Legends and Superstitions in Hawaii Research Paper

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Stealing Rocks From Paradise: Pele and Her Vengeance

The Hawaiian Islands are home to a diverse population. Much of this population comes from Polynesian roots, and culturally, there exist many different forms of religious and superstitious ideas that permeate modern Hawaiian culture. One of these superstitions surrounds the ancient Polynesian goddess of fire and lava Pele. It is said that if a person steals a lava rock from the island that they are cursed until they return it. From a religious perspective, Pele is a very jealous goddess and protector of the volcanoes and Hawaiian Islands. Thousands of people claim to have had bad experiences of having felt cursed after removing lava rocks from the islands, only to return them by mail or in person as soon as they realized the errors of their ways. Scientifically, it is impossible to prove any concrete link between the Hawaiian goddess Pele's anger over people stealing lava rocks and any misfortunes or mishaps experienced by people who take rocks from the Pacific islands. In fact, everyone who visits the islands takes a part of them with them, and as science can show, pieces of the islands move around the globe as dust kicks up and moves to certain levels of the atmosphere. So unless it could be said that everyone who visits the Hawaiian Islands is cursed, this superstition is easily disproved through scientific and logical argument.

More specifically, the superstition stems from utilitarian roots, and appears to have started in the 1960's or 1970's, as park rangers in many of the monuments in Hawaii were concerned about people stealing rocks and other pieces of the monuments themselves (Martin, D., 2010). The rangers concocted a story wherein the jealous goddess Pele, angry that tourists were making off with her children, the lava rocks of Hawaii, would take vengeance upon anyone who left with bits and pieces of the islands. The rangers also began to tell tourists that as long as those who stole rocks from the island were willing to mail or otherwise bring them back, that their bad luck would soon end (Martin, D., 2010). While this artificially concocted superstition seems useful and relatively harmless, it has taken off and become one of the most widely accepted myths relative to the Hawaiian Islands. Interestingly enough, this myth may actually stem from religious roots, and not just exist as a modern tale attempting to weave together Hawaiian mythology and modern concern for environmental conservation.

According to many of the ancient Hawaiian water and land rights, and many of the customs pertaining to them, the ancient Hawaiians felt as though the resources of the islands were precious, and they wanted to make sure they were conserved and preserve (Nakunia, E.M., 2007). In emphasizing their limited availability, the ancient islanders began to construct a mythology around the island goddesses Pele and Hina. These two are the oldest known goddesses, and, according to the mythology, two of the creators of the earth and the Hawaiian Islands. Much of the ensuing mythology developed around the limited resources and space that the ancient islanders experienced and had to work with (Nakunia, E.M., 2007). It is therefore no surprise that the myth of stealing rocks from the islands, as a product of environmental conservation as well as ancient mythology, came into existence.

Each year, millions of tourists and visitors come to Hawaii for various reasons. The islands are home to many very beautiful and exciting attractions. Each of these visitors, as they leave, takes with them tiny particles of the island. This happens due to the sand, dust, and rock particles trapped in clothing, shoes, and other belongings as well as people taking small samples and bottles full of beach sand and other elements. If the superstition was in fact true, and everyone who removed a piece of the islands was subject to bad luck, then everyone who has ever visited the islands and returned home to a separate location would need to suffer from bad luck. This would need to include many unwitting people and animals, since dust is also carried in feathers and fur. The scale of such a superstitious claim is staggering, and, if true, would be one of the most widely experienced superstitions in the world. From a scientific perspective, humans carry millions of tons of dust and other materials around as they move from place to place (Field, J.P., et. al., 2010). This creates a mixing of the Earth's surface, at least on a relatively small scale, and would suggest that the Hawaiian myth regarding stealing rocks or sand from the islands is a falsehood. Once the myth is scrutinized to a certain degree, it becomes quite clear that there is no scientific basis for truth and that if the myth were in fact true, millions of people would be experiencing bouts of bad luck instead of just the anecdotal few who claim that their life has been turned upside down due to their failure to heed the specific superstition.

From a logical perspective, where does the myth end? The myth could be extrapolated far beyond the reaches of the Hawaiian Islands since dust and matter are sometimes known to be carried across the globe by wind, sometimes referred to as Aeolian processes (Goudie, A.S., 2009). These processes often carry dust from the Sahara to South America, or particulates from Russian and Europe to North America. Certainly, by no huge stretch, dust is carried by Aeolian processes to and from Hawaii every day. Knowing this, if the myth were true, millions of people worldwide would be unknowingly affected by the negative consequences of the myth due to the simple fact that land matter from Hawaii, in tiny particulate and dust form, had landed on them or in their possession. The winds from around the globe have been shown to carry particulates thousands of miles, and the Hawaiian Islands are no exception. The myth surrounding an angry Pele and tourists who steal rocks from the islands was concocted before the Aeolian processes were understood, and it is likely that the myth itself is a product of the limited scientific worldwide that existed in the 1960's and 1970's, at least as far as the Aeolian Processes are concerned. This is another way in which the myth can be exposed, through the scientific and mythological limitations of the time period in which it was created. By examining the way the myth exists from a scientific perspective, it is possible to glean insight into the time period it came from due to the reflection of the myth's scientific limitations.

Psychologically, the myth is an extremely convenient way to strike fear of the unknown in to the hearts of people who would otherwise take home bits and pieces of the islands. Certainly the rangers who likely created the myth had good intentions at heart, and if everyone who visited Hawaii came home with a small piece of the islands, it could amount to a small-scale environmental disaster. But by examining the myth scientifically, from multiple angles, it is quite clear that it is impossible that all humans who take volcanic matter from the island are cursed. Humans have always had a propensity to build myths surrounding foreign landscapes and locations as a way of helping to quell their own fears of the unknown and their own xenophobia. In fact, in early European history, much fear was centered on climate and the land as judgment of the future (Hulme, M., 2008). This form of conquering fear surrounding future events and the fear of the unknown was woven into Hawaiian mythology by Europeans, specifically the white conquerors of the Hawaiian Islands. Certainly it is quite evident that a psychological connection exists between trying to exert human control through the landscape and climate over others and creating a negative influence upon those who disobey the environmentally friendly wishes of the park rangers.

The belief that those who steal rocks and sand from the Hawaiian Islands suffer horrible fates and bad luck at the hands of Pele, the Hawaiian volcanic goddess, is a very functional myth. Those who created it intended to strike some of the most basic and horrific fear into the hearts of people who would otherwise bring home a small chunk of the islands, but who become sufficiently scared to change their behavior. The myth is certainly geared toward trying to influence the future behavior of people who come to the islands as tourists, and therefore the roots of the myth can be exposed as coming from a place where people are trying to prevent this very specific and common behavior. The people who are in charge of protecting the islands, mainly park and monument rangers, likely concocted the myth using mythology and terminology that is very unfamiliar to most people, in order to create a mythology that is relatively unquestioned, since the basis of the claims are already widely misunderstood in the general population. However, any real examination of…[continue]

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