Residence: Seattle, WA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 05, 2008
Primary Language: English
When you are on a boat or ship a lot of sailors think its bad luck to have bananas on board. Bananas at see are bad luck and can bring bad fishing/ bad catch and sickness to the crew. We never had bananas on board our ship the captain wouldnt allow it.
Julia learned this about this superstition when she spent a semester at sea through the semester at sea program this past fall. She spent three months sailing around the world but never once was allowed to bring bananas on the boat. She said it was one of the rules associated with traditional nautical superstitions. She was told by the crew how the superstition came to be.
About a hundred or so years ago banana boats used to travel really quickly between the Caribbean and the east coast ports in the United States. The boats traveled fast to keep the bananas from going bad before the reached market. The boats traveled so fast that fisherman never caught anything when trolling for fish from the banana boats. Therefore fisherman believed that bananas on board a boat meant a bad catch.
Julia also said that she was told by some less superstitious crew members that bananas, if grown with out pesticides, often are home to lots of bugs and parasites some which can make the people on board really sick. So it is better to not bring the bananas on board period. It just keeps the crew and passengers from the possibility of a banana related sickness.
I find this superstition very unique. Julias explanation of the origin provides a terminus post-quem for the folklore. Folklorists know that this superstition must have started after the discovery of the Americas and American occupation in Cuba, Puerto Rico and/or other tropical islands close to the East Coast based on this specific story of its origin. I would not be surprised if the superstition dates back even earlier because sailing is an ancient practice and it is difficult to determine if the superstition were around based on a different reason before the banana boats came to be.
The term banana boat has infiltrated consumer society in the United States and the tourism industry in beach vacation destinations. A popular sunscreen brand is named Banana Boat and has a wide variety of products all advertised with a beach vacation lifestyle. Banana Boats are also popular tourist attractions in Mexico. Usually Banana Boats are a modified inflatable inner tube in the shape of a banana that 3 to 4 people straddle. The banana boat is tied to a larger boat with an engine that pulls the banana inner tube around at high speeds with the objective of seeing who can stay on the boat the longest.
This superstition, like many others is probably not going to go away soon. Although the original banana boats are no longer in use and are no longer associated with a bad catch the fact that this superstition has been around for so long and is still held by many sailors and crew (who tend to take superstitions very seriously) makes me believe that it will stick around for many more years to come.