How Butterflies Came to Be

My informant is my best friend’s mother. She comes from a very Italian family, and learned a lot of folklore from her own grandmother. She is a fascinating woman who has traveled the world. She has a wide knowledge of Native American history and folklore. She is involved with the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, a diverse group of women from around the world who are devoted to prayer. She lives on Nantucket, so I was able to Skype with her one day to talk about things she has learned from her Italian heritage, in particular, as well as her other vast knowledge of folklore from around the world.

This is a story that she learned from one of the Indigenous Grandmothers whom she was following.

Informant: “…from the Southwest, the Papago Indians. I learned it from one of the Grandmothers, but it’s a myth about how butterflies got their color. Very beautiful… It is said by the Papago that on a late summer day, an old man was out for a walk and he saw children playing, and he became sad as he thought that it was late summer and soon the trees would become cold and he felt sad and he wanted to save the flowers. So, he put some leaves and petals in a bag and golden sunlight, birdsongs and pine needles… and then he called the children over and gave them the bag and when they opened it butterflies flew out. They danced and sang and the birds became jealous, saying that the songs belonged to them. The man decided they were right and gave the songs back to birds, but butterflies still dance and sing as they fly, but they do it as quietly as they fly.”


I love hearing myths about how and why things came to be, especially myths from Native American tribes. They are each unique, and it’s amazing how every tribe has a different story about how something in the world was created. I remember in the Native American class, which I took with Professor Thompson last year, we read many myths and legends. The same story would be varied and changed by each different tribe. My informant talked a lot about how she has noticed this as well, saying that tribes all have their own version of a creation story, for example, of how the world came to be.