Rangers at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are launching a program to stop people from littering the summit of Kilauea with "offerings" like incense, candles and food that attracts rats and cockroaches.
Some park visitors appear to be under the impression that the items are a suitable offering to Pele, the Hawaiian fire goddess. But park service officials say the objects actually desecrate a site that is sacred to many Native Hawaiians.
"Many of these items are being left by people who are not from here. I don't think that they do it to litter. They don't know that it is disrespectful," said park superintendent Cindy Orlando. "So we have to get that message out, and we have to educate them."
Visitors regularly leave flowers, bottles, money, incense, candles and crystals at the top of the volcano. Rangers say they remove some 45 pounds of such offerings from Halemaumau Crater each week.
Food may be the most troublesome item because it attracts rats, flies, ants and cockroaches.
Recently a ranger found a whole, cooked piglet in a cardboard box at the summit.
Somebody placed a papaya, an orange, an apple and a plastic container with poi — a traditional Hawaiian staple made from the taro plant — in the box with the pig. A finely crafted lei rested on top of the feast.
The food often poses a hazard to the endangered nene, the state bird endemic to the islands, because the geese often try to eat what is left behind. Rice, for example, can explode in a nene's stomach, killing the bird, the park said in a statement.
People also burn fake money, which in Chinese culture is meant to aid people in the afterlife. Such fires are illegal, the park said.
"It's a place that is sacred to Native Hawaiians and we want to keep it pristine and take care of that sacred landscape," Orlando said.
Native Hawaiians are guaranteed access to Kilauea for traditional religious ceremonies in which offerings can be made. Some Hawaiians believe lava is the physical representation of the fire goddess Pele, making the volcano summit sacred.
Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, has been in continuous eruption since Jan. 3, 1983.