Exploring the bad-luck banana superstition

Bruce Ajari
Special to the Tribune

LAKE TAHOE – A few weeks ago I was fishing on the beautiful Sea of Cortez in Baja California Sur on my annual fishing trip with friends. On the fourth day that we were going to take the pangas out to fish, something happened that gave me cause to write this story.

It involves the superstition regarding bananas being bad luck on a boat. This superstition is well known around the world. Research indicates that the origins of this superstition are somewhat vague. There are a number of explanations.

Perhaps the most interesting involved early mariners purchasing wooden crates of bananas from the locals and bringing them back aboard the ship. These crates would have lots of insects, rodents and snakes in them that would also come aboard.

These would cause problems with the ship’s equipment and get into places like the captain’s cabin. As a result, one captain circulated a rumor that bananas were bad luck in an attempt to keep them off the ship. Being a superstitious lot, the mariners were eager to comply with the bananas being bad-luck policy.

Another story involves the bananas being only for royalty in the South Pacific. Commoners could be put to death for the mere possession of the fruit.

English folklore felt that bananas ripened quickly. In doing so they emit a gas that can rapidly rot any other produce nearby. With scurvy being an issue for ancient sailors, this was not a good thing.

Another rather dark explanation involved slave ships. Lore has it that slaves were brought across in the holds of banana boats. This was considered very bad luck for those who found themselves waking up in these holds.

Whatever the reason, bananas have long been held to be bad luck for boating. So when two of my friends were placing a banana in their lunch, my boat partner told them that a banana on the boat was bad luck. They both said that they never heard of such a thing. I confirmed that bananas indeed had been considered bad luck on boats that I have fished on before.

They ended up taking the banana. When we did not see them out on the fishing site, we asked our skipper where they were. He radioed and found out that their boat had broken down shortly after launching. Apparently, their engine blew a cylinder and there was no replacement panga available. Both my partner and I said that it must have been the banana!

Superstition or not, you will never catch me with a banana on a boat on a fishing trip. I am sure that my friends will probably never take a banana on the boat again, either. I would strongly suggest you folks do the same.

– Bruce Ajari is a Truckee resident and regular fishing columnist for the Sierra Sun and other area newspapers.

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