(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!


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