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The ‘Banana Jinx’ resolved

By Staff | Mar 9, 2012

MMA will return to Lahaina Civic Center on Saturday, March 17, in the “St. Patrick’s Day Brawl.” The card will feature fighters from Lahaina who train at Sports Club Kahana. Team MMA Built’s Gerald Castaneto (right) will face James Blair out of I and I Training Center, and Jair Rocha (left) will battle Justin Estabilio from Central Boxing Club. Selling for $20, advance tickets are available at Sports Club Kahana. Call 669-3539.

The “Banana Jinx” may be the world’s best-known fishing superstition for the world’s worst reason. It has no real claim to authenticity.

Yes, you’ll find all sorts of explanations for its origin, and may come with examples of its impact. But these seem to be modern inventions with no basis in prehistoric beliefs.

The most common explanation for a banana-hex source goes like this: bananas give off a gas (ethylene) that causes other fruits and vegetables to ripen quicker.

Back when islanders went on long sea voyages and had to carry enough supplies to last the whole trip, they were careful not to pack the redolent yellow fruit among their stores. If they did, they risked having the other fruits and vegetables ripen prematurely and rot.

So, they banished bananas from their boats for a good, practical reason. By a great leap over a logical chasm, the banana taboo supposedly went from this very real concern to something rather silly but extremely pervasive.

Unfortunately, I’ve never found this or any other explanation for a banana superstition in any fishing literature written prior to 1950.

More surprising, there is no mention of it in any writings about the beliefs and customs of ancient peoples. Literature about ancient beliefs and rituals abound, but none of it mentions bananas.

Given its firm place in today’s lore, you would certainly expect to find the banana taboo in classics such as “Hawaiian Fishing Traditions,” a compilation of ancient stories and customs from the 1800s and before; “Native Use of Fish in Hawaii” (1952); or “Sport Fishing in Hawaii” (1944).

Everything else is there: the evil effects of disharmony at home, the admonition not to speak about going fishing (lest you forewarn the fish gods), the need to share the first fish caught or risk bad luck on future trips and so on.

No warning not to slip on a banana peel. You don’t even find it in the works of modern writers before the 1960s. Zane Grey, Kip Farrington, Van Campen Heilner, Joe Brooks and Harlan Major all seem to have lived full fishing lives in far-flung places without ever hearing about it.

Here’s why: the “Banana Jinx” was started by Capt. Noyes Dawley, a Honolulu skipper who ran the charter boat Miss Honolulu out of Kewalo Basin in the late 1940s and early ’50s.

This was right after World War II, and Dawley’s craft was a converted AVR 65-footer, war surplus. AVR stands for Aircraft Vessel Rescue. They had big old Packard gasoline engines and could really fly.

Many AVRs became available after the war, and probably a dozen here eventually were converted to fishing vessels. Dawley had the very first one.

Dawley was a character who made things up as he went along. Every missed strike was automatically a marlin, for example, or so he told his charters.

Dawley also did not like bananas. History does not record why. It was something about their smell, taste or the propensity of their slippery skins to end up underfoot on a pitching deck.

Worst of all, tourists always seemed to arrive with bananas packed in their box lunches. The simplest and easiest way to ban them from the boat was to invent, on the spot, an ancient Hawaiian kapu, or taboo. There were no bananas on Capt. Dawley’s boat after that. And in a few decades, no bananas on any boats anywhere else in the world.

The Hawaii Big Game Fishing Club – the oldest fishing club in the Pacific – initiated the Captain Dawley Award in his name. It is given annually to the “person who contributed most to fishing” that year.

Fortunately, that contribution doesn’t have to be as monumental as creating history’s most prevalent fishing myth.