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Earthquake Origin Myths (Part 2)

Earthquake origin myths are found throughout the world. In our previous blog, available here, we presented the earthquake origin myths from Greece, New Zealand, the Aztec culture, India, and China, while in this one, we present earthquake origin myths from Japan, Scandinavia, Fiji, Siberian Kamchatka, and Africa.

 

Japan

According to Japanese belief, earthquakes are caused by the giant catfish Namazu (in Japanese, Namazu 鯰 or Ōnamazu 大鯰) when it wiggles its tail beneath the Japanese mainland. The shaking causes an earthquake in the human upper world. Even though Namazu depictions have been known since the fifteenth century in Japan, it was only in the late eighteenth century that the catfish became associated with natural disasters, especially earthquakes1.


Picture 1: Giant catfish Namazu, which according to Japanese belief, causes earthquakes

 

Scandinavia

Scandinavia’s earthquake origin myth attributed earthquakes to the god Loki. The story says that Loki murdered his brother Baldur. Because of this act, he was punished and tied to a rock in an underground cave with a poisonous serpent above his head that dripped venom. In order to save Loki, his wife Sigyn stood next to him with a bowl to catch the poison. However, when she left him to empty the full bowl, the poison dripped on his face. In order to avoid the venom, he twisted and writhed, causing the earth to shake2.


Picture 2: The god Loki, which according to Scandinavia’s belief, causes earthquakes

 

Fiji

According to Fiji mythology, the god of earthquakes is Degei, who is also associated with one of the most known Fijian myths of creation. In the beginning, there was only water and obscurity; only the island of gods floated around the edge of the world. When the Degei was asleep, nighttime came over the land; and if he was traversing the globe, earthquakes shook the earth and storms broke loose. When he woke up, daytime would come. The popular belief is that the god Degei is still alive and dwells in a cave in the Nakauvadra mountain range in Viti Levu3.


Picture 3: The supreme god Degei, which according to Fiji’s belief, causes earthquakes

 

Siberian Kamchatka

According to the legend from Siberian Kamchatka, a god named Tuli caused earthquakes. He had a giant sled driven by dogs, which carried the earth. When the dogs would scratch at their fleas, the shaking would then cause earth-shaking4.


Picture 4: Bronze sculpture of god Tuli, which according to the Siberian Kamchatka belief, caused earthquakes

 

Africa

Last but not least, in different parts of Africa, several earthquake legends have arisen. In West Africa, one of the most widely spread earthquake-origin myths considers the earth to be a flat disk, which is held up by an enormous mountain in the west. And in the east, it is held by a giant, while the giant’s wife holds up the sky. When the giant stops to hug his wife, the earth trembles and causes earthquakes5.

Another West African myth talks about a giant who carries the earth on his head. All the plants that grow on the Earth are his hair, and people and animals are the insects that crawl through his hair. He usually sits and faces the east, but once in a while, he turns to the west and then back to the east, with a jolt that is felt as an earthquake5.


Picture 5: A giant carrying the Earth on his shoulders

East Africans believe that the cow is responsible for earthquakes. The cow stands on a huge flat stone; and the stone, in turn, is resting on the back of a giant fish. The cow balances the earth on the tip of one of its long horns, but the weight of this sometimes causes her neck to ache. When the aching gets too severe, it tosses the globe onto the other horn. It is this movement that causes the earth to shake5.

 

Sources:
1Bressan, David. 2019. Giant Oarfish 'Warning' Of Coming Earthquake And Tsunami Is More Myth Than Science. Accessed on 27-Dec-2022. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidbressan/2019/02/02/oarfish-warning-of-coming-earthquake-and-tsunami-is-more-myth-than-science/?sh=41251e4f5383
2USGS. Earthquake Legends. Accessed on 27-Dec-2022. Available at: https://www.usgs.gov/programs/earthquake-hazards/earthquake-legends
3Amura World. Narratives About the Origins. Accessed on 27-Dec-2022. Available at: https://amuraworld.com/en/topics/history-art-and-culture/articles/5997-narratives-about-the-origins
4Cram. Myths In Ancient Greek Earthquakes. Accessed on 27-Dec-2022. Available at: https://www.cram.com/essay/Myths-In-Ancient-Greek-Earthquakes/FJUAXN5Y66#google_vignette
5Kött, Anne. 2016. Earthquake Myths From Around the World. Accessed on 27-Dec-2022. Available at: http://uraha.de/de/?p=390&lang=en

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