Travel Curses! Hawaii Can't Get Tourists to Stop Sending Back Lava

20:36  15 may  2017
20:36  15 may  2017 Source:   The Wall Street Journal.

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HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK—Steve Pariseau believes he can pinpoint the moment his life began falling apart: It was when he picked up a shimmering black lava rock while on vacation with his family in Hawaii . Once he got home to California, one of his sons began having behavioral problems.

Why are so many tourists dying in Hawaii ? We examine the causes of visitor deaths. So many rocks are sent to the post office that Uyetake and his colleagues can ’ t guarantee they’ll all be taken to the park. “We brought back only suntans and memories.” Even if the curse is simply an unfounded

  Curses! Hawaii Can't Get Tourists to Stop Sending Back Lava © AP HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK—Steve Pariseau believes he can pinpoint the moment his life began falling apart: It was when he picked up a shimmering black lava rock while on vacation with his family in Hawaii.

Once he got home to California, one of his sons began having behavioral problems. His marriage fell apart. His mother died.

So when he heard about “Pele’s curse”—a widespread belief that Pele, the volcano goddess of Hawaii’s Big Island, will bring bad luck to those who take lava off the islands—he decided to bring the rock back. His family’s fortunes, he said, improved right away.

Each year, hundreds of people mail, fly or hike pieces of lava back to the Big Island, hoping that by returning rocks they snatched, they will break the curse, appease the goddess and end their bad luck.

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What happens to those foolish enough to take a lump of lava out of Hawaii as a souvenir? Big Island volcano model at the National Park Visitor Center. Pele's Cursed Tourist Rocks (Gone). The rocks still show up, months or years later, sent back via US mail to the National Park by mainland visitors

A collection of lava rocks returned to the U.S. Postal Service sits in the parking lot of the Post Office in Hilo, Hawaii . ”Pele’s Curse ” can ’ t be proven, since any misfortunes tourists may experience could be attributed to bad luck or poor timing. But that doesn’t stop some people from believing in the

Lava is shipped back from Germany, Japan and Australia. Some lava thieves return to Hawaii so they can place the lava as close as possible to where they found it.

“I’m not typically superstitious,” said Mr. Pariseau, 52 years old. “But a lot had gone wrong. I thought, maybe this whole Pele thing is possible.”

Like many myths, the origins of Pele’s curse are murky. Hawaiian scholars agree it has little basis in native Hawaiian religion. One popular theory holds that park rangers in the 1940s, frustrated by tourists who kept making off with pieces of lava, invented the curse.

Lava has been flowing back toward the Big Island ever since, becoming an enduring headache for current rangers, who deal with almost daily shipments. In years past, the park maintained a display about the curse. Now, returned lava is added to a massive pile in a part of the park off-limits to the public. There are thousands of pieces—red and black, jagged and smooth, some tiny and others almost 3 feet long.

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We looked at our souvenirs differently after that,” she said, adding she felt the curse was lifted after she sent the rocks back . Still, the website asks spooked tourists to send the rocks to their Hawaii -based PO box so they can be returned to their proper place.

The curse , as propagated by guidebooks and online tourism sites, states that the goddess Pele will of lava sent from California to “The Mayor, Kona, Hawaii , USA,” as well as a report in 1978 about a But the tourists who mail back their sand and stones are not alone. Thieves return things, not all of

“Occasionally, you look at the postage and they paid $100 to mail things back,” said Bobby Camara, a longtime ranger here who retired in 2013.

Rangers have tried to convince visitors the curse isn’t real and remind them that taking lava, or anything not sold in the gift shop, from the park is illegal.

“If there was a curse…” Jessica Ferracane, a spokeswoman for the park, started to say, then stopped. “There’s no curse.”

She declined to let a reporter take a photo of the lava pile, saying it may lead people think lava will find a good home if they send it back. Park officials, who consider the idea of a curse “culturally inappropriate,” are trying to discourage that.

But huge quantities of lava keep arriving each year.

Even some lifelong Hawaii residents don’t mess with lava rocks.

Alana Hong Eagle, born and raised in Honolulu, was horrified when she found her roommate had brought a plastic bag full “Pele’s hair”—strands of lava that look like golden locks—from the Big Island to their house on Oahu.

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As for the Hawaiian Lava Rock Curse , don’ t worry, it’s 100% NOT TRUE. “Things just went down hill for the 2 of us after we got back from Hawaii & divorced in August of 2003.” “…my parents going Right now there’s a viral story about a local saving the lava rock back to the big island from tourist .

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The roommate left the bag on the dining-room table when she moved out. Ms. Eagle didn’t touch it—the lava sat there for months until a termite infestation drove her to move out as well.

“She thought maybe if she left it in Hawaii that she’d be fine,” Ms. Eagle, now 31, said.  “But I wasn’t going to risk it.”

Much of the lava shipped back ends up in the hands of Alton Uyetake, the officer in charge at the Hilo post office on the Big Island.

Sitting in his office on a recent Friday, Mr. Uyetake was surrounded by packages of lava. Though most had no return address, they often contained notes.

“My girlfriend went on vacation…and saw the big volcano,” one note said. “She brought me back a piece…I’m returning it because bad things have been happening.”

Another note said, simply, “Please tell Pele we’re very sorry.”

And lava is only the beginning. People send black sand and green sand pilfered from beaches here. One box from Poland contained a dozen pieces of coral.

The coral is put back in the ocean; the sand is brought to beaches with sand of the same color; the lava is sent to the national park to join the ever-growing pile.

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Then there are the store-bought items.

Mr. Uyetake keeps a collection on his desk of commercial goods that tourists, apparently confused about the curse, also sent back: Kukui nut necklaces of the kind sold all over Waikiki, cardboard coasters from Kona Brewing Company, a wooden Buddha statue.

“Why would somebody send this? It’s not even lava,” Mr. Uyetake, a 54-year-old who grew up on the Big Island, said as he picked up one of the necklaces. “This is a commercial thing. And the Buddha, man. Someone paid like 38 bucks for this thing.”

“To us it’s funny, but to them it’s real,” he added.

The Big Island is made from lava rock. Pele, who according to legend lives in the Kilaueau volcano, is viewed as a creator of the land—who can also destroy whole villages with lava flows.

Paying respect to the world around you is an important part of the Hawaiian religion, said S. Nani Kaaialii, a lecturer in religion at the University of Hawaii.

Ms. Kaaialii, whose family has been on the Big Island for “many generations,” will chant before going into certain part of the forest, to ask permission; if she needs flowers to make a lei—a flower necklace—she will leave an offering, like another plant.

There is no trace of Pele’s curse in early Native Hawaiian books, Ms. Kaaialii said. “It’s offensive,” she said. “A curse is a concept that was given to us culturally. But it sounds more exotic if it’s coming from the natives.”

Still, she added, “I don’t believe in curses, but I believe the so-called curse works. People sort of stopped taking stuff.”

Many believe bringing lava back has helped.

Mr. Pariseau said his family’s fortunes improved after they took another vacation to Hawaii and brought the lava rock back, nearly 10 years after they took it.

He got married again. His ex-wife reunited with her high-school sweetheart. His children are now both thriving.

“I feel kind of silly,” he said, when asked whether he believed in the curse. “But seeing is believing.”

Write to Ian Lovett at

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