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.