(photo by Richard Denton)

The legend is popular and powerful: remove a lava rock (or sand) from Hawaii and bad luck will follow. Many people swear it is true and return rocks hoping for a reprieve. But the reason to respect the curse is greater than mere superstition.

The curse is told in various forms, but always involves the idea that Pele, Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes, is angered when rocks or sand are removed and visits bad luck on the offender. The rumor-busting web site Snopes.com marks the legend as “true” — not true in the sense that they’ve interviewed the Goddess, but true that many people return the rocks because they have experienced what they see as bad luck. We’ve told some of the stories here (see link below) and of the two most common avenues of return: mailing the rocks back or asking a local gallery to repatriate the rocks in a forgiveness ceremony. The return of the rocks with an apology is said to remove the curse.

However, I see this view of the curse as backwards; the curse isn’t really about you, it’s about respect for these beautiful islands. These islands were formed by volcanic action, whether you call it Pele or geothermal activity. The opportunity to watch the act of creation is rare and wonderful. Leaving the land as you found it is a mark of respect everywhere. That, alone, is enough to forbid the taking of unauthorized souvenirs.

Even further, Native Hawaiians see themselves as linked to this land in a special relationship. Treating parts of the islands as trinkets rather than sacred objects is insulting. Even if you don’t agree, a courteous visitor does not steal from the home of the host. There are many island craftspeople who make wonderful keepsakes; buying them supports the local economy and artisans. That can also have a spiritual dimension — you are accepting an object offered for sale and created to help you recall the pleasant days spent in Hawaii. Why not take back the positive energy from warm memories of welcome and hospitality?

But, as with mothers everywhere, when reason and education aren’t enough to regulate misbehavior, we follow with a threat. Don’t take the rocks while on your Hawaii vacation, or else!

7 COMMENTS

  1. Here is a big tip for anyone visiting the big island.
    DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING THAT YOU DID NOT BUY IN A STORE OR GIFT SHOP.
    I believe it not just the rocks and sand(LAVA), but anything. Its just not werth it. The bad luck that can befall you is not werth anything that you could find on the ground, beach, or forest floor. Trust me.
    I picked up a peice of corrol that was in a funny shape. I was not even a week back and I got arrested on a BS charge that has cost be thousands to proove my innocents. My landlord has suddenly told us we need to move out of a house that we have spent 3 years in with no intention to leave for atleast two more. I could go on, but I need to get to work and pray I don't lose that.

  2. I lived in Hawaii and as an avid rock hound, brought back some specimens of lava and sand. That was 50 years ago and while I am not as hale and hearty as I was then (imagine that), I have not had more than my share of “bad luck”. You can supposedly combat that curse by treating the rocks with respect and offering flowers, perfume or red paper/ribbon or fabric to Pele. I am returning to Hawaii next month for a visit and am NOT taking back my pieces of the island…..they are precious to me and Pele must know it. They are my link to the islands. I don’t plan on getting more because that which I have is sufficient for my needs. I suppose Mt. St. Helens erupted because Pele was mad at me for removing those pieces??? Odd that she waited so very many years to exact her vengeance. Why would buying rocks in a shop be different from picking on up off the ground? That confuses me.

  3. I bought back a rock and some sand. I also BOUGHT a little glass jar that was filled with sand and shells.

    All in all….these are God’s rocks and he doesn’t mind if we move them around. Trust me.

  4. This is beyond ridiculous. As a geologist, hawaii is nothing more than a weak spot in the lithosphere causing hot mantle material to rise thus creating the chain volcanoes of hawaii. Their is no curse, although i do believe the power of the mind is under estimated. If you really believe this curse, then all ur actions will coincide with your subconcious referring back to this curse and you create your own bad luck. A rock is a rock, mostly basalt fr hawaii which is a mafic rich igneous rock. Its nothing more than.. A rock

  5. I recently returned from O’ahu and took only photos as souvenirs. Not because of a superstition but because my luggage was already loaded down with t-shirts, coffee, frozen fish(lol) and other items. As for the curse, if there was such a thing, why waste it on feeble tourists who take pieces of rocks or sand, why not put that curse on those who stole the actual islands.

  6. There is no curse. It is NOT an ancient Hawai`ian myth. It is actually quite recent in origin and according to one of the Professors at U of H who teaches Hawai`ian mythology, it was created by the Hawai`ian livery drivers who were frustrated by the early visitors putting the jagged pieces of lava on the fine leather seats and damaging them. This predates the National Park. The rangers there found the “myth” a convenient way to keep people from collecting things and possibly destroying the petroglyph sites. Snopes needs to update its entry.

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