- Paul Anthony Jones
(n.) individual threads of volcanic glass
A curious geological phenomenon named Pele’s hair cropped up on HH this week:
Also known as witches’ hair, Pele’s hair is formed when tiny individual droplets of molten volcanic glass are ejected from the earth by volcanoes and are picked up by the wind, which blows and stretches them into astonishingly slender, hair-like strands. These strands can then accumulate in clumps blown together in piles on the ground, or else moulded around railings and signposts while they’re still hot.
Needless to say, the “Pele” in question here isn’t the Brazilian footballer. (He’s good, but he’s not that good.) Nor, despite the connection to volcanoes, does this have anything to do with Mount Pelée, the volcano that obliterated much of the Caribbean island of Martinique in a gigantic eruption in 1902. Instead this “Pele” is Tutu Pele, or “Madame Pele”—the goddess of volcanoes, lightning and violence in Hawaiian mythology.
The local tales associated with Pele are as diverse as they are numerous, but most versions of her story credit Pele with creating the Hawaiian islands themselves from molten rock hauled from the centre of the Earth as she fled from her elder sister, the water goddess Namakaokahai. The sisters’ constant disagreement are said to be responsible for Hawaii’s swelling seas and active volcanic landscape, as Namakaokahai cools and erodes Pele’s fire and rocks.
Because of the hairs’ volcanic origins, it’s the goddess Pele to whom they are said to be credited.