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Favourite folklore / cultural beliefs surrounding a species

Discussion in 'Zoo Cafe' started by Onychorhynchus coronatus, 2 Sep 2020.

  1. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    I'm always interested in learning about how a certain species can be viewed by human cultures that share it's habitat and the folkloric beliefs or symbolism that can surround an animal in different parts of the world.

    I'm sure many zoochatters may also find this topic of ethnozoology interesting so I thought I would ask some of you to share some examples of folkloric beliefs or mythology about different animals.

    What examples of these have interested you or suprised you ?
     
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  2. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    According to Hawaiian folklore, the Common Gallinule has a red shield because that where it was burned when it stole fire from the gods.
     
  3. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    According to folklore of Poland, if one sees an owl, one should go in circles round it. The owl will turn its head to follow a person and wring its own neck.

    Another one, which might be invented, white stork is a human shapeshifted by God as a punishment. Once God given a man a sack and asked to throw it into the sea without opening. Curious human opened the sack and snakes, insects and other pests escaped from it. He was then condemned to be a stork until he picks them all back again.

    Another tale was that Great Bittern makes such a loud sound by putting its bill into water. This one has a basis in that hunting bittern indeed puts its bill into water to lift underwater vegetation, quite unlike other fish-eating birds.

    Yet another tale in medieval Europe was that many birds overwinter by turning into related species. For example, garden warbler into blackcap, redstart into a robin and cuckoo into a sparrowhawk.

    And a tale from Brazil says that Amazon river dolphin can turn into a man and walk around trying to seduce beautiful girls. He can however be identified by a blowhole under his hat.
     
  4. Carlos M

    Carlos M Well-Known Member

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    In Guatemala, there’s a myth that says that when the conquistadors came and fought the indigenous people, there was a prince named Tecun Uman. He fought against the leader of the conquistadors, but died in the process. When he died, a Resplendent Quetzal started to fly around its dead body, and landed on his blooded chest. In that moment, the chest of the bird turned red and ever since has been like that. In our country, the Quetzal is seen like a mysterious gem: almost no one has seen one, but everyone knows that story as the reason for its bright red feathers.
     
  5. Dassie rat

    Dassie rat Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    The monito del monte was considered to be an opossum until a few decades ago. Now it is considered to be more closely related to Australian marsupials.

    People from Chile and Argentina think it is unlucky and may burn down houses after monitos del monte are found there. Other people think the animal is venomous or causes disease.
     
  6. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    Fascinating ! Strange how prominent the idea of animals stealing fire from the gods is in mythology all around the world. There is a similar mythological story from the Aztecs of Ancient Mexico of how the oppossum was punished by the gods for stealing fire.

    I love this one ! It sounds like something from one of those gothic and morbid stories / fairytales by the Brothers Grimm.

    Regarding the "boto" / Amazonian river dolphin legend here in Brazil this is still very strongly believed in by many communities within the country and it even occasionally leads to people killing these animals. Also worth mentioning that in other parts of Latin America there are similar strange beliefs about animals that seduce or have predatory sexual intentions towards women.

    For example, in the Andean region in countries like Colombia and Peru there is a belief in some rural communities that the spectacled bear either seduces or rapes women. There are similar beliefs about the Baird's and Brazilian lowland tapir in parts of both Central and South America apparently because of it being "well endowed" , nocturnal and appearing around rivers where women may be bathing in the nude.
     
    Last edited: 3 Sep 2020
  7. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    I've visited your beautiful country a couple of times and I've always been impressed by how prominent the image of the Resplendent Quetzal is and it's symbolism that connects modern Guatemalans to the Mayan past. I remember that brilliant poem by the author Miguel Angel Asturias which talks of Tecun Uman.

    Yes, this is a strange one, I've always thought that it was bizarre how such a cute and harmless seeming animal like the monito del monte could be linked with such dark events and bad luck. I wonder what the origin of this belief could be.
     
    Last edited: 3 Sep 2020
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  8. DaLilFishie

    DaLilFishie Well-Known Member

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    One I find interesting is that in Japan, it was once believed that if an oarfish washes up on the beach, it is a sign that there will be an earthquake. The cool part is that there is some truth in this. The small tremors before an earthquake, which are too small for humans to sense, irritate the oarfish and it will rise toward the surface to avoid them. Oarfish are weak swimmers, so when they get close to the surface, they are easily swept towards land by the waves, often washing up on beaches.
     
  9. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    In many places around the world, harmless but rarely seen animals are believed to be poisonous or otherwise dangerous. Because they are rarely met, nobody ever checks they are harmless and the belief is easy to propagate.

    This belief is also about e.g. chameleons in Africa, owls and toads in medieval Europe, some non-poisonous snakes in Madagascar etc.

    It is actually not so dissimilar to overblown perception of danger of big animals in modern Europe. Many people believe that e.g. lynxes, wolves, European bison or wild boars sows with piglets will attack people unprovoked. Only actual cases of attack are so rare, that a wolf is probably less inclined to bite than a domestic dog.
     
  10. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    The boto and its relationship with pretty human women. ;)
     
  11. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    Yes, I agree, it is definitely something that is common all over the world with these kind of irrational or folk based fears towards animals which are quite harmless (or that represent a minimal threat) to humans.

    It puts me in mind of what I've read about the fear that many Malagasy peoples have towards the fossa and in fact the whole "fady" system of beliefs towards fauna there. I find it quite fascinating, in some cases depressing in terms of conservation implications and in other cases encouraging.

    In Poland are these fears of wild animals like the bison, bear, lynx and wolf quite common within the population ?
     
  12. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    That is fascinating ! I never knew about this. The Japanese ethno-zoological folklore is really quite rich and complex and is definitely something I would like to learn more about.

    I don't know how accurate this is (or even whether it is true) but I remember reading something similar about fish and earthquakes in China.

    According to this book I read many years ago in rural areas of China it was once common to keep a species of catfish in a bowl or aquarium within the household.

    Because of the fishes hypersensitivity to seismic activity it would suddenly begin splashing around and behaving more erratically than usual long before an earthquake would happen and would alert people to this danger.
     
  13. DaLilFishie

    DaLilFishie Well-Known Member

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    Yes, that one is true, but it was a weather loach (also called a dojo loach), not a catfish.
     
  14. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    Ah I see, so the book was correct (minus the catfish part), fascinating !
     
  15. DaLilFishie

    DaLilFishie Well-Known Member

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    To be fair, it's easy to mistake a loach for a catfish if you're not knowledgeable about fish, they look somewhat similar, are found in similar habitat and both have barbels.