USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘polynesia’
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Bananas on Boats

Context:

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.

 

Interview:

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 –

Me: Okay.

Informant: And it is regarding bananas on boats.

Me: Okay?

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.

Me: Okay.

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…

Me: Yeah?

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.

Me: Yeah.

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.

[Laughter]

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.

 

Analysis:

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.

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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Luaus

“Luaus are gatherings that you can find and go to, especially in the touristy areas of Hawaii.  Basically, people eat Hawaiian food like lomi salmon (tomatoes and smoke salmon), lau lau (meat-like chicken of fish or pork-wrapped and cooked in taro leaves), long rice (clear-looking spaghetti noodles in a soup), poi (ground up taro made into a mush), and kalua pig (traditionally cooked in a hole in the ground).  Luaus are a time to celebrate the Hawaiian culture.  Not only is there Hawaiian food, but there’s also Hawaiian music, which is usually performed by a local band or singer from the islands.  These bands and singers perform Hawaiian songs with ukuleles and other instruments.  Also, hula dancing to slow Hawaiian songs is a popular form of entertainment.  Another type of dance, the Tahitian dance, involves women who dress up in a really big skirt and wear coconut bras and move their hips around really fast.  There are also fire dancers, usually men who spin around sticks that are lit at the ends and toss around a baton thrower.”

By living in Hawaii her entire life, my informant has been exposed to luaus all the time.  Luaus are always going on and there aren’t any specific dates as to when a luau is held.  Luaus occur in hot tourist spots like the Waikiki strip or in the countryside on the North Shore, where people hang out at the beaches.  There’s also a Polynesian cultural center at the North Shore that holds luaus for tourists.  Luaus have become so popular that they’re popular among both Hawaiian natives and tourists.  She doesn’t attend luaus whenever she wants.  People hold luaus as parties, so she goes whenever she’s invited.
    Antonette thinks that luaus are great.  She considers them as parties that she attends to see her friends and family, only everything in a luau is about the Hawaiian culture.  If anything, it’s also a cultural experience, so the main idea is to celebrate the Hawaiian culture and spread it around to others.  She likes going to luaus when she has the chance because of the food, music, performances, and dancing.  Luaus allow my informant to eat Hawaiian food because she doesn’t normally eat Hawaiian food on a daily basis.  Also, she likes some of the bands that play Hawaiian or reggae music because she doesn’t listen to that type of music often, so it’s cool and exciting to see live bands and to dance on stage with friends.
When I traveled to Hawaii on vacation five years ago, I was able to experience an authentic Hawaiian luau.  Of course, the luau was staged for tourists, but I witnessed actual Hawaiian activities, food, and music.  I can definitely see why both natives and tourists enjoy going to luaus.  I was never bored during the luau because there were so many activities going on.  The Hawaiians even allowed tourists to participate by learning the different types of dances.  In addition to observing, tourists are able to learn part of Hawaiian culture.
Everything that my informant described to me was there at the luau that I attended.  I was able to observe a very entertaining Hawaiian tradition that I think is important to maintain.  Hawaii has such an incredible and unique past, and it is extremely different from the rest of the United States.  It’s important to continue the tradition so that future generations can take pleasure in attending such a distinctive custom.

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