Myths, Legends, & Folktales
Enjoy these different myths, legends, and folktales from the countries that are represented in the performances of People Like Me 2009 Return of the Sun!
A myth is a sacred narrative in the sense that it holds religious or spiritual significance for those who tell it, and it contributes to and expresses systems of thought and values. Use of the term by scholars implies neither the truth nor the falseness of the narrative. To the source culture, however, a myth by definition is "true," in that it embodies beliefs, concepts, and ways of questioning and making sense of the world. Myths generally break off into three separate classifications. Hero myths, creation myths, and how-to-live myths. Hero myths involve an ideal being performing a range of tasks to help someone or something. Creation myths are theories on how different things, (usually the world) was created. How-to-live myths will have a certain message portrayed through the story and were created to teach us "how to live".
A legend is an unverified story handed down from earlier times, especially those popularly believed to be historical.
Folklore is the body of expressive culture, including tales, music, dance, legends, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, customs, and so forth within a particular population comprising the traditions of that culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. Check out our activity page on Folktales for classroom ideas!
Japan: Amaterasu the Sun Goddess
Amaterasu was the daughter of the supreme Japanese deity who, in Japanese mythology, had created the world. She and her brothers, the storm god Susano’o, and the moon god, Tsuki-yomi, shared the power of governing the universe. Amaterasu, as the sun goddess, was responsible for illuminating the world and for insuring the fertility of the rice fields. She was known for her warmth and compassion by those who worshipped her.
One day, Susano’o, in a rampage, trampled Amaterasu’s rice fields, filled all of her irrigation ditches, and threw excrement into her palace and her shrines. Amaterasu was greatly angered and in protest she shut herself in the Heavenly Cave and sealed it shut with a giant rock. As a result, the world was consumed with darkness. Without her, everything began to whither and die. Countless deities gathered in front of her cave and devised a way to lure her out. They all sat around the cave and set up a mirror across from the entrance. All of the gods made such great noise of yelling and cheering and laughing, that Amaterasu peeked out to see what the noise was about. She asked the nearest god what was going on and he replied that there was a new goddess. When Amaterasu asked where she was, he pointed to the mirror.
The sun goddess had never seen herself before and when she caught her reflection, she stared at the radiance of her own form. She was so surprised she said “omo-shiroi,” which means both “white face,” and “fascinating.” When she was out of the way, one of the gods shut the rock behind her. Having lured her out of the cave, the gods convinced her to go back into the Celestial Plain and all life began to grow again and become strong in her light.
Korea: Het Nim Dal Nim (The Sun and the Moon)
There once lived a mother with two children, a boy and a girl. One day she went to a neighbor to lend a hand, in return for which she got a few millet pancakes. On her way home, however, she was eaten by a hungry tiger. The tiger then went to the mother’s house to eat the children. The brother and sister escaped by climbing up a big tree. When the tiger found the way to get up there, the children prayed to god to rescue them from the danger. God responded to the prayer and let down a rope, and the children were pulled up to the sky. After seeing this, the tiger also prayed to god for a rope, and a rope came down. But it was a rotten one. The tiger fell in the middle of the air and landed on a millet field. The brother went up into the sky and became the moon, and the sister, who was shy and was afraid to be alone at night, became the sun.
Mexico: Maya Creation Myth from the Popul Vuh
The Popul Vuh is the Mayan holy book, an ancient text first transcribed into Latin and later translated into Spanish that preserves both sacred and secular lore. According to its creation myth, the gods made three different attempts at creating human beings before they had a version they were satisfied with. The first beings, which were made of mud, were destroyed because they had no brains. The next ones were made of wood and proved deficient because they were without emotions and thus could not properly praise their makers. Finally the correct material—maize (corn)—was found, and perfect beings were fashioned. Ultimately deciding to protect them by limiting the extent of their knowledge, the gods decided to damage their eyes so they could not see too much, and the resulting beings were the first Maya.
India: How Ganesha Got His Head
Once goddess Parvati, while bathing, created a boy out of the dirt of her body and assigned him the task of guarding the entrace to her bathroom. When Shiva, her husband returned, he was surprised to find a stranger denying him access, and struck off the boy's head in rage. Parvati broke down in utter grief and to sooth her, Shiva sent out his squad (gana) to fetch the head of any sleeping being who was facing the north. The squad found a sleeping elephant and brought back its severed head, which was then attached to the body of the boy. Shiva restored its life and made him the leader (pati) of his troops. Hence his name "Ganapati." Shiva also bestowed a boon that people would worship him and invoke his name before undertaking any venture.
Peru: Manco Capac
When Manco Ccapac Inca was born, a staff which had been given to his father
turned into gold. He had seven brothers and sisters, and at his father's death
he assembled all his people in order to see how much he could venture in making
fresh conquests. He and his brothers supplied themselves with rich clothing,
new arms, and the golden staff called tapac-yauri (royal sceptre). He
had also two cups of gold from which Thonapa had drunk, called tapacusi.
They proceeded to the highest point in the country, a mountain where the sun
rose, and Manco Ccapac saw several rainbows. which he interpreted as a sign of
good fortune, Delighted with the favouring symbols, he sang the song of
Chamayhuarisca (The Song of Joy). Manco Ccapac: wondered why a brother who had
accompanied him did not return, and sent one of his sisters in search of him,
but she also did not come back, so he went himself, and found both nearly dead
beside a huaca. They said they could not move, as the huaca, a
stone, retarded them. In a great rage Manco struck this stone with his tapac-yauri.
It spoke, and said that had it not been for his wonderful golden staff he would
have had no power over it. It added that his brother and sister had sinned, and
therefore must remain with it (the huaca) in the lower regions, but that Manco
was to be "greatly honoured." The sad fate of his brother and sister
troubled Manco exceedingly, but on going back to the place where he first saw
the rainbows he got comfort from them and strength to bear his grief.
Research from these stories was gathered from the artists involved in the production of People Like Me, as well as in part by the following: