Hawaii: Is Pele’s Curse real?

Pele's curse, Big Island black sand, Hawaii

After visiting the black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park in Maui on Sunday, I made sure to get every last remaining bit of black sand and rock out of my water shoes, because the last thing I wanted to do was accidentally bring home even a trace of the stuff.

This was my first time re-visiting a black sand beach in Hawaii after a really strange incident occurred a couple years back when I visited the Big Island. I realize how ridiculous this is all about to sound, but, here’s the story.

Back when I first started traveling, my mother would ask me to bring her back souvenirs – but not the traditional type. The types of souvenirs she enjoyed were actual bits and pieces of the places I visited, so while most people turned to gift shops to bring back things for their family, I turned to the ground. She has a very small, broken piece of a Giza pyramid from Egypt, a feather that had landed on Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris, and stones from the ground inside the Colosseum in Rome, just to name some.

When I went to the Big Island, I thought it would be cool to bring her back some black sand in a water bottle. I also decided to bring some of the large, smooth black lava rocks that were located all over the island. I only grabbed a couple and filled a water bottle about halfway, but apparently that was all it took.

Black sand beach on Big Island, Hawaii

I gave these things to my mom, she liked them and thought they were pretty neat, and that was that.

And then her dog got sick.

Not just a little sick, but very ill. The vet didn’t know what was wrong with him, and actually thought it could possibly be an extremely rare form of cancer. The vet, plus other specialists he consulted, seemed baffled by the dog’s condition. But I didn’t make any connection to this to giving my mom black rocks.

When my husband Joe and I were visiting with his mother, who once lived in Hawaii for many years, she asked about our trip and he had casually mentioned that I brought back some black rocks for my mom.

She suddenly froze and her mouth dropped open.


“That’s bad luck,” she said seriously.

I asked her to explain. I am usually not very superstitious, but I’m not one for taking chances, either. Because you just never know.

“I don’t know details,” she said. “I just know it’s supposed to be very bad luck.”

At this point I decided to do some research, and I read about Pele, the Hawaiian goddess. According to the legend, anyone who removes black rocks from Hawaii will face a tremendous streak of bad luck. Apparently, Pele viewed these rocks as her children, and she wanted to punish anyone who had taken her “children” away from her.

I kept reading, and a chill ran down my spine when I saw that many people lost their pets to unexplained causes. I know it seems nuts, but, I couldn’t help but wonder now if the two were related. And if they were, was there any way to fix it?

It seemed foolish and like a complete longshot, but I was desperate to try anything. I also couldn’t figure out why my mom’s dog was the one being punished. She wasn’t the one who took the rocks.

“Maybe it’s because you took the rocks for your mom, so it’s based on your intentions and who actually wanted them,” Joe suggested.

I found out that many people end up mailing their black rocks to the Big Island’s Volcano National Park, and when they do this, the curse is lifted. Allegedly, the park gets tons of packages filled with rocks. Some say this entire curse was fabricated by the state of Hawaii in order to prevent people from taking the rocks, but you know what? Something really strange was going on here and I needed to try to do what I could to make things right.

I told my mom what we needed to do, and after she laughed at me and called me an idiot, she too was then willing to try anything. She packaged the rocks up and off to the post office we went.

When my mom handed the post worker the package, he smiled. It was an eerie smile.

“The Volcano National Park in Hawaii, eh?” he asked. His smile grew. It was almost as if he knew what was happening.

As soon as we left the post office and within seconds of getting in the car, my mom received a phone call from my dad.

“I don’t want to get your hopes up, but I’ve got good news,” he told my mom. “Suddenly, the dog is beginning to eat again. Looks like his appetite is returning.”

My dad had no idea what we were up to or that there was some Hawaiian curse that we were entertaining as a potential cause for the dog’s illness. I know it sounds ridiculous and made up, but I assure you, it’s not. Within days, the dog was completely back to normal and the vet was even more baffled. I can’t really explain what happened and it would be silly to say that I do completely believe in this curse, but you know what?

My mom’s souvenirs now come from gift shops. If someone you know wants you to bring back some black sand, bring them a picture of it instead.

Essential Travel Information

Flights: Tons of round-trip, direct flights from the United States available via Hawaiian Airlines.

Hotels: At the time, I was collecting and redeeming Hyatt points, so I stayed at all Hyatt properties (except for the Big Island). On the Big Island, I actually found this amazing hotel on Expedia that was pretty cheap (at least compared with other hotels on the island) was actually more like a big apartment. Seriously, it was huge. It had a living room, dining room, and even a full-sized kitchen.

Activities, tours, and everything else: No matter where you’re traveling in Hawaii, you can save a ton of money by purchasing one of these awesome coupon books from Entertainment.com, which feature savings on pretty much everything throughout Hawaii.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Hi there! I am a university student from Australia and I am currently writing an essay about Pele’s Curse and other strange occurrences like this when people take something from a destination. I found your story in my research and was wondering if I could please include a quote or two with your permission in my essay. I would love to hear from you, would be much appreciated!
    Rebecca

    • I was asleep on a bench.outside for 3 days pele came she visited me.it was a message to sleep inside and to be greatfall she is real.u.will feel.her vengeance..be kind

    • There are many strange things about madam Pele for instance if you take the sand & the lava rocks I have lived here on Oahu for 50 years but I have never been to the other islands I have heard about the & watched on TV about that island Pele she doesn’t like to be her sand taken & lava rocks those are her children it’s a bed omen to do that I heard at times before a volcano eruption she would go out as a spirit to warn residents of the eruptions & there other strange mysteries in the entire state about Hawaiian walkers these spirits of Hawaiian warriors they go around beating their drums they were here about 150 years ago I heard was if you see them coming you must get down on you’re knees & do not stare at them

  2. A friend came back from Hawaii.
    Sent a card with 4 grains black sand. My husband told me to throw it out- so I threw it out on the ground.
    What’s your opinion about bad luck for me?

  3. Hi Linda! I’m not so sure I even really believe any of this, but I always say… hey, you never know, and better safe than sorry. I would’ve thrown it out too, lol. I wouldn’t be too worried about four grains of black sand as it is such a minimal amount, and it was sent to you without asking and from someone else. I think you will be fine 🙂

  4. My family and I just went to Maui for Christmas. Whenever I go on vacation I always bring home a shot glass and a rock. My hubby was stationed in Hawaii for 3 years in the mid 80s, and told me that King Mahaia Haia said it’s bad luck to bring anything back from the islands. No matter how badly I wanted to bring home beautiful coral or rocks. (I never saw any lava or black Sands though) I respected what he told me. So instead I drew a heart in the sand, placed a bunch of beautiful rocks and coral in there then had my son take a picture of me. I figured that was ok. No bad luck so photos are fine.

    • There was no Hawaiian king named Mahaia Haia. Haia can mean to follow – to pursue, or to follow – to succeed or come after, specifically successor to a king. The prefix “ma” has many meanings, including indicating place (at, in, on, to, here or there); it is also used to indicate relativity, as in “because of” or “by means of”, “on behalf of”, “according to”. A local must have been fooling around . In the context you refer to, doing something that is kapu (taboo, forbidden), in you believe in curses, then you might believe that bad luck will pursue you according to legend or something like that.

  5. […] There is totally a big fuss about this curse as it has been reported that many tourists who actually took a piece of souvenir from the island in form of sand or rocks have actually met with misfortune and ended up mailing the souvenir back to Hawaii only to see that the curse was lifted. It may sound pretty weird but you can definitely find several stories floating around on the Internet. One such story can be found here. […]

  6. I went there on my honeymoon over 20 years ago. Took a little black sand in a film container. At some point I lost it. I’ve always had very bad luck and have looked for it countless times with no luck. I have said I would send it back in a heartbeat if I ever find it. What can I do??? I need some kinda of help, all 3 of my kids had scary health issues. Divorced, lost my house, health issues myself, live pay check to pay check (with help from my parents.) Car problems, with every car ever, always going without heat or air, or water, only married guys want to go out with me, I could go on and on but what’s the point…. I need this curse Gone!!! Even if its just mind over matter, please help!

  7. My family & I visited Maui 10 years ago. My husband brought home 3 lava rocks from Maui. I brought home a baby jar of black sand from Hana (Black Beach at state park), 2 baby jars of sand from Mokena Beach and 1 baby jar of sand from Waikiki. I returned the lava rock 7 years ago. I did not know until recently (after researching further) and found out that Pele also curses people who take sand, especially the black sand from Hana. My daughter and I planned a trip. We took it back to exactly where I took it. Our family has had numerous things to occur in the past 10 years, very unlike before our first trip 10 years ago. Our dog died of cancer.my father died at a hospital of a complication for which the doctor was called 4 times in the night but wouldn’t come to the hospital, a financial advisor with a reputable company changed all of our investments, skimming thousands of dollars from transaction, then quit the company, We bid on a new home right before we left on the trip 10 years ago. Upon return, someone else bid more than the asking price and bought the house. One daughter was arrested her first semester in college for something so benign which turned into a 4 year affair, going to court and costing thousands of dollars. We bought a house and it took one year to sell the home we lived in prior. Then my husband lost his job of 29 years with a reputable company. My job was eliminated for unknown reasons 2 years ago. Our house is about 10. Years old. The hot water heater, furnace,mair condition have all been replaced. We had termites last Spring. Our back yard is sinking (seriously). My moms 86, has had 3 serious surgeries in past 2 years for which I have had to take care of her, as well as work full time. My brother had gastric bypass, then bleed out about 6 months later and almost died. His wife, my sister in law was then diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a hip replacement. One daughter almost did not graduate from high school.The list goes on… I finally quit telling people things that went on in my life because they really didn’t believe it. On the way to Black Bench in Hana last month, I pulled off the Road to Hana when a sign popped up pointing toward a Lava tube. While driving down this narrow rock road, signage of a temple suddenly appeared. We continued on the road “in no mans land.” Not knowing exactly where we were heading or what we would find. The narrow rock road turned into a narrow dirt road. This was crazy stuff. We end up at a sacred Hale built hundreds of years ago. My daughter and I spoke with a very informative Hawaiian woman at the entrance of the sacred grounds. We shared the story of taking the sand and lava. She welcomed us (no charge). She could see the concern/fear in our body language and tearful eyes. She Told us to drive to the Hale, get out of care, walk around respectively. The sacred grounds were beautiful. The Hale was 3 miles long made of lava rock. As leaving, the Hawaiian lady gave us a Tea leaf, told us to tear off 1 small piece for each of us, then when arriving at Black beach, ask Pele forgiveness, protection for our family, spread the sand, put the tea leaf in the ocean and when the waves take the leaf out to sea, this is demonstrating Pele’s forgiveness. We did just as she said. A tourist took our picture with the leaf and sand. While sprinkling sand and placing leaf in water, people were watching us. (May have thought they were sprteadingashes). We then left the park. Quite an experience. I am a Christian and did not know what to think of all this. We stayed at Makena Beach and Resort. I kept feeling a little strange… couldn’t pin point the reason why. After returning home, I researched and found that Makena Beach is an area where Pele had been years agoand there is a certain “mana” or spirit in the area. I really believe that may have been what I felt. That’s our story. I have told a few people, some thinking we are crazy, but it’s all real. We are both registered nurses and have never encountered anything of this source. My daughter has observe these things through the years, but never knew until recently aboput curse of Pele. I hope and pray she accepted our apology.

  8. Contact one of the hunas on the island you went to. Most likely they will have a solution. I lived on Maui for 3 years and saw a lot of this sort of thing. People actually making a trip back to bring back what they’d taken because of the extreme circumstances they found themselves in both physically and financially since they took from Pele. I’m open minded because of stuff like this and feel that everyone should be attentive to customs and lore. Just because it’s an old superstition doesn’t mean it’s not true.

    I work as a writer for a tour company on Maui and recently there was an email from a former guest asking if they could send the rocks they took from the island so that they might be put back where they belong because the woman had a horrible streak of both physical and financial maladies since she returned home… her family was affected as well. It’s not BS. She didn’t even know of the curse. It’s just the way things are.

  9. @kelly. Go to Kaimu Beach “…formerly one of the most famous black beaches on Big Island . The locals have been planting coconut trees and flowers to revitalize the area in hopes of restoring its natural beauty.” You could plant a tree, i think that would lift the curse 🙂

  10. Mahalo Nui for the story, I’m glad you got it right back, and hope all is well. To people that really don’t believe this…. All I’m gonna say is Don’t wanna mess with Pele! Not w/ here ʻĀian (land) or people.

    Aloha Nui Loa

  11. Hello
    We visited hawaii back in March 2016. My daughter’s teacher asked me to bring sand from hawaii so that she can do some class project with class students.I brought her sand from kaanapali shores from my hotel’s private beach.yesterday I came to know that it is bad luck to bring sand from hawaii. What should I do now I gave all sand to my daughter’s teacher and she did project with it and all her class kids took that paper with them at there home so I have only my daughter’s paper with me .I am thinking to send that paper back to hotel in maui ,Hawaii

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