Nāhuku and Its Origins

Nature is aweful.

Nature is awful. But it’s awful from back when awful meant “full of awe”. To fully appreciate this, you have to imagine what it was like for ancient people to gaze upon some wondrous natural phenomenon, before we had any grounding in science, and have absolutely no idea what caused it.

Imagine coming upon the Grand Canyon, Victoria Falls, Mount Everest, or the Great Barrier Reef and thinking, how? Our ancestors can’t be blamed for assuming that everything that wasn’t man made must be of a spiritual origin. And while my belief system differs greatly from theirs, I do enjoy hearing the old creation stories and imagining the various deities as living, breathing entities who shaped the earth in ways mankind never could.

That’s what was running through my mind as Dear Husband and I walked down through a rain forest full of fern trees and birdsong. We felt as if we had been transported to prehistoric times.

Our ultimate destination was Nāhuku, also known as the Thurston Lava Tube to those uninspiring name-changers of European descent. (They may not have been poetic, but hey, at least they were arrogant.)

One such white guy was Lorrin Thurston, a newspaper publisher who “discovered” this tube back in 1913. I’m actually grateful for this man, because he was instrumental in creating Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, where this particular lava tube is located. It’s only because of him that I was able to walk into said tube. But that doesn’t mean he gets to take credit for its very existence, as far as I’m concerned.

Even the National Park Service website makes it seem as though Thurston discovered this lava tube. Poppycock. It is estimated that this tube is 350 to 500 years old, and the Polynesians first arrived in Hawaii at least 1400 years ago. It’s safe to assume that they knew of this tube from the time it formed.

In fact, Nāhuku means “the protuberances” and probably refers to the lava drippings that used to hang down from the ceiling of the tube, until white people started breaking them off for souvenirs. What a shame. I’d have loved to have seen them. People suck. (I tried to find images of these drippings on the internet, but came up empty.)

Lava tubes are created when a river of molten lava with temperatures over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit travels along, and then eventually leaves an empty tube in its wake, as the outer edges cool and harden long before the flowing, orange-hot center does. That’s the scientific explanation. But scientists and ancient people can agree on this: No mere mortal is responsible for creating such an incredible formation.

According to Wikipedia, Ancient Hawaiians believed, and some of their descendants still believe, that the goddess Pele governs the Kilauea volcano, and is responsible for all its lava flows. It is she who shapes the sacred land. She is known for her power, passion, jealousy, and capriciousness. It is said that she lives in the caldera of Kilauea, but her domain is all the volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii.

I felt quite privileged to explore Nāhuku, which could be described as some of Pele’s most impressive handiwork. I have to say it’s still very cool, literally and figuratively. It’s located about a mile and a half past the park entrance, and there is limited parking, but we happened to luck out on the day. We walked through the 600-foot tube, which was well lit, and has ceilings that are more than 20 feet high in some places.

The site is actually open 24 hours a day, but it’s only lit from 8 am to 8 pm. I think walking through there at night with just a flashlight would have been exceedingly creepy, but it can be done. You used to be able to walk through another 50 yards of the tube which is always unlit, but now that portion is closed off. The whole tube was closed off for a time during the 2018 eruption, and closed again for a year during the height of the COVID 19 pandemic.

This was not my first lava tube, but it is my favorite so far. (Read about the one we visited in Oregon here.) As we wandered through this natural wonder, I thought about colonization and its arrogance, science and its value to our knowledge base, and the goddess Pele, who I will forever associate with the gorgeous painting below, which can be seen at the Volcano Art Center. (Or at least it could be seen there at the time of our visit. I wish I could have been the one to buy it.)

As we neared the other end of the lava tube, you might say that my mind was on fire with history, facts, and mythology, and I was struggling to process it all. I was tempted to turn around and walk back the way we came, just to give myself more time to think. Then a rat ran across my foot.

Nope. It was definitely time to go.

Fun fact: There’s also a “psychedelic, experiment surf instrumental band” called The Thurston Lava Tube. Interestingly, they hail from England. Their music is kind of fascinating, and a lot of it can be found on YouTube. Check out their cover of Bohemian Rhapsody, which gives the song an entirely new vibe.

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Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

8 thoughts on “Nāhuku and Its Origins”

  1. Speaking of history, facts, and mythology, in reference to Pele and volcanoes…

    the Pele myth and how it applies to scientific theories begins @ the 5:15 mark. Love how spiritual origins can relate to todays scientific findings. There’s much, from ancient myths and legends, for science to learn. Future generations will look back at many of our current scientific explanations and beliefs as the myths of an ignorant, ancient people. Can you imagine what they’ll make of our emojis?😵
    That painting, of the goddess, has inspired me for a future project. Sorry you weren’t able to buy it. Maybe you can paint your own version.

    1. Ha. If I were that talented, I’d quit my day job. And yes, we have a lot to learn from ancient knowledge. It frustrates me how often modern medicine will overlook some tried and true methods, just because they’re old fashioned. I’m not saying we should go back to blood letting, but I know my doctors were willing to zonk me on allergy meds for the rest of my life, when it turns out that all I needed to do was take a teaspoon of local bee pollen a day, and I can breathe again. I had to learn that through my own research. And They’ll probably think of emojis as simplistic hieroglyphs. 🙂

      1. Glad bee pollen worked. I avoid my triggers so my symptoms are tolerable without those drying meds. I’m dried out enough from Sjogrens. If I hadn’t worked in the medical profession and learned to research safe alternative treatments, my traditional doctors would’ve killed me long ago. As it is, their aggressive long-term treatments contributed to my disability. If they changed course, it’d be an admission that their treatments harmed me. Whenever I ask if we can use less toxic treatments, to see if we can lessen side-effects, they treat me like I asked for a reiki healing or referral to a shaman. I really miss my osteopathic doc who was open to alternatives. He even did acupuncture, for pain control, rather than prescribe opioids. We must be aggressive in our self advocacy in this, obscene, for profit medical system we are chained to. The older you get, the harder it is for them to keep their Hippocratic oaths and do no harm.

      2. So true. And we’re lucky in that we are intelligent and articulate and speak our mind, but even then, it’s hard to get them to take you seriously. Imagine how hard it would be for someone who didn’t have those qualities.

  2. You don’t have to be a professional to feed your soul by creating your personal inspired vision. Most talent is discovered through practice, just as your writing talent needed practice to be recognized. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there’d be a lot more beauty, in our lives, if we stop judging ourselves and others so harshly. Let it be art therapy for days when you’re struggling or for days you need to express your joy. Either way, it works.

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