ke kanahā)
  • the four Hundred gods and goddesses (ka lau)
  • the great Multitude of gods and goddesses (ke kini akua)
  • the spirits (na ʻunihipili)
  • the guardians (na ʻaumākua)

Another breakdown consists of three major groups:

  • the four gods, or akua: Kū, Kāne, Lono, Kanaloa
  • many lesser gods, or kupua, each associated with certain professions
  • family gods, ʻaumakua, associated with particular families
Akea first Hawaiian king who founded a kingdom in the afterlife (Peles brother)
Apukohai Shark God of Kauai
Haulili God of Speech
Hai  God of Kapa making
Hiaka  a Mountain God on Kauai
Hiiakawawahilani  the Cloud Holder
Hinakuluiau  Goddess of Rain
Kalaipahoa  Goddess who harms trees
Kaluannuunohonionio  a God of a temple’s sacrificial house
Kamapua’a  the Hog God
Kamohoali’i  Keeper of the water of life 
Kamooalii King Moho, the God of Steam
Kanaloa  God of the Ocean
Kane  the Creator
Kane-hekili  Spirit of Thunder
Kapo the Goddess of the South Pacific; Pele’s sister
Keoahikamakaua  the Child of War; Spirit of Lava Fountains
Kapohoikahiola  Spirit of Explosions
Keuakepo  God of Rain and Fire
Kiha a Goddess of Maui
Koleamoku God of the Art of Healing; patron of the Kahunas
Ku  the Architect and Maker of War
Kuahana  God who kills men
Kukaoo  God of the Husbandman
Kane the Godhead
Kaupe The Cannibal Dog Man
Kukailimoku God of War
Kuula  God of Fishermen
Laamaomao God of Winds, lives on Molokai
Laka the Goddess of Hula; Pele’s sister
Lakakane  God of the Hula
Lie  Goddess of the Mountains
Lono  God of Peace and Prosperity, Wind and Rain, Lord of the Sun
Lonomakua Keeper of the Sacred Fire Sticks 
Mahulu  names of Gods in Lono’s temples
Manua  Supreme Sovereign of Po; the spirits of chiefs and priests live within him
Maui the Time Shifter
Milu  Lord of the spirit world (Pele’s brother) 
Moaalii  the Shark God of Molokai and Oahu
Mokualii  God of Canoe Makers
Mooaleo a Gnome who lives on Lanai
Ouli  God who could kill people if prayed to
Poliahu  Goddess of snowy Mauna Kea and a rival to Pele
Papa Goddess of Nature
Pele  Goddess of the Volcano
Puea  a God worshipped in darkness
Ukanipo  the Shark God of Hawaii
Ulaulekeahi God of Distillers
Uli  God of Sorcerers

And then you have to disregard the orders of the lawful rulers of Hawaii.  Kamehameha the Great died in 1819. In the aftermath, two of his wives, Kaʻahumanu and Keōpūolani, then the two most powerful people in the kingdom, conferred with the kahuna nui, Hewahewa. They convinced young Liholiho, Kamehameha II, to overthrow the kapu system. They ordered the people to burn the wooden statues and tear down the rock temples and stop eating each other. Without the hierarchical system of religion in place, some abandoned the old gods, and others continued with cultural traditions of worshiping, them, especially their family ‘aumākua.

This was BEFORE the missionaries arrived.  This was BEFORE Christianity.  So I am white, and not Polynesian and not even Christian.  I can and do respect old beliefs, and I probably know more about them than 90% of the people who claim them. But really don’t care to take the blame for them being revoked.  I do anyway sometimes, but I accept it with more aloha than I am shown by the haters.

In December 1824 the High Chiefess Kapiʻolani descended into the Halemaʻumaʻu crater after reciting a Christian prayer instead of the traditional one to Pele. She was not killed as predicted.  I wasn’t here.  Hawaii wasn’t a state.  The High Chiefess Kapi’olani rejected Pele and the Hawaiian people choose to ignore her and somehow blame a geothermal plant for hurting Pele.  Or the blame for something because I am white.  But I am hanaied Kamakawiwo’ole — so I really don’t have to take that from anyone. I did last night, but I won’t again.

OK, enough of that. The next issue was also primarily historical and dealt with the initial, disastrous, preliminary geothermal wells.  They weren’t done right, and they weren’t done safely, and the ones we have now probably aren’t much better.  But they COULD be better if our elected officials worked for the people they are supposed to represent.

This isn’t a political rant, but I happen to like Dominic Yagong, and if you don’t know him, maybe you ought to invite him to speak to your group.  When you talk to him you don’t feel like you are talking to a snake.

In any event, that presentation concerned the terrible operation of the geothermal plant between 1983 and 1999 and up to 2004.  I don’t think there is any argument about that.  It was a disaster.  But some of the pictures shown, which purported to be well blowouts, weren’t.  I do not mean to suggest that the gases in lava are good for you.  They are not.  They are toxic.  I am not a physician, only a Ph.D.  But I can explain the toxicology of exposure to those gases quite clearly.  HOWEVER, even if every well failed, or was sheared, it would simply plug up from the bottom and that’s why they have to drill new ones to replace old ones.  They aren’t like bullets sitting in the ground waiting to be shot out of a cannon.  The water has to pe PUMPED through the well — and bad wells simply clog. They don’t blow out. They USED TO, back in the ’80’s, but we are past that.  There is no way that any of those wells are going to release 400 tonnes of toxic gas every day — which is what is happening naturally, each and every day.

So after the presentation was over last night — and about 80% of it was either too complicated for most of the audience to understand, or boring, and…the last part…about the UCSD microgrid made no sense to anyone unless you understood the system beforehand — people had already begin leaving in droves.  I was initially an early speaker, but I asked to put my 3 minutes back so I could address concerns and comments scientifically, but that put me back two hours…so I left and came home.

All that said, I think geothermal is a good, renewable resource….in Iceland.  It could be here, but I seriously doubt that sufficient safety procedures would be followed to make it reasonable.  That’s too bad, because we are living on a hot-spot in the earth which would provide all our energy needs, at a cost of almost nothing — if either HELCO or anyone in government was honest — but we know better.  So, as one of the presenters, Robert Petricci, pointed out last night, for the cost of a large geothermal plant, done correctly, and an underwater cable to Maui, every home in Hawaii could be given solar heat and electricity.  He didn’t mention it, but if Helco was smart enough to change their business plan, they could make a lot of money installing and maintaining those systems and replacing batteries, with almost no overhead costs.  A gold mine for them.

I simply want off the grid.  If Helco has to find a new business model, then they do.  But I’ll bet you that if the community owned and maintained the geothermal plants — and got electricity for next to nothing — they’d suddenly forget about disrespecting Pele.  Because the bottom line here is that Pele could wash that plant away in a day if she wanted to.  She doesn’t need anyone’s help and never has.  This issue has a lot more to do with who is making money at our expense than anything else.

For the same money as a new HELCO plant, every home on the Island could have solar heat and electricity.  It’s a no-brainer unless you work for HELCO.

Dr. Tom is a retired scientist who is now farming on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

| Print This Post Print This Post
  • It’s nice to see the people of Hawaii are wise enough to distrust large geothermal energy interests. We have 2 very large fields in California that cause earthquake swarms daily…one each at the North & South end of the San Andreas Fault. Unwise to say the very least. Now the Obama administration has, just this year, kicked into high gear another in Oregon at Newberry Volcano…and the earthquakes have already begun. It’s all on the Dept. of Energy Website with earthquake increases documented by Stanford & MIT.

  • Mo

    Looks to me like Mr Burnett is a little huffy because he can research all he wants and he still will not get it. Sorry for being kanaka maoli and knowing my own religion. Keep in mind, Pele is still respected to this day more so then the other ancestors (the term for the ancestors “Gods” a christian term) according to the ancestor they are respecting through their thoughts and ceremony. You have no clue of what actually happened in the past with the Kapu system and why it all occurred. Keep researching but not in the history books. Most of which are written by non hawaiians so it was far from a Hawaiian point of view and based on misperception of the unknowledgeable author. Kind of like this article. Mahalo.

  • I too believe that geothermal is an excellent source of energy. I dont preclude myself from an understanding that maybe Hawaiians, armed with whatever excuse they may have would not want such a project as it feeds the colonialist appetite for more and more energy, a same colonialist appetite that overthrew a sovereign kingdom in that familiar wretched of ways. The good Dr. B provides an exhaustive account of the various Gods laced throughout the Hawaiian of old punctuated with a sly insinuation that because of all these Gods Hawaiians were somehow stupid and thus unable to integrate his privileged viewpoint. I am reminded of a book to where a western researcher sailed with Polynesian navigators. In his account he tells of how he would have to prod his navigator at every opportunity to inform him as to his navigating decisions as the navigator wasnt so froth coming. Yes, Hawaiians had many beliefs, but in the translation of Hawaiian anthropology to western understanding, these many God’s are used to convince people as to Hawaiian’s immature sense. When in fact belief in many hundreds of God’s is more noble if you will then belief in one. Its easy to forget that Hawaii was an advanced seafaring culture, highly innovative with its resources and among the most hygenic people on earth. So in a sense these many God’s were the only way that white folks could understand what amounts to be a truly remarkable civilization. You’ve got a God you say? His name is Jesus, ok cool we’ll throw him into the mix and see where it takes us. Not looking good.

    • Jeff Andrews

      The urgency to develope energy sources other than petroleum has not been realised by many good,and some not so good people.We also soon must have self sustaining food sources,medical herbs,and rebuild the fish farms.Many ulu must be planted,and the need to spread respect for the aina .The prioity should be urgent ,as we live in precarious times.My analysis of. five dynamics on which are survival rests,trouble. is indicated in all scenerios,with in two years,my percentages indicate a 70% chance of trouble next summer.Many people know me,this is my best effort,humbly yours Jeff Andrews

  • Robert Petricci

    This article by Tom Burnett is in accurate at best.
    Here is part one of the actual video presentation, 


    Tom is saying people can’t understand this? What a low opinion he has of all of us (the hundreds that attended the meeting) and a high opinion he has of himself. Watch the video and see for yourself if people understand what we are saying.

    What Tom fails to grasp because he did not make the effort to find out, is many of those people have lived with this for over 30 years, they were the power point. It was about their lives. How could they not understand their own history. If he would have bothered to listen to the community testify he would have learned many of them lived through the blow out, the well kick and the 18 declared civil defense emergencies at PGV between 1991 and 1999, HGP-A and much more. They may not be PHD’s or scientist but they know when they breath that gas they get sick and when their kids breath that gas they get sick. They know where it comes from and what it smells like.

    Here is video of some of the community testimony, you decide if they get it. You know, the one “Tom” says can’t understand the presentation.


    Further Tom as the video shows, I showed one picture that I said was a well blowout that is all and it is a well blowout I have the article it came from to prove it. You apparently do not know quite as much as you act like you do, and are not as observant as you would have us believe. I will let the video speak for it self. We did get a roaring applause after and countless people came over to thanks us.

    I have to say I expected more from Tom. His portrayal of us in the article is insulting to all the people that worked very hard for free to put this together for the community. I think he owes me and the rest of us an apology.


    Being that it was our first power point presentation and none of the people involved were professionals or got paid but did it as a community service, I am personally offended by Tom’s inaccurate and rude comments. I was at uncle Roberts tonight (Wednesday) and for hours people came up to me everywhere I went and thanked me for that presentation. Your never going to please everyone, the people that worked very hard to put that together were very happy with both the presentation and the response we got from the community and the council, as was the large crowd. 

    That’s good enough for me to make it worth it. I love it here and I love the people, there is no where else I want to live. I personally want to thank the community for coming out, Diane Thomas, Aurora Martinovich and the Pele Defense Fund and the county council, particularity chairman Domonic Yagong for making it happen. We feel like it was a great success and think it is pretty sad Tom has to try and ruin it for us with such a negative article. Boy I thought I was long winded. Did anyone even read all that? This guy really likes to hear himself. Hope it was worth it Tom.

    For anyone that missed the power point presentation, or wants to see it again we have been invited to give it again at Uncle Roberts in Kalapana, in Kona, and on Maui. I will be announcing the times when the schedule is set.

    • You live on a volcano, and are worried about a few holes in the ground?  I think you’re already breathing toxic gasses.

      • well no…

        You have no clue, it’s not just a few holes in the ground. It is in a volcano area (thanks for pointing it out) and is detrimental to the stability of the land.