Just call it Storytime with the Magpie! Another beautiful Native Hawaiian legend was shared when I was visiting the Hawai'i National Volcanoes National Park on the island of Hawaii, to visit the goddess Pele and see how she's been shaking things up in her home within Kilauea. I took advantage of one of the best things about national parks, getting a ranger-guided tour. I'm a big supporter of all our national parks -- they are all treasures meant to be enjoyed as well as educate, so do consider visiting a few of them in your own state and abroad. I especially J'adore the ranger tours at Volcanoes because it's not just the science of the earth, but you get an incredible cultural history of the land and everything that grows on it. I was lucky to have Ranger Dean Gallagher guide me through the park, and his knowledge and love of the local culture is too great a resource not to take advantage of.
Walking through the park, you'll notice bushes growing all over, with rough, gnarled bark, dusky small leaves and a strikingly bright flower that looks a little like a sea urchin, all spiny, yet soft. This is the Ohia tree, a plant native to the islands, usually one of the first vegetation to grow from a lava flow. Clearly, it's a plant with moxy. Ranger Dean shared the heartbreakingly beautiful story of the ohia tree and its red lehua blossom, along with a performance of him playing the traditional native nose flute. The breath of a person, the ha, is considered a powerful thing, but the air coming from the mouth is not as pure as the breath that escapes from the nose, hence the flute being played using the nose. It ensures the music is coming from a truly sacred place.
The legend of the ohia tree starts out with a handsome warrior named Ohia, who plays the nose flute so skillfully, his music and physical beauty captures the eye of the goddess Pele, one whose passions are easily ignited. She's a hot gal who falls for the handsome musician -- who can't say we've all been there, right, ladies? But Ohia's heart belongs to another, the equally beautiful Lehua, whom they have already pledged their love to one another. Pele's jealousy is enraged! This seems to happen a lot with this goddess. Pele angrily turns Ohia into a hunched-over, gnarled tree, twisted and bent like an old man. His beauty and ability to play music was taken from him, cursed to live as an ugly outcast on the lonely cooled plains of the lava flows. Lehua was heartbroken, refusing to leave Ohia, not caring what he looked like, remaining true to the beauty of his heart. The other gods took pity on her, so she was turned into the bright, delicate bloom that now bears her name, forever reunited with her cursed Ohia, and showing that true beauty can grow in even the most harsh of conditions. It's also said that if you pick the bloom, it will rain, as you are separating these lovers and causing the sky to weep. So when you see the Ohia tree and the Lehua blossom upon it, remember the lovers who knew beauty comes from within, and just admire from afar, not picking the flowers.
Jaunty Fine Print: photographs by Denise Sakaki