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How to Return Lava Rocks to the Islands of Hawai'i

Stephanie Launiu is a Native Hawaiian lifestyle and cultural writer. She has a degree in Hawaiian Pacific Studies. She lives in Hilo.

Don't provoke the wrath of Pele by stealing lava rocks!

Don't provoke the wrath of Pele by stealing lava rocks!

Claims of Bad Luck Send Lava Rocks Home to Hawai'i Each Year

You’ve all heard of ‘urban legends.’ Well, in Hawai'i we have ‘island legends.’ And some of the most commonly retold are stories of visitors to Hawai'i suffering streaks of bad luck after taking home lava rocks or beach sand.

There’s no scientific proof that taking lava rocks back to Kansas will cause you to fall and break your leg. Or that a lava rock on your living room shelf means that the next tornado will carry your house away. But people get spooked when they start to link something bad with the fact that they took something they knew they probably shouldn’t have.

No one knows the origins of this ‘bad luck’ legend. Some people say that the rangers at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park started this legend decades ago to stop people from picking up lava rocks and carrying them away. The rangers, of course, deny this.

Others attribute the legend to the fact that Native Hawaiians’ indigenous religion worships Pele, goddess of the volcanoes, who is said to have traveled from the South Pacific to take part in the creation of the island chain. Believers say that Pele makes her home at Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawai'i where the most recent volcanic eruption happened in 2018. Hot lava flowed for three months and destroyed over 700 homes and 14 square miles of land.

It's no wonder that legend has it that Pele, known for her fiery and unforgiving temper, would be righteously indignant if anyone took a piece of her body (lava rock) away from her island home. And so, naturally, she would curse any person who did so. Or so the story goes…

Pele, Hawaiian goddess of the volcano, is also known as Ka Wahine 'Ai Honua: the earth-eating woman.

Pele, Hawaiian goddess of the volcano, is also known as Ka Wahine 'Ai Honua: the earth-eating woman.

Molten lava flowing into the ocean off the southeastern coast of the Big Island.

Molten lava flowing into the ocean off the southeastern coast of the Big Island.

Reverse the Curse

After a Hawaiian vacation, some people find themselves with a string of bad luck and a lava rock in their suitcase that they want to send back. Our family used to own a visitor garden on the Big Island of Hawai'i, and we’d get letters and packages all the time with lava rocks in them and written apologies asking us to place the rock back ‘where it belongs’. We would dutifully place the rock back onto the fertile island soil with a little prayer for the sender’s health and happiness.

So if you have a lava rock you want to return, just know that you’re not alone. Thousands of pounds of lava rocks are returned to the Islands of Hawai'i each year.

Federal law prohibits removing anything from Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, but I’ve never heard of anyone being punished for taking a lava rock. It’s not illegal to take sand from the beaches unless it’s more than a gallon a day or for commercial purposes. Whether it’s a lava rock or sand that you want to return, you won’t be in any trouble with the law by returning it.

Here are some addresses for you to mail your items back to:

  • Sand from Hawaii state beaches can be sent to: Division of State Parks, P.O. Box 621, Honolulu, HI 96809. They will try to return it to the island of origin if you let them know where you got the sand.
  • Lava rocks taken from the islands of Maui, Lanai or Molokai should be returned to: Haleakala National Park (island of Maui), P.O. Box 369, Makawao, HI 96768-0369
  • Lava rocks taken from the Big Island of Hawai'i should be returned to: Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, P.O. Box 52, Hawai’i National Park, HI 96718-0052
  • For rocks picked up on the island of Kauai, return to: Kokee Natural History Museum, P.O. Box 100, Kekaha, HI 96752
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On a final note: No one is going to call you to let you know that your lava rock is safely back in Pele’s bosom, so be sure to pay a little extra (80 cents I think) for an Electronic Delivery Confirmation Receipt to let you know that your box was delivered. You can track your box online at the US Postal Service website after you mail it off.

Without the Delivery Confirmation, I’d hate to picture you lying awake at night thinking “I wonder if that lava rock ever got back…”


Questions & Answers

Question: We went to the black sand beach at Hana, Maui and without me knowing, some sand went into my shoe as we walked by. The waves wet my shoes and when I brought the shoes back, I noticed the sand inside. It’s a little tiny bag. Not sure if that’s the reason for my bad luck. I didn’t take it on purpose. Should I return it?

Answer: No, you don't need to return the sand. It sounds as if the sand got into your shoe without you intending it. I'm sorry to hear that you've had bad luck since returning home. If you live near the ocean or a lake, you might want to take the sand into the water there and release it. If not, plant something outside of your home and put the black sand around the root so that it can help something grow. Thanks for your question, and best of luck to you.

Question: When I got back from Hawaii, I was sick for 2 weeks, lost the connection with my boyfriend and some of my fishes have died with no symptoms and many others are now sick. My dog possibly is developing cataracts. Should I mail back the keychains with sand in them? I bought them in a shop. Does it count as taking from Pele?

Answer: It is not considered "taking from Pele" when you buy something at a tourist venue or shop. Whoever removed sand from the beach to make a commercial product is the one who committed the "hewa' or wrong in the first place. I'm sorry to hear about your string of bad luck, and I'm sending my best wishes for an end to your misfortunes.

Question: I took red and black sand from our trip to Haha for a vacation box idea. Should I return the sand?

Answer: If you only have a small amount of sand and have good intentions for its use, I'd say to go ahead and do your vacation box. With over 9 million visitors a year, you can imagine what our beaches would look like if everybody took sand.

Question: If someone came back from Hawaii and gave me a lava rock does that mean I’m cursed? I did ask for it before I realized it was bad luck.

Answer: No, it doesn't mean you're cursed. It's a legend about a curse. Some people experience bad luck after removing lava rock from Hawaii; others don't. If you decide to return it to Hawaii, there are addresses in the article of where to return it. If you decide to keep it, I always advise people to put it out in your garden or outdoors somewhere near plants. I hope this answers your question, and that you only have good luck in all you do.

Question: We visited Oahu almost a year ago; I cannot begin to describe the terrible luck we've had over the last 10 months. IF we brought home anything we shouldn't have it was by mistake, and neither of us knows about it. If this is the source of our terrible luck, is there a way to "reverse the curse" from Hawai'i without knowing what the item was that we mistakenly took?

Answer: I'm sorry to hear about your bad luck since visiting Hawaii. It doesn't sound like anything from Hawaii is the cause of it. I'll say a little prayer for you in hopes that the karma clears up.

Question: I took sand from Hawai'i in 2009. My now ex wife dumped it out. I just found remnants of it and have carefully swept it up and put it in a bottle. If I send what I have back will it remove the curse?

Answer: I'm sorry that the sand has been causing you negative vibes for years now. I don't think that there is any curse related to it. If you want to clear yourself of the negativity, you might consider taking it to the beach, a lake or river and releasing the sand. It will find its way home. Or you could use it in the soil surrounding a flowering plant. The sand would then be helping to give life to something else.

Question: I took to small shells from Oahu. Do I need to return them to the Island?

Answer: No, I wouldn't worry about it. If it bothers you to have them, drop them in the ocean the next time you get to a beach and they will find their way home. Aloha.

Question: A client brought a lava rock back from Hawaii and gave it to me as a gift. Is the bad luck with them, or me?

Answer: If there is any bad luck, it would usually be on the person who committed the offense. In this case, your client. But just to be sure, Iʻd return the lava rock to Hawaii where it belongs.

Question: My grandma took lava rocks from Hawai'i. We've all had bad luck since then, and she doesn't know where they are. Is there a way to get rid of the curse without them?

Answer: Maybe your string of bad luck didnʻt have anything to do with the lava rocks. Since your grandma doesnʻt know where the rocks are, the best thing you can do to restore the balance in your life is to do a random kindness for someone else. And if you know anyone else who is going to visit Hawaii, please tell them not to take lava rocks and to leave them where they see them.

Question: Is buying a volcanic rock bracelet in Kona bad luck?

Answer: Not necessarily. My article is about a legend or myth about taking lava rocks from the island. It's up to you to decide whether it's true or not. As a Native Hawaiian, I would hope that no one removes lava rock from Hawaii, and I think that people who make money selling lava rock items to unwitting tourists are opportunists who should find another way to make a living.

Question: Is lava rock with a plant that is purchased at Honolulu airport bad luck?

Answer: I don't think so. This article is about the legend surrounding lava rocks removed from the islands. In part, Hawaii residents would love for businesses and tourists to stop taking rocks off the island, especially for profit. In your case, I think the mercenaries selling lava rocks have more to worry about than you do. Have a safe trip home.

Question: What if you ask permission and leave Pele an offering? When I went to Haleakala this is what I did after doing meditation and paying my respects to Pele. I asked multiple times to make sure there wasn't a negative feeling, that's happened plenty of times. The lava rock has been on my altar and I've felt her presence in a good way in my life. I didn't realize there was a curse until wanting to learn more about Pele! What should I do?

Answer: Don't worry about it. Obviously if you feel a positive presence, there is no curse. In fact, this article was about a legend about a curse. Some people feel compelled to remove any rocks they've removed. But if you don't feel that way, then you're good. I'm glad you've had positive experiences on Maui. Aloha, Stephanie

Question: Would it be okay to take a lava rock from Hawai'i if I planned on creating a sort of art piece or small wearable keepsake out of it? It would be quite small and the art piece, would that be disrespectful?

Answer: It's never ok to remove a lava rock from it's original location in Hawaii, but if you have already removed one, then an art piece might be acceptable to make. I wouldn't make a piece of wearable art or jewelry with it, though. Keep the rock as close to the earth/land/soil wherever you are.

Question: Are seashells and bits of coral that washed ashore okay to take home? Also, I went to the Blowhole and have a few small pieces of lava from there.

Answer: I wouldn't worry about that small amount of material you took without ill intent. Please display the items and cherish the memories of your vacation. Aloha!

Question: If I took black sand from the beach, should I return it or could I drop it in the beach here for it to find it’s way back to Hawaii?

Answer: It's always best to return it to its original location, but the ocean is a living being. So if you have a beach near you and can take the sand into the water and not just leave it on the shore, it'll find its way back to where it needs to be.

Question: I visited Hawaii when I was 9yrs old and took lava from the Big Island. I remember the guide telling us not to take it and that it is bad luck. Now, 43 years later, I have the two lava rocks that had been at my parent's home until they passed. Is there a way to bless these lava rocks or is returning them to Hawaii the best way to reverse any "bad luck"? I've never had the best of luck in my life - would love to turn that around!

Answer: Returning the lava rocks would always be the best resolution. In the article, there is a mailing address for Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. But if you are unable to return them, it is best to give them a special place outdoors where they can be close to nature. Improving the vibes around the rocks can improve the vibes in your life also. Aloha!

Question: We bought a house on Oahu, and I've got a ton of lava rocks in the landscaping. Is it ok to give away to others on the island? I don't want them, and I don't know what to do with them.

Answer: Absolutely. It's a great idea to give them to others who will use them in their front or backyards. Often, there are people giving away free lava rocks on Craigslist, and there's nothing wrong with that. Some people build retaining walls for their yards with the rocks too.

Question: If we took lava rocks from the black sand beach on Maui, is it possible to return the rocks to another beach on a different island?

Answer: Yes, of course!

Question: Back in 1998, I took some white coral stones from Oahu. I recently found them again. Back then I wasn't aware that it could not be wise. Should I also send back the coral stones? I didn't experience any bad luck the past 20 years... at least.. not more than a human could experience in living his life for two decades. But something inside tells me it doesn't belong in my house anymore.

Answer: My advice would be to take the coral stones to the ocean nearest you, walk them out into the water & drop them. They will be in their native environment instead of in a box somewhere or in the dirt if you were to put them outside.

Question: I got the green sand from Grand Sand beach on Hawaii's big island. Should I return to volcano national park or division of state parks in Honolulu?

Answer: This Honolulu office is in charge of state beaches. Sand from Hawaii state beaches can be sent to: Division of State Parks, P.O. Box 621, Honolulu, HI 96809. They will try to return it to the island of origin if you let them know where you got the sand.

Question: I found some pretty, round, smooth, black rocks at my father's house when I was helping him pack to move. He called them Pele's Tears and said that he and mom brought them back from their Hawaii trip. They do not look like the smaller teardrop-shaped lava rocks that I see online called Pele's Tears. Should I still return them to Hawaii, since that's where my father says they are from?

Answer: If you feel an urge to return the rocks to Hawaii, then you should. If the rocks are smooth and round, they sound as if your father may have picked them up at a beach, or somewhere where the rock was worn smooth by water over time. If your father has had the rocks for a while, and they are not causing you or him any trouble, then beautify your home with them or put them in a planter outside where they will surround a living plant.

Question: I am 20 years old. In middle school I think I brought something back from a beach while visiting Maui. But I didnt know about the Pele Curse. I have recently heard about the Pele Curse, but I can't remember what I brought back from Hawaii. Someone told me I have bad luck because of that. But if I didnt know about the curse and didn't bring back many things, should I be ok?

Answer: Don't give it another thought. You're fine. The Pele Curse is a legend. Some people get spooked by it because they purposely removed lava rocks from the volcano & they know they shouldn't have. In your case, you don't even remember whether or not you removed anything, and you were just a kid then anyway. Wishing you a future full of adventure and prosperity. And I do hope you will be able to visit Hawaii again. Aloha, Stephanie

Question: I live on Maui. Is it okay to take some stones, coral and sand from the beach to use in my garden and inside our home in Maui? Is it considered a curse taking them from the beach?

Answer: As long as it's not excessive or for commercial purposes, a lot of people in Hawaii do what you are planning to do. Stones and coral should only be the kind that has washed up on the beach, not removed from the ocean. And if you're planning a big job with the sand, it would be better if you go to someplace like Home Depot and buy it in bulk there.

Question: What about returning sculpted lava sold as souvenirs to Hawaii? We purchased a little Buddha figure carved from black Hawaiian lava several years ago, and now my wife is concerned that it should be returned to Hawaii. How does the legend work regarding souvenir lava sold on the islands?

Answer: If there was any curse, it should be on the person who carved up the lava to portray a Japanese god. But tell your wife that it's fine.

Question: If someone takes a lava rock from the island and then returns it, will this clear them of any curse?

Answer: This article doesn't say that there is a curse tied to lava rocks, but that there is a legend about it. It's always a good thing to return lava rocks to where they originated. For most of us, a clear conscience takes a load off. I think this will probably work for you as well.

Question: I took some black sand while my wife and I were on our honeymoon in Maui/Kauai. Our marriage has been very tough and now we are separating so we can hopefully work on our communication. I have never opened the sand and I am mailing it back today! I am so sorry that I selfishly removed some of the amazing Hawaiian culture. Is there anything else I can do to remove the curse?

Answer: I'm sorry that your marriage has been difficult so far. I do hope that you and your wife will rekindle the spark that you experienced on your Hawaiian honeymoon. I'm not sure that the black sand had anything to do with your marriage issues, but it sounds as if you are committed to a successful reboot. If you can't mail back the sand, take it to the ocean and release it. The sand will find its way home. Best of luck to you, and I will keep you both in my thoughts.

Question: Is the Star of the Sea Painted Church in danger, and will it be moved again?

Answer: As of today, 7/18/2018, the Star of the Sea Painted Church in Kalapana is safe from the ongoing lava flows. If lava begins to approach the area, the community will most likely move the church again because it is such a beloved part of Big Island history. Here is a link to an article on HubPages about the church:

Question: If I got sand from Maui, where would I send it back to?

Answer: Sand from Hawaii state beaches can be sent to:

Division of State Parks

P.O. Box 621

Honolulu, HI 96809

They will try to return it to the island of origin if you let them know where you got the sand.

© 2013 Stephanie Launiu

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