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Native Hawaiians Don’t Want to Divert Lava Flow from Homes

As the June 27 lava flow from the Kilauea eruption on the Big Island of Hawaii threatens several communities, residents have begun asking why the lava can’t be diverted in order to save their homes and communities—Why can’t we bomb it? Bulldoze it? Build a shield? Breach the shield? Channel or direct it away from our homes?

But not all residents want the lava diverted.

For Native Hawaiians, the volcano upon which they live is the sacred home of the goddess Pele, who will not harm those who are reverent and respect the land. A visit from Pele (lava) is considered a blessing, and attempts to control Pele bring her wrath, which, they say, explains why past attempts at lava flow diversion have resulted in more damage after the lava changed course.

“We will never own our land; this is Pele’s home,” said Native Hawaiian Ihilani Niles. “And if she feels she needs to clean her house, then let her clean her house.”

In this case, the Native Hawaiian community and the scientific one are on the same page.

“We are not exploring or pursuing a diversion because of the uncertainty as to whether or not it would work or if it would actually make problems worse,” said Hawai`i County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira. “It could divert a flow into another subdivision, spare one and compromise or sacrifice another. And as I’ve said before, we are very sensitive to the cultural aspects of what the volcano represents in our communities.”

Volcano Lava Nears Homes on Hawaii's Big Island 0:22

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