Those who chose to live in the shadow of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa were shaped by the power of Pele, the fire goddess. Major eruptive events are etched into numerous historic events such as the death of a warrior party in 1790 by an explosive eruptive event. Evidence of their last march can be found in footprints preserved in the hardened ash of the Kaʻu Desert. Archeological survey of the desert sands have also revealed evidence of intensive use of temporary shelter sites along a major trail system connecting the lower Kaʻu District and Kīlauea and over 300 shelter sites along its route.
In 1914, noted anthropologist Martha Beckwith visited Pu`u Loa and made this observation:
July 1, 1914. Rode out to Puuloa on the line between Kealakomo and Apuki. Here is a large pahoehoe mound used as a depository for the umbilical cord at the birth of a child. A hole is made in the hard crust, the cord is put in and as stone is placed over it. In the morning the cord has disappeared; there is no trace of it. This insures long life for the child. Mrs. Kama, born in 1862, was a native of Kamoamoa. Her mother brought her cord there. She had 15 children and for each one at birth the visit was made to Puuloa. Another mound, on the southern boundary of Apukiu., called Puumanawalea, was similarly used….Puuloa is especially rich. There are holes, pictures, initials chiseled into the rock.
Pu`u Loa is not the only place within Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park that one sees petroglyphs created on the lava substrate. Single petroglyph images, petroglyph panels, and petroglyphs created in a linear or other pattern can be seen in many locations at the coast as well as along the slopes of Kilauea volcano, each serving its own purpose. Volcanoes National Park.
Kīlauea and its Halemaʻumaʻu caldera were traditionally considered the sacred home of the volcano goddess Pele, and Hawaiians visited the crater to offer gifts to the goddess.
In 1790, a party of warriors (along with women and children who were in the area) were caught in an unusually violent eruption. Many were killed and others left footprints in the lava that can still be seen today.
The first western visitors to the site, English missionary William Ellis and American Asa Thurston, went to Kīlauea in 1823. Ellis wrote of his reaction to the first sight of the erupting volcano:
A spectacle, sublime and even appalling, presented itself before us. ‘We stopped and trembled.’ Astonishment and awe for some moments rendered us mute, and, like statues, we stood fixed to the spot, with our eyes riveted on the abyss below.