USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘creation myth’


Informant: Uluwehi is a 21-year-old student from Hawaiʻi. She is from the island of Oʻahu.

Main Piece: “Okay so…Māui was the youngest of four brothers. And one day, he wanted to go fishing with his brothers. But they told him ‘no, no Māui, you’re the baby brother, you can’t come fish.’ So Māui went to his grandmother and asked her for help. She took her jawbone and made it into a magic fishhook, Manaiakalani.

So Māui was really smart and he hid himself on his brothers’ boat. When they got too far out to turn around, Māui jumped out. They were annoyed with him but let him stay because it was too late. But they were telling him off and didn’t think he would catch anything. He told them he would catch something really big, but they had to trust him and keep rowing until he caught it and not look back.

Māui baited his hook with feathers and threw it into the ocean. It caught something really big, and the brothers started rowing and rowing and Māui told them to kept rowing. And the boat was almost capsizing because the fish was so big. But the fish was actually the land that would become Hawaiʻi, and Māui was going to bring them all up and together.

Because the boat was rocking so much and they were really worried, one of the brothers looked back and saw all of the islands being dragged up from the ocean. And they’re all beautiful, but because the brother looked, the line broke. Manaiakalani went into the sky and became a constellation. And the islands stayed as separate islands. But Māui had made Hawaiʻi.”

Background Information about the Performance: This piece was told to the informant as a means of explaining the constellation Manaiakalani, which is composed of roughly the same stars as the Western constellation Scorpio. She was told it as a child by her family, and also learned it in school. It is important to her as it describes the creation of Hawaii, her home.

Context of Performance: This piece is told primarily to children as a means of understanding the constellations, but also fits into the larger story of Māui.

Thoughts: It is noteworthy that this piece explains a constellation, much like the Western constellations are explained in stories. Since both the Hawaiians and the Ancient Greeks sail avidly, these constellation-based stories could have been created to help sailors remember directions when navigating.

Folk Beliefs

Japanese Creation Myth (As Told by a Scot)

Context: Gathered from one of my roommates once he found out about my collection project.

Background: My roommate had heard this story from somewhere he couldn’t remember, and thought it would be interesting to see how it reflects the “real” Japanese myth.

Dialogue: I would  love to refresh myself on, like, exactly the history and, like, what the names are and stuff, too, but… I think basically, the gist of it was, there are these gods, or like deities at least, in heaven, in like the spiritual realm, um, and two of them one day, I think by order of, like, the elder gods or whatever, um…. There were two of them who were ordered to go down, or maybe just decided, to go down to Earth, the kingdom of Earth, and basically, like, start humanity, like they would do a little pole dance and then everything was born. More on that in a second! So they go, they go down to Earth…. um, it’s like a male god and a female god… They go down to Earth, they’re like descending this crazy cool pole or whatever, and they like do this dance around the pole, um, and like all of life was born, and then they realized, “Wait a minute… Everything’s shitty! None of this… is good.” And, uh… Wait a minute, I’m trying to remember… The order of the speaking is important here, but I don’t remember the order of the story structure, so… Yeah. I’m about to get it though, I’m about to get it. Anyway, point is, they finish their dance, they gave life to everything, and the girl was like… “Great! We’re done!” And the guy was like, “WOAH, that’s weird, that you talked first, hold on! Let’s start EVERYTHING over.” So they go back up to heaven, and they do the dance again, and the guy says, “Hey, that’s great, we made life!” and then the woman was like, “Yeah, right!” and he’s like, “Okay, awesome, everything’s good.” So that’s Japan’s explanation eternally for, uh— Not explanation for misogyny but just a justification, I guess.

Analysis: Two parts of this stood out to me. The first was what my roommate mentioned, the fact that his version of this myth would most certainly be different from the “real” or “official” one, and how interesting it would be to compare the two versions. There were a good amount of pieces of the myth that my roommate left out, including the name of the deities (Izanami and Izanagi) and how the land of Japan came to be specifically, rather than simply “they gave life to everything.” He also added the element of a “pole dance” to the myth, which isn’t present in any other version I’ve looked through.

The other part of this narrative that stuck out to me was the fact that my roommate saw the myth as a justification of misogyny, rather than simply as a pre-science explanation for how Japan and the world came to be. This is what stood out to me as the main difference between hearing the myth told by someone of Japanese cultural heritage and someone (like my roommate) who is not.

Annotation: I looked up more “official” versions of the creation myth, and found that there was a progression from one version to another to the one that my roommate eventually recounted to me. The most similar version to the one above can be found here. The version being credited as taken directly from “Kojiki, the Japanese ‘Record of Ancient Things'” can be found here.


Creation Myth of the Shiva Linga

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a Hindu creation myth to me (AK). This myth is somewhat taboo, and for obvious reasons is not really brought up much in Indian society due to its graphic depictions of sex.

KM: Shivji used to walk around naked, but he had this problem where he couldn’t finish. He was having a lot of sex, but he could never finish. Priests were getting annoyed cause their wives kept leaving them to have sex with Shivji. But this was a recurring thing and this became so bad that the ground was breaking apart. But the world was going haywire because Shiv would just not finish. So finally, he found Parvathi, and the two of them had sex and he finally finished. So the world became a better place and this was memorialized in the form of the Shiva Linga. So the Shiva Linga became a thing that goes through the Yoni, which means vagina. And that’s how the Shiva Linga was created and became such a big moorthi which is worshiped.

AK: Good story haha, so why do you like this story?

KM: I think it’s interesting because it makes Hinduism look realer and more sexual in a sense. And uhh.. it’s taboo not everyone talks about it.

AK: So people don’t talk about this freely?

KM: No one talks about this freely. People don’t teach their children this story. People know the linga is a penis but don’t know why. Everyone worships penises but since it’s taboo no one wants to say anything about it.

AK: So then why was this story even written?

KM: I mean it’s real. I can’t say why it was written. The real question is why was this monument of a penis created. So I searched it up and I found this story on my own. In fact, people even pour milk on it as if to show him finishing.

AK: Why is this important then?

KM: I think it’s a big part of Indian history. With the Kama Sutra and all, it’s a remnant of how liberated India used to be in contrast to how it is now.

Initially, I was shocked to have heard this story. I have seen the shiva linga monument before, but I never really knew the story behind it. In retrospect, it is easy to see its relation to a phallus, but I am shocked that this came out of Hinduism. Through this piece, I learned that at one time, India was a very sexually liberated society; however, over time, it became more and more conservative. As KM mentioned, this creation myth is very taboo and not really passed on by parents.


Birth of Ganesh

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a very common Indian folktale to me (AK).

KM: Shivji and Parvati are married. Shivji is the God of destruction and one of the top 3 gods of Hinduism. Parvati is a big goddess and she’s an embodiment of the Indian God Devi. Parvati is showering and she wanted to be protected while she was in the shower, so she used the dirt of her skin to make Ganesh. And Gan, these men, are like little minion kind of looking things that stand outside the door, so Ganesh was standing outside the door. Then Shivji came, and it’s not really sure why and Shivji got really pissed and out of anger he cut Ganesh’s head off. Parvati got pissed, and she threatened to — like tear the world apart if Shiv doesn’t fix the situation. So Shivji went and decided to cut the head off the first thing he saw which was an elephant, and he placed it on the Gan’s head.

For reference (Ganesh):


AK: Woah… that’s a crazy story, anything else you wanted to add?

KM: Yeah, actually what’s controversial about this story is that the idea of her taking the dirt off her skin was the product of adulteration, or it wasn’t Shiv’s child which was why he was so pissed.

AK: Cool, similar questions again, where did you hear this story from?

KM: I heard this from multiple people, my grandma, mom, dad, and I’ve read about it.

AK: What does it mean to you?

KM: I like this story because it shows people as flawed, even Gods.

I personally enjoyed this story because I was very well acquainted with the God Ganesh, but I never knew his creation myth. For this reason, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece because I learned something very relevant to my own life. Obviously, I could have just researched his creation on my own, but it was very nice to hear the story verbally.


Dota Origins


Legend about origin and Dota: Dota started as a warcraft 3 mod in 2004 ish made by a guy named Eul (A username the unnamed individual used on online message boards across the internet). Then it was developed by this guy named Guinsoo (another username). He sort of half quit and sort of half no one liked him and went on to make League of Legends. Then it was [finished by] Ice Frog who was an adamant fan. No one knows who Ice Frog is. There are conspiracy theories that he’s an alcoholic russian guy (the game has a large Russian community. PGG, an ex-pro Russian player was rumored to be Ice Frog since he always seemed to know and use new strategies involving new uses for spells or items that had not been detailed in the game’s patch notes) or he’s a middle eastern guy. He’s assumed to be male.

Informant & Context:

My informant for this piece is a member of the Dota community who has been active since approximately 2007. The game in question, Dota, has been retired by all save a small crowd of nostalgic games in exchange for one of it’s many successors: Dota 2, League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, and Smite.

Dota is an arena base defense game played online between two teams, each consisting of 5 players. The object of the game is to destroy the other teams base.


Dota 2 is a game I am very familiar with and am fascinated by. Though I started playing in the second generation of the game, I am familiar with the fact that it has an unconventional origin. That is to say, it surfaced as a community mod to a specific level in Blizzard’s title, Warcraft III. I had heard the name Ice Frog referenced as the divine creator of the game during my time playing it and find it fascinating that they have not come forward to reveal their identity—since they are responsible for what has become the most popular genre in the history of video games in term of the sheer number of players.

Earth cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Little Sparrow

Little Sparrow

Informant: So there were these animals who were doing whatever they damn well pleased and God got mad at them and said “your not following out rules”, right? And they said “O.K well, we’re going to do what we want”.  Then God got mad at them and shut off the light on earth so that there was no more light on earth. He put a blanket over the sky to do this. So they’re like, “Oh My God, what do we do? Someone has to go and talk to God and tell him that we’re sorry”. They’re like “Well we can’t find God anywhere, it’s too dark”. They all kind of gave up except this one little sparrow said, “I’m not going to give up. I’m going to fly, fly, fly up there and try and see if I can reach God and talk to him”. So everyday he kept flying up there and he poked through just enough, his beak just poked through the blanket just enough, and then he came back down. He didn’t give up. For years and years he was going up there and he only got just far enough that his little beak poked through and he came back down and then the last time he came back down and he died. The little sparrow died . . .  because he was exhausted from trying. All the other animals were like, “ we feel so bad”. So God at one point said, “because of his sacrifice, I will give you light back, but it’s only going to be half the time as punishment and the other half of the time, you will have darkness under the blanket”. And that’s why we have stars. Those aren’t stars; those are the little beak marks poking though the darkness.

Interviewer’s notes:  

This is a creation myth that I found a bit unusual that it was being told at YMCA, a Christian organization’s, camp because they narrative deviates from that of the Bible. Though it is clear to see why the tale is included as the perseverance and God-obedience aspects of the story are in keeping with Christian ideas. The tale itself, however, seemed to be more congruent with Native American folk tales, but the informant had only ever heard it at camp and did not know the origin. Also, the informant’s role as a passive participant is evident through the colloquial language, non-fixed phrases, and uncertainty.


“The Story of Maui”


            The informant is from Honolulu, Hawaii and she first heard the myth in elementary school, where she explained she learned most of the folklore and traditional stories related to Hawaii due to the inclusion of what she called “cultural education” in classroom curriculum. A practicing Hula dancer, the informant also picked up stories during her dance classes as a child. The informant also explained that the myth was authored into a song by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, a popular Hawaiian folk singer who encouraged Hawaiian sovereignty by reviving and popularizing traditional Hawaiian stories.


             Maui―like the island―was a demigod. Well, he was better than a person but he wasn’t a deity. He was a super trickster kind of guy; he was fun, and sneaky, like a hero. Maui is actually in a lot of Hawaiian stories, but one of the popular ones that a lot of kids know is that he was canoeing with his brothers when he received a message from a god. It might’ve even come to him in a dream, but it had definitely come from a god. The message was that if he went fishing, he would pull up a huge catch, um, but he couldn’t turn around to look at it or he would lose his catch. So he and his brothers are paddling, and Maui feels his line go taut. He pulls it, it’s really heavy, but he keeps pulling as the canoe moves forward. One of his brothers, the story goes, turns around, and because the brother looked the line snapped. Turn out, Maui had actually pulled up the Hawaiian islands. That’s why Hawaii is shaped like a chain, with the big island and the small ones trailing behind it. They descend in size because that’s what they looked like coming out one by one from the ocean. It’s actually said that there would have been more Hawaiian islands. . .but somebody looked.


            The story the informant retold bears all the classic indicators of a myth. It takes place in a pre-world (or, in this case, “pre-Hawaii”) setting, the characters involved are of divine or semi-divine importance, and it describes the genesis of a land and its people―the story of Maui is, more narrowly, a creation myth.

            The myth’s presence in Kamakawiwo’ole’s song immediately reminded me of stories about Hercules. The lyrics retell a string of Maui’s heroic deeds much in the same way books on Greek mythology usually dedicate a chapter or more to describe the (lengthy) list of Hercules’ achievements. The informant explained that Kamakawiwo’ole encouraged a resurgence of a Hawaiian identity movement through his music, and his lyrics clearly illustrate the pride Hawaiians should have in their land and culture. For Kamakawiwo’ole’s musical rendition of the myth, please see his “Maui Hawaiian Sup’paman,” produced  by Big Boy Records.  


The god Maui forms the Hawaiian islands

My informant was born and raised in Hawaii. He talked about one of the Hawaiian myths that he learned while growing up:

“So one of the stories of ancient Hawaiian folklore is the story of Maui—the God Maui, and how he pulled up the Hawaiian islands. So one day, Maui being a little bit mischievous in his own right, tricked his brothers to take him out fishing. But as he paddled, Maui was on the other side of the canoe, and so he tossed his line. But instead of letting it hook a fish, he dropped it all the way down to the sea floor. And so his brothers, surprised by the large ‘fish’ that Maui caught, asked Maui what was going on. But Maui, the trickster that he is, convinced his brothers that it was just a really big fish. And so his brothers pulled and pulled, and eventually, Maui brought up what we know today as the Hawaiian islands.”

This story is a myth because it takes place “before” the real world, and has a sacred truth value. It is an example of a creation story; it explains how something came to be. This story has been passed down since the times before there were any scientific explanations of volcanoes or how they worked. Because of its antiquity and its association with an important Hawaiian god, this story is still told to people like my informant. Knowing this story connects him to the ancient Hawaiians and reinforces his own identity as a local Hawaiian. Thus, the functions of this folklore evolved: it was originally explanatory, and now its significance lies more in its cultural relevance. People no longer refer to it to explain how the Hawaiian islands came to be, but it is still a valuable piece of folklore because it keeps old Hawaiian beliefs and customs alive.

**For a written recording of this story, see Maui Goes Fishing by Julie Steward Williams (1991). It is a published version of the same story; it was written and illustrated for children.


On the creation of the Philippines

My informant is an international student from the Philippines. She says that in the 1920s, the national language of the Philippines was Tagalog. However, in 1935, the Commission of the National Language decided to change some words of Tagalog to make the language more accessible to people who spoke different dialects. They called this new language Filipino, and made it, along with English and Spanish, one of the official languages of the Philippines. Filipino  is now taught though culture classes, in which students memorize and are tested on Filipino folklore.


The following is a cosmogonic myth explaining the creation of the Philippines that she learned and still remembers.


“There’s a saying that the Philippines look like a sleeping child. Once upon a time, there was a family of giants that roamed the Earth. One afternoon, they were playing hide and seek. Being mythical creatures, they could breathe underwater. The tiniest child of the family decided to hide underwater. For a long time, the family didn’t realize he was missing, and he stayed underwater. After a while, people moved onto his protruding features. That is how the Philippines came to be!”


The Philippines do look like a sleeping child. However, I couldn’t find this version of the story of the Philippines’ creation anywhere else. All of the versions I could find involved the god of the water, Maguayan, and the god of the sky, Captan. This makes me wonder if the Filipino creation story my informant learned in elementary school, with giant children playing hide and seek, was geared specifically towards this younger audience. Also, the Philippines are officially a secular nation, with a predominantly Catholic population. Teaching a religious version of the creation story, and a pagan one at that, as part of the national curriculum would be frowned upon.



Cherokee Creation Myth

Adopted by parents of Native American descent, my informant has no Native American “blood” in him but still values the traditions and stories of his family. This is the creation myth his grandpa told him.

“So, basically, all the animals are living in this land in the sky, and it starts to get crowded. So the water beetle gets sent down to swim around in the water and try to find land. And it doesn’t find any at first, but then it swims deeper until it comes against something solid, which is mud. And it brings up to the surface and the mud spreads out, like all across the earth until a third of it is covered. Then there were four strings made to attach the land to the sky. After that, the great buzzard flew down to check if the land was dry. And when it got too close to the land, the flaps of its wings created mountains and valleys. That’s how the world was created.”

My informant, though he doesn’t believe the story, says it’s important to him because it links him to his parents and family, making him feel like he belongs with them because they wanted to share their culture with him, since he is adopted.

I think the story’s interesting because of the way animals existed before humans did. This gives animals a kind of mystical quality and exalts them to an extent. Native American culture does tend to give animals more respect than modern Western culture, so this makes sense. The story also shows how our world is supported by strings, which could be taken to mean existence is fragile.