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Science & Environment

Tourists Who Steal Volcanic Rock Are Said To Unleash A Curse

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Now a story about an ancient curse. Millions of tourists visit Hawaii each year. When it's time to go home, they leave with memories, suntans and sometimes a handful of sand or rock slipped into their suitcase. It's hard to blame them, says Jessica Ferracane of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The volcanic rock is gorgeous.

JESSICA FERRACANE: Dramatic, beautiful fields of smooth ropy black pahoehoe highboy lava as well as rough, clinkery brown lava called a'a.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But some say these souvenirs are the beginning of a nightmare. Pele's curse, named after a Hawaiian Goddess, is rumored to haunt those who steal from her islands. So what do some tourists do when they get home and things start going wrong? Ferracane says they think the only way to rid themselves of the curse is to rid themselves of the rocks.

FERRACANE: Every single day, we get boxes of them and envelopes filled with rock sand, even items that aren't natural like plastic ashtrays that might be in the shape of Pele that they've purchased at some, you know, tourist trinket shop.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Visitors Bureau and post offices around the island all get these packages, and sometimes they come with notes.

FERRACANE: Everything from, you know, a simple sorry to really elaborate tales of woe.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There are dozens of these stories online of bad luck people attribute to Pele's curse - health problems, unemployment, a vegetable garden where no plants would grow. But it's unclear where the mythical curse came from.

FERRACANE: We've heard it was actually a tour bus driver who was tired of cleaning out his bus, you know, at the end of every day with all these rocks that his tourists would leave behind.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Others say, though, that the park service itself started spreading the rumor to stop people from taking bits of the island. But Ferracane says that even though the myth is, well, just that, there are plenty of real reasons not to take the rocks.

FERRACANE: Pohaku or rocks are very significant, whether they are big or small. You know, they serve as the foundation of the a'ina here or the land and also the native Hawaiian culture.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, and one more little thing. Taking anything from a national park is actually illegal.

(SOUNDBITE OF DICK MCINTIRE AND RAY KINNEY SONG, "PUA ALOHA")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tomorrow on MORNING EDITION, we'll hear about the unusual number of sharks that have been spotted off the coast in Southern California. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.