The informant, T, is 19 years old. He was born and raised on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. His parents were also born and raised on Oahu. His grandparents on his mom’s side came from Japan and from his dad’s side were raised on Oahu. He is majoring as an Industrial and Systems Engineer. He considers himself American and is full Japanese.
T- “There was this regular boy named Maui who went out with his teacher and they went out on a boat and his teacher told Maui to throw his fishing line into the water and hold it but not look at it. So he would pull at stuff but he would not look at it. He would pull at heavy things and he would fight it and fight it but he would not look, and then like after a while he gave in and looked back and realized he pulled out the islands”
Where did you hear this story?
T-“I’ve heard it many times. I think the first time was in fourth grade we had Hawaiian history class and I think this is one of the histories they went over”
Where do you think the story came from?
T-“There is a lot of fishing in Hawaii and that’s one of the biggest sources of food that they had before the westerners came.”
Is this story more common than other myths about the creation of the islands?
T- “Yea this one is more common. I think so”
Analysis- As mentioned by the informant, Hawaii consists of a lot of fishing, which provides food to the people. During the earlier times, when the stories were beginning to be told, fish would have been a main supply of food. The figure of the child Maui is originally known to be a trickster demigod figure in Hawaiian mythology. The form of the teacher in Hawaii is very common, especially as hula teachers. This is mirrored in the myth combined with the idea of fishing to explain a natural event, the creation of the islands.
For more information see:
Westervelt, W.D. (1910). Legends of Maui, A Demi-God of Polynesia. Retrieved from http://www.sacred-texts.com/pac/maui/maui04.htm
Informant: “I know I’ve said this multiple times when I’m out fishing with someone, especially if we haven’t caught many fish yet, is ‘Welp, The reason we’re not catching any fish is because I’m not bleeding yet.’ Well, either ‘not bleeding’ or ‘haven’t hurt myself yet’. And if while I’m trudging along hiking to go somewhere fishing and I slip and fall and get all scuffed up or bruised or hurt or whatever, I think to myself, ‘ok, well now I’m going to catch fish because I’ve hurt myself’. And so these are things I’ve said many times over the years fishing, and I’d say that this is actually a true thing…most of the time. And part of the reason why this has ended up being a true thing is that you have a better chance of catching fish if you’re fishing in a part of the river that’s way harder to get to. Because, the average person is probably a little bit lazy, and they’re also not going to take risks. And so if you drive up to some spot and you get out of your car and you walk right down to the river and fish there, that’s probably where like a million people have fished. But if you’re like walking up the narrow steep river canyon, or trying to go down some spot where there’s not a path, and just try to go cross country to get to the river, if it’s really hard to get there, then hardly anyone or perhaps no one has fished there before. When you get to those spots, and I’ve been to a number of those spots in my life, the fishing can be just absolutely fantastic.
Informant is a middle aged banker who frequently travels internationally on business, and is a father of three. He identifies as ‘American’, although his mother is of Czech heritage. He grew up in Washington and Oregon (where he hopes to someday retire so he can “go fly fishing every single day for the rest of [his] life”) and currently lives in the Midwestern United States.
Collector Analysis: In much the same way as there is folklore associated with different professions, there is also folklore associated with different hobbies; in this case, fly fishing. This particular proverb is interesting in that it implies a sort of balance in nature, and that everything has a cost. Specifically, if you want to catch fish, you have to prove that you really want them by bleeding a little. Of course, the informant’s explanation as to why this particular piece of wisdom is more correct than not is spot on. Also, humans tend to have an interesting relationship with pain. This collector has experienced independent times in which, when receiving a mild injury while performing a task, will think ‘well, I knew I was going to injure myself while performing this task, and now that I’ve injured myself, I don’t have to worry about it anymore. This particular piece of folklore is very probably just an extension of a similar chain of thought.
ABOUT THE INFORMANT:
My informant is a father of three who lives just outside of Boston with his wife of over 30 years. He is originally from Cambridge, MA, but moved to central MA when he was younger. Graduating from Tufts, Northwestern, and the getting his PHD at MIT, he is an engineering professor.
Interviewee: I was out fishing with my father-in-law, Billy, on the lake in New Hampshire. He has a house up there. Well not him, but his mom. It is a big house where that side of the family has family reunions. And it’s right on the lake, so me and him go fishing up there a lot.
Interviewer: What type of fishing?
Interviewee: They have like a small boat. It’s almost like a tin can. I mean sometimes we’ll do trout fishing in the brook up there, but not during the family reunion. It’s too much of a hassle.
So anyways, we were fishing and I caught a small fish. Like a small, it wasn’t like a sunfish, you know? Because those I can never get. Especially out there, that deep. It was like a small bass. But it was too small to do anything with; I wasn’t gonna eat it or anything. So I carefully tried to get it back to the water, you know? Took the hook out slowly, made sure I didn’t hurt it.
Interview: Because they’re fragile?
Interviewee: Yeah, exactly.
So, I’m taking care of this fish, and Billy, he’s just watching me. And I let it go, and he says, “If St. Francis saw you he would be so proud.”
And I say, “If St. Francis was here he’d have the fish jumping in the boat.”
So we go back to fishing. I put another worm on my line and everything. Cast it out. Next thing you know I got a big bass on the line. And it’s putting up a big fight. The tin can boat is rocking, I’m reeling and reeling as hard as I can, and then I feel it go under the boat. Suddenly the line goes slack. And then I just here this big “Billy” laugh. A belly laugh, his whole body laughing.
I turn to see what’s so funny, and he just points down. I look and sure enough there was the fish flapping around in the boat. It had jumped in the boat!
The informant went on to tell me that this particular story has been repeated and told by people in the family who were not even there. It has even been performed as a skit for the family. It is considered to be one of the classic stories of New Hampshire and of this family.
First when dissecting this story it is important to note the obvious religious connotations. Both Billy and my informant were religious, though not strict practicers, so when this happened there was definitely a part of them that wondered what just happened. That is of course what makes the story so compelling. Is it a coincidence or is it a story about Saint Francis showing his presence at that moment to those two men? That mystery makes it enticing.
It is interesting because when and where this took place probably has a lot of reason as to why it is so popular to this family. That location is very special to them, so for them to feel like they and that place is blessed makes sense. They feel blessed to be around their family, and fortunate to have had so many happy family reunions there. If someone said God or a supernatural presence was there, I’m sure that they would buy it more than if you told them they were somewhere else.
It was the last full day of my Spring Break vacation in Maui, and my parents and I had signed up for a snorkel/snuba tour out to Molokini Crater and Turtle Beach. The weather was rather poor – a light drizzle – and the water was slightly choppy. I was unable to swim that day, so I stayed on the boat with captain and most of the crew. I got to talking with the captain of the boat, and asked him if he knew of any sailing superstitions, as I knew that there were tons of them.
Me: So do you know of any sailing legends or superstitions?
Informant: Well, I don’t know if this counts as a legend or something else, but there is an old Hawaiian – it started actually as a Hawaiian lore –
Informant: And it is regarding bananas on boats.
Informant: Yeah. Have you heard of this before?
Me: No, I have not.
Informant: Allegedly, it is bad luck to take bananas out on a boat. The reason being, you know, that it will lead to bad weather or mishaps or something like that. And the reason it came to be, from my understanding, and from now, what I understand it is pretty much worldwide.
Informant: From my understanding, it is something that people from anywhere are told this, and they are told to not bring bananas on a boa. But it started in Hawaii. When they did their runs from Samoa to Tahiti to Hawaii to Fiji and to all those places…
Informant: They, you know, obviously needed food for these long journeys in these outrigger canoes, sailing canoes. And os they would load up green coconuts, green bananas, taros – things like that that would last a while. And they would start their journey. To you know, to Tahiti or Fiji or wherever they’re going.
Informant: And they would be fishing the whole time because they needed protein and such and so you would catch fish. And the fishing was not really all that good until the bananas were gone. And so, after the green bananas finally ripened and the everyone ate the bananas, all of a sudden they would start catching fish.
Informant: and so they believed that, you know, that once the bananas were gone they would catch fish and good things would happen. They didn’t really put two and two together that once they got a few days out where the fishing was better and they would start catching fish. So that’s where that came from.
Me: That is really cool.
Informant: Yeah. Here’s one of my more memorable experience concerning this. I remember, before I captained this boat, doing tours out to Molokini and Turtle Beach and other snorkel/snuba spots, I was a fisherman. You know, big game fish – ahi, mahi mahi, the like. Huge fish.
Me: Uh huh.
Informant: And my first mate was a Hawaiian, and he believed in this superstition wholeheartedly, would refuse to bring a banana on board. So one day, I wanted to prove to him that this superstition was baloney. So I hung a huge, huge bunch of bananas on the boat, and proceeded out to go about my day.
Me: And what happened?
Informant: At the end of the day, we brought in about 3200 pounds of fish.
Me: Wow, that’s a lot of fish.
Informant: Yes, and I told my mate, “See? There’s nothing to this banana superstition.” And he replied to me, “But, if we didn’t have the bananas on board, we would have caught 4000 pounds today, rather than 3200 pounds.” I gave up on trying to convince him that bananas did not bring bad luck when on a boat.
Me: Hah. That is awesome. Well, thank you very much for this. It is certainly something that I did not know before.
Informant: You are very welcome. I hope this project of yours goes well.
This superstition, like many others, deals with the forbidden, or something that is believed to bring bad luck. The explanation that the informant gave for the origins was truly interesting, in that it revealed how a superstition comes into being. The Hawaiians, and the Polynesian peoples in general, taking green fruits, including bananas, onto their outrigger canoes, and supplementing their provisions with fish, would have realized quite quickly that it wasn’t until the bananas were gone that they began catching more and more fish. Thus the belief that bananas on boats were unlucky. A superstition is born when one action is believed to be correlated with another action or state of being. In this example, the first action is bananas on boats, and the second action is no fish getting caught, and the state of being is unlucky. Also, the fact that this belief spread worldwide is interesting. The Polynesians were some of the greatest seafarers of the Pacific, and so they would have passed on the superstition of bananas on boats being unlucky to the peoples that they met on their voyages at sea. Furthermore, they almost certainly would have influenced the American and European sailors who can to Oceania as well. Thus, given that the only method of travel between Oceania, America, Europe, and Asia was by boat, it is not surprising that a, originally Polynesian superstition has now become a belief that sailors worldwide are familiar with, whether they actually believe it or not.
My informant was born and raised in Hawaii. He talked about one of the Hawaiian myths that he learned while growing up:
“So one of the stories of ancient Hawaiian folklore is the story of Maui—the God Maui, and how he pulled up the Hawaiian islands. So one day, Maui being a little bit mischievous in his own right, tricked his brothers to take him out fishing. But as he paddled, Maui was on the other side of the canoe, and so he tossed his line. But instead of letting it hook a fish, he dropped it all the way down to the sea floor. And so his brothers, surprised by the large ‘fish’ that Maui caught, asked Maui what was going on. But Maui, the trickster that he is, convinced his brothers that it was just a really big fish. And so his brothers pulled and pulled, and eventually, Maui brought up what we know today as the Hawaiian islands.”
This story is a myth because it takes place “before” the real world, and has a sacred truth value. It is an example of a creation story; it explains how something came to be. This story has been passed down since the times before there were any scientific explanations of volcanoes or how they worked. Because of its antiquity and its association with an important Hawaiian god, this story is still told to people like my informant. Knowing this story connects him to the ancient Hawaiians and reinforces his own identity as a local Hawaiian. Thus, the functions of this folklore evolved: it was originally explanatory, and now its significance lies more in its cultural relevance. People no longer refer to it to explain how the Hawaiian islands came to be, but it is still a valuable piece of folklore because it keeps old Hawaiian beliefs and customs alive.
**For a written recording of this story, see Maui Goes Fishing by Julie Steward Williams (1991). It is a published version of the same story; it was written and illustrated for children.