Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Beware the Angry Goddess

Jeanne Matthews
Today I am very pleased to introduce a guest blogger. I met Jeanne Matthews at Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe this past March, on a panel of people who write about exotic locations. Here she is to tell us about her new book’s location and some of the lore that forms a background for another of her fascinating stories.

Jeanne Matthews was born and raised in Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Journalism and has worked as a copywriter, a high school English and Drama teacher, and a paralegal. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her law professor husband and a West Highland terrier.

– Annamaria Alfieri

Mauna Loa
The largest and most volcanic of the Hawaiian Islands is Hawai’i, which is often called The Big Island. It is bigger than all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined and still growing. There are five volcanoes on Hawai’i. Two are extinct, one is dormant, and two are active. A sixth “baby” volcano remains 3,000 feet below the surface of the ocean, but it’s growing by leaps and bounds. Volcanologists expect it to poke its head above sea level about a thousand centuries from now. Mauna Kea is the tallest of the island’s volcanoes. If measured from the ocean floor, it would be the tallest mountain in the world – taller than Mt. Everest. And Mauna Loa, Long Mountain in the Hawaiian language, dwarfs every other mountain on earth in terms of volume. It is sixty miles long and thirty miles wide and comprises over half of the land area of the island. Mauna Loa doesn’t tower above the surrounding terrain. It is broad and round, like a native shield. All of the Hawaiian volcanoes are called shield volcanoes and when they erupt, lava flows out in all directions.

The Goddess Pele
by Arthur Johnsen
The old Hawaiian word for lava was Pele, also the name of the fire goddess worshipped by the early Hawaiians. To them, Pele personified all things volcanic. She was the fire, the lava, the steam, the new-formed land, and a temperamental goddess – hard to predict and hard to appease. Pele has spawned almost as many myths and legends as the volcanoes have spawned scientific studies.

Like the Greek and Roman deities, the Hawaiian gods and goddesses demonstrated all of the foibles of human beings. They were lusty, vain, evil-tempered, prone to spite and jealousy, and utterly ruthless when angered. And like most deities, they didn’t communicate directly with the hoi-polloi. Shamans called kahunas interpreted the actions of the gods and conveyed their will and their laws to the common folk. Most of these laws had to do with behavior that was kapu. The Polynesians invented kapu, a code of conduct intended to suppress objectionable desires by imbuing the desired object with peril. Kapu forbade what was dangerous and stigmatized what was unclean. Kapu also carried connotations of sacredness and it wielded a profound psychological power over those who believed, and even those who didn’t. To break a kapu, even accidentally, subjected a person to immediate death and the Hawaiian religion designated an oppressive number of things kapu.

Many of their kapu laws would be considered deplorable today, but not all. The Hawaiians were early environmentalists. They made overfishing of certain types of fish kapu to maintain long-term viability of the species and they invoked kapu to restrict certain land use practices in order to safeguard water and natural resources. A deep, spiritual connection to the land is intrinsic to the Native Hawaiian psyche. The cycle of destruction and creation, death and rebirth, was a fundamental tenet of their religion. Pele sent the fires that gave birth to the land and then her lover Kamapua’a sent the rains that extinguished the fires. Wild boars dug up the lava and softened it so that seeds could take root and plants and trees eventually covered the land until Pele sent her fires and devoured the land again.

In my new book “Bet Your Bones,” Dinah Pelerin learns just how deep this Native Hawaiian love of the land runs and how persistent the influence of a pagan goddess can be. Pele is the land and even in modern-day Hawaii, there are those who remain bitter about the United States’ annexation of the islands, those who resent the ouster of their constitutional queen and the degradation of their customs and their culture. There are some who wouldn’t stop at murder to prevent the desecration of prime ocean-front real estate, especially if sacred ancestral bones lie buried beneath.

Jeanne Matthews


  1. Fascinating, Jeanne! Can't wait to get my hands on your new book!

  2. Once again you lured me into learning something, Jeanne! I thoroughly enjoyed BET YOUR BONES and look forward to Dinah's next adventure!