littoral cone

When lava flows into the sea, explosions occur. Fragments, blocks, bits, chunks, and spatters of molten rock are hurled into the air, and some land back on the shore. These pieces of volcanic debris, called according to their forms Pele’s tears, Pele’s hair, and limu o Pele (seaweed of Pele)—all honoring the power and force of the Hawaiian goddess of fire—sometimes accumulate in cone-shaped mounds or hills up to two hundred feet high and four hundred feet across. Called littoral because they’re created along the shoreline, in the littoral zone, the cones can be soft and rubbly or solid and craggy, with shells of hardened lava. They may become permanent features of the shoreline or be washed away by waves and storms. There seems no more elemental process of creation than that of the volcano spewing forth hot rock from the center of the Earth, giving newly born land up to the forces of wind, water, and time. Hawaiian myths and chants celebrate the powerful creative and destructive force of Pele and her sister, Hi’iaka. American author Pamela Frierson, in her book The Burning Island, quotes one such chant sung by a mythic chief in honor of Pele: “For whom do I make this offering of song?/ . . . For Pele, and for Hi’iaka the land— / This solid ground that swings and floats/Beneath the o’erhanging arch of heaven.”

Gretchen Legler