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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Mystic wrath of the lava rock lands in this reporter's lap

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By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer

There's a box of unlucky rocks sitting on my desk, and I'm almost afraid to touch them.

I feel a sense of responsibility to return them to their rightful place, and I have Lori "Summer" Stearman, or maybe my own superstitious mind, to blame.

Stearman, 39, a military wife who used to live in Hawai'i, regrets taking some stones and shells from O'ahu's shorelines. She felt such a need to return them that she sent the box of rocks (the postage cost her $10.35) to the newspaper, and her bad-luck rocks landed on my desk and became my problem.

In a note, she recounts a list of terrible things that have happened: Her wedding gown was lost in her move to Florida, she's had marital problems, job troubles, a son who broke his collarbone, she was bitten by a dolphin, and she broke out in a strange rash on her neck. That's just the short of it.

When she began recounting her woes to a girlfriend, the friend suggested maybe the rocks had something to do with it.

"If I had known anything about the rocks, I never would have taken them," she said when I called her the other day. (By the way, she says her luck has completely turned around since she mailed them back.)

The strange thing is, I don't think she's completely crazy.

Ever since I saw the "Brady Bunch" episode where Bobby finds the cursed tiki, Greg is nearly obliterated in a surfing wipeout and a tarantula crawls on Peter, I've always been a little intrigued by real-life stories of supposed brushes with doom.

When an intern left the newspaper a couple of years ago and wanted me to return a lava rock to the volcano, my local friends were horrified when they learned it was in my backpack on the plane. But we gave back the rock, made an offering to Pele, and everything was fine. (Except, come to think of it, one of my superstitious friends nearly sprained her ankle on our hike to the lava flow that night.)

Duane Puhi, a cultural specialist at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott on the Big Island, says there's really no such thing as "bad luck" rocks. The hotel staff tells people the legend that says Madam Pele puts a curse on those who abscond with lava souvenirs was really a story park rangers made up so tourists wouldn't lift the lava.

Hawai'i hotels receive packages of "bad luck" rocks all the time. Puhi has 15 boxes in his office right now, sent with letters lamenting "I broke my leg" or "I lost my job." Each week, he takes the rocks (some of which aren't even from Hawai'i) to the hotel's Wednesday afternoon ceremony where they chant, bless rocks and return the stolen treasures to the land.

There's a pile behind the Volcanoes National Park visitors' center where people do the same thing, without all the chanting. At least that's where the park stockpiles rocks returned there.

I know superstition is not confined to the female gender, but I'm pretty sure some of my male colleagues would have just chucked those rocks in the garbage bin if the package had landed on their desks.

I'm not taking any chances.

Reach Tanya Bricking at tbricking@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8026.