Tag Archives: Animal urban legends

Dropbear

Context:

PH is a 20 year-old student who lives in San Diego, California. She learned about the folk creature of the dropbear through her friend who is from Australia. She told me about it in an interview.

Text:

PH: my Australian friend tried to convince any non-Australian person she met about the existence of dropbears. This one is quite famous, I already knew about it. The fact that it’s so famous though made it easier to convince people because you can google dropbears and there’s a wikipedia page and lots of pictures so it seems legit. The pictures are all faked. The wikipedia page is actually about dropbears as folklore but at first glance it just looks real. Dropbears are koalas except carnivorous and vicious with very pointy teeth, they drop out of trees and attack people. Honestly almost every time my friend mentioned them to people she convinced them of their existence. It was always fun watching her casually do it to people. When we ran into other Australians she would mention dropbears and they would laugh and keep up the ruse.

Thoughts:

The legend of the dropbear plays into the exported national image of Australia as a land full of wild and strange creatures. People believe the informant’s friend when she tells them about dropbears because they don’t know any better, they assume that it’s true because they know that “there’s a lot of weird animals in Australia.” The informant’s Australian friend clearly takes joy in exploiting this popular representation of Australia and tries to convince people of something that is totally made up. It is something, according to this informant, that Australians seem to be “in on.” They know better but they like to perpetuate belief in the legend.

The idea of the dropbear, a hidden, dangerous creature that descends upon the unsuspecting walker at any moment, reveals anxiety about the unknown creatures in the woods. The jungle is a place of rich and dense biodiversity, and a lot of creatures can be dangerous. This legend reflects the anxiety of facing them. Moreover, foreigners’ gullibility with respect to the dropbear reflects the anxiety about encountering a national other, one characterized by wildness, the jungle, and primitivity. The Australian telling the story then stands in for this other, from a far off and unfamiliar land. The story also gives its tellers some national pride in being Australians.

Meaning of the Dove’s Cooing

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my father, that was told to him in a casual setting during his childhood in a Pakistani village.

Background: The informant was recounting some common sayings that his aunts and older relatives mentioned in their everyday life. This particular saying is an explanation for the cooing of doves, mentioned to him by both of his aunts. Such things were told in a matter-of-fact manner, and widespread throughout the region.

Main piece: 

Aunt: Do you hear the sound of the dove cooing? It always makes the same sound over and over again, ‘Coo coo coo’. If you listen closely, however, you can see that it sounds like it is saying, ‘Yusuf coo’. 

Informant: Why would it say that?

Aunt: It’s been saying that for hundreds of years, after the prophet Yusuf (Joseph) was thrown down the well by his brothers. Ever since then, the dove has been trying to let everybody know what happened to him.

Analysis: This is another myth that I hadn’t heard before, attempting to connect the unique cooing of the dove to a sacred, religious story. ‘coo’ in Punjabi, the language that the informant and those around him were speaking, translates to ‘well’. 

The Albino Squirrel

Text: RB: So, squirrels are kind of famous on the UT campus because they try to get as close to you as possible, they will eat out of your hands, and stop in front of cars and dare people to run them over. Basically they are so used to people that they’ve gone crazy. But there is one albino squirrel, the only one in all of UT. And if you see the albino squirrel right before you take a test, you’re gonna get 100% on that test. Or if you see it right before finals week, you’ll pass all your finals.

AT: Have you ever seen this squirrel?

RB: I’ve never seen the squirrel. It’s really sad.

Context: RB is a freshman at the University of Texas studying aerospace engineering. During orientation, she heard a lot of folklore about the campus, including the piece above. The stories told to her at orientation continue to be confirmed and retold during interactions with current students. The interaction above took place in a living room while we were both home for spring break from our respective universities, swapping campus legends.

Interpretation: This legend is interesting because is encompasses a lot of possible distinctions that exist when examining legends. For one, the albino squirrel itself is a legendary creature that serves as an omen of good fortune and engages with themes of luck. Also, the legend described above can be categorized as a local legend, for it is situated in one spot; the University of Texas at Austin’s campus. Additionally, though the legend is still a legend in that its truth value remains questionable, (the effectiveness of said squirrel sighting can not be confirmed by the informant) the existence of an albino squirrel in a place famous for the propagation of squirrels does not seem too far-fetched.

I also find it interesting that the folk beliefs associated with this legend/legendary creature correlate so strongly with things related to specifically college campuses such as good grades and squirrels. UT serves as the perfect breeding ground for this legend, regardless of whether or not if it is backed up by actual sightings. It would be very easy to believe. Lastly, the use of magic is often employed in situations where people feel a lack of control. The fact that merely laying eyes of this squirrel will magically gift you with an A+ seems fitting in situations that involve test taking, where students often experience the sensation of a lack of control over their future.

Son of a Pink Dolphin

The following Brazilian urban legend was performed over coffee on April 23rd, 2019. According to the informant, in Brazil if you don’t know who the dad of a child is, “you say the dad is a pink dolphin, like the amazon pink dolphin.” The urban legend states that “every full moon the pink dolphin would hop out of the water and turn into a handsome man in an all white suit,” complete with a hat to “hide his blowhole.” He would then seduce women, impregnate them, and disappear back into the water “cuz he’s a dolphin.”

When asked where the informant first heard of this tale, she replied that it’s a very common legend in Brazil. “You hear it everywhere: children’s books and music are big ones.It was also a way for parents to gossip about “bastard” children in front of their own children. “That’s a pink dolphin kid”, meaning no one knows who the dad is. “I’ve always remembered it because it’s just so funny and random. It makes me laugh that my dad still uses it.”

This urban legend could exist as a way to explain absent fathers to children. The childlike details allow for widespread use in entertainment AND let parents speak in code about adult topics around children.

For more information on Brazilian Pink Dolphin beliefs, please visit:

Cravalho, Mark A. “Shameless Creatures: An Ethnozoology of the Amazon River Dolphin.” Ethnology, vol. 38, no. 1, 1999, pp. 47–58. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3774086.