Pele's Curse: Why You Should Never Take Lava Rocks from Hawaii

Hawaii is many people’s ultimate travel destination, and for obvious reasons. The Hawaiian Islands boast of unmatched beauty in every corner, and a stay there is worth every dime. It’s for this reason that many tourists are tempted to take a piece of the islands with them at home. For most people, lava rocks are the perfect souvenir. But you should think twice before taking anything from the Island.

Legend has it that Pele, the goddess of fire and volcano, enacts a curse on anyone who steals items off the Island. She considers the rocks and sand her children and will do anything to protect them. The curse is only lifted when you return the stolen items.

If you’ve not been to Hawaii before, you probably don’t know much about Pele’s Curse. But if you’re planning to take a souvenir from the Hawaiian Islands, you may benefit from getting acquainted with the tale. The last thing you need is to go all the way back to Hawaii to return a rock. Here’s everything you should know.

What is Pele’s Curse?

The Hawaii Volcano National Park receives thousands of letters from tourists apologizing for taking lava rocks from the Hawaiian Islands. The letters are, in most cases, accompanied by the rocks they wish to return to end their streak of bad luck. But if you’re skeptical, this may seem like a joke. Perhaps, you may even believe that people are making up stories to scare others into leaving freebies behind.

But individuals who’ve been on the receiving end of Pele’s curse would beg to differ. So, who is Pele, and why should you be afraid?  Pele is the goddess of fire and volcano. Legend has it that she resided in the crater of Kilauea on Hawaii Island, which is modern-day Hawaii Volcano National Park. It’s believed that her wrath caused volcanic eruptions and lava flows.

Her visible power has resulted in respect and worship among Hawaiian citizens. To date, residents leave gifts and fruits as a sign of respect for the goddess. Besides, they believe this act brings them good luck.

How the Curse Comes Upon You

Pele is believed to be the Island’s matriarch, and it’s through her protective nature that the curse is born. The goddess is believed to be incredibly protective of her lands and children. Legend has it that Pele considers the lava rocks and sand as her children. 

Therefore, if anyone “steals” the rocks or sand, they should expect Pele to exact her vengeance on them. And her anger, like the fury of a woman scorned, isn’t child’s play. We’re not talking about breaking a fingernail or losing your favorite pair of socks here.

Many people who’ve reported about this curse tell stories of serious calamities. From pets dying, which is the most common, to losing loved ones, and relationships ending, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of Pele’s curse.

How to Rid Yourself of the Curse

Pele’s curse can last for days, months, and even years after picking the lava rocks. It’s believed that the only way to rid yourself of the curse is to return the “stolen” item to the island. This explains why numerous tourists write letters to the national park begging the rangers to return the rocks on their behalf.

Most people report that their streak of bad luck ended after returning the stolen items to the Island (and Pele). However, Hawaiian postmasters report that they receive all kinds of stuff in the mail. While the majority of people return Pele’s hair and tears (the long strands of hardened larva that form the rocks), some people send items that are not from Hawaii. 

Is Pele’s Curse a Myth?

If you’re not typically superstitious, you may question the validity of Pele’s curse. So, is it a myth or real wrath from an angered goddess? Like the majority of myths, the origins of Pele’s curse are scanty. Scholars attest to the fact that the legend has little to do with Hawaiian religion. However, there are certain speculations about how the myth came to be. These include:

A Made-up Curse by Frustrated Rangers

Most people believe that the myth became popular in the 1940s. At the time, park rangers were frustrated by tourists who kept taking off with the lava rocks, so they invented the curse. The myth spread and scared people into believing it was real. As a result, people would relate misfortunes in their lives with the rocks or sand they picked in Hawaii, yet it could be a simple coincidence.

Today, the current rangers are paying the price of the so-called curse because they have to deal with numerous rocks and pouches of sand sent back to the island to wipe off the curse. Nonetheless, they believe the curse has an advantage since it has deterred many tourists from stealing these items, which is illegal in Hawaii. Furthermore, it has forced tourists to adhere to Hawaiian heritage (more on this later.)

A Myth Created by Tired Bus Drivers

Traveling by bus is one of the most common means of transport for tourists. It’s been the case for numerous years. Some people believe that bus drivers may have come up with Pele’s curse. They believe that drivers got tired of cleaning up after tourists who carried rocks and stones back into the bus after visiting the islands. Therefore, to discourage them and make their work easier, they made up the curse. 

How Pele’s Curse and Hawaiian Heritage Intertwine

Any responsible tourists will strive to uphold the resident’s heritage and beliefs. As we’ve mentioned, Hawaiian history doesn’t record anything about Pele’s Curse. For this reason, most Hawaiian residents believe the curse is a myth created by rangers to protect the rocks from theft.  However, this doesn’t give you the license to pick rocks and sand from the islands at your pleasure.

You see, while there’s a chance that the curse may be just a myth, there are certain Hawaiian beliefs that should deter you from picking the rocks. Hawaiians believe that everything has a life force or “mana.” They also believe that life forces and spirits can inhabit inanimate objects like rocks. In a nutshell, the residents believe that they are a part of their environment and vice versa.

For this reason, they tend to treat such items with respect; almost as if they are one family. Hence, all rocks in Hawaii are considered sacred items. Therefore, all the structures on the island are designed by specialists and priests who understand this and know which rocks to use. This brings us back to Pele’s Curse. Whether you believe it or not, the fact is that Hawaiians consider it unlucky or ill-advised to remove rocks without following the right protocols or ceremonies.

Don’t Take it with You

If you’re planning to visit Hawaii, you probably want to arm yourself with as much information as possible. The last thing you need is to bring a curse on yourself because you decided to carry a rock back home – not a good travel story. Or is it?

But as you can see, there’s a lot of information surrounding Pele’s Curse. The majority of people have bought into the legend to the point that they return their “souvenirs” to escape the curse. Others strongly believe the story is made up to protect the natural resources. What do you believe?

No matter what your stand is, one thing is certain – Hawaiian heritage is against treating natural resources without disrespect. Therefore, whether or not you believe in the myth, it’s advisable to be a responsible tourist and treat their environment with the respect they expect. Leave everything where you found it.

You may also be interested in...

Recommended Hawaii Tours
Terms of Use & Disclosures

This website's use is your expressly conditioned acceptance of the terms, conditions, and disclaimers found within our Disclaimer of Warranty and Limitation of Liability page without any modifications. Your use of this website constitutes your acceptance of all the terms, conditions, and disclaimers posted herein. If you do not agree with any part of these terms and conditions, you should not use this website. We also receive a small commission from travel partners for some of the links found on this website. All partners and related links comply with our Advertising Disclosures. For example, as an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. These links do not cost you anything and help provide the necessary funding to maintain this website. Mahalo!