Offerings at the volcano and at other sacred sites certainly are part of
Hawaiian religion and tradition. The problem is that many of the offerings I
see these days are done out of context, sometimes to the point of being
extremely offensive. Offerings to Pele, and other Hawaiian entities, must be
made with great care and and training, or they can open a path for spiritual
problems. The best "rule of thumb" is that if you have not been trained by a
respected Native practitioner, don't do it.
In a recent CNN article ( http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/04/21/hawaii.volcano.ap/index.html ), Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park rangers discuss problems with certain types of offerings left at Kīlauea. Addressing the specific offerings mentioned in the article: Burning money to Pele is certainly not appropriate. Finances are not her kuleana, her responsibility. Besides, to burn something on the doorstep of the volcano goddess seems rather hubristic to me. And to leave a food offering without knowing the appropriate protocols, well, you just have no assurance of knowing exactly what you are feeding.
Gin, or other alcoholic beverage, is not an appropriate offering at the Volcano. That "custom" was started by Greek immigrant George Lycurgus, who once owned the famous Volcano House, a hotel on the crater's rim. He made offerings of gin to Pele in hopes of getting her drunk enough to indulge in her spectacular fire-shows, which drew tourists to his establishment.
I often see people leaving rocks as offerings. A rock as an offering, wrapped in a ti leaf or not, is offensive. Some people believe that the psudo-custom began when visitors saw Hawaiian people putting ti-wrapped rocks on top of ho`okupu (traditional offerings) to keep rodents from eating them. Not understanding what was going on, they tried to copy, and ended up doing something inappropriate. This offensive act was then perpetuated by a very bad surf movie in which a young hapa girl takes a haole surfer boy to a heiau, wraps a rock in a ti leaf, and tells him that it is "a custom of my people" for bringing good luck.
Returning pohaku - rocks - which have inappropriately been taken from a place is simply putting something back, not making an offering.
There are specific protocols for making different kinds of offerings. Hula offerings are not appropriate at fishing altars. Fishing offerings are not appropriate at Kilauea. Unless a person is a trained Kahu, Kumu, or Kahuna, it is often very difficult to distinguish between them. In the above right image, Petronila, one of my haumana, students, shows the ho`okupu she made for lei making. At right, a fellow hula instructor and I offer ho`okupu at Kīlauea, asking permission to lead a motorcycle ride through Pele's domain. I will not post the details, as I do not want anyone to try and copy this without proper training.
Offerings of things of a personal nature - hair, a locket you have worn, a ring, bracelet, photographs, should not be made, as that type of offering entails vows which can bind the supplicant, and his or her family, for generations. One may end up biting off far more than one wants to chew.
If one has a dream or other instruction to make such an offering, it should be discussed with a reputable kahu, kumu, or kahuna before the physical action is taken.
I am frequently contacted to help people "make an offering to Pele at the summit of Mauna Kea." A`ole no! No, indeed!!!! Kilauea is Pele's home, and anywhere her lava flows is her domain. The summit of Mauna Kea belongs to Poli`ahu. They are rivals. I do not dance hula Pele on Mauna Kea, nor do I dance hula Poli`ahu on the Puna side of Mauna Loa.
The most appropriate offering that any person can make can be made without any tangible item being left behind. The most perfect offering is one's aloha, ha, and olelo. To love a place, and breathe out that love in the form of a spoken promise to cherish and protect it, that is the most perfect offering.
I think the best-put response to this question that I have ever seen was written by Edward Kanahele. His forward to Van James' book, "Wahi Pana," is clear and well-reasoned. Kanahele points out:
People who come to these islands "are of many different philosophical and spiritual persuasions. . .For the tourist or resident who is not a practitioner [of the Native Hawaiian religion], a minimal duty whould be that one has the intent of doing no harm. . . One should take a moment to reflect. . . One should not leave any [physical] offering (never leave a rock covered with a ti leaf). One should not disturb or take any souvenir rocks or other material because such an action affects one's spiritual safety. Neither should one leave a spiritual or personal object. . . since that also affects one's spiritual safety.
"If the visitor feels spiritually compelled to connect. . . then one should offer a ho`okupu. One of the ho`okupu of highest value in the native Hawaiian culture is not an offering of vegetables or foliage; neither is it an offering of a fish or a whale's tooth or a family heirloom; rather it is one's word!. . . One's word is the ho`okupu of choice!"
You can discuss this and other topics on my Hawaiian
Culture and Arts forum.
Wahi Pana, by Van James