Folk memory

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Folk memory, also known as folklore or myths, refers to past events that have been passed orally from generation to generation. The events described by the memories may date back hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of years and often have a local significance. They may explain physical features in the local environment, provide reasons for cultural traditions or give etymologies for the names of local places.

Purported folk memories[edit]


A model of the Haast's eagle attacking a moa with its large talons. The Haast's eagle is believed to be the subject of many Māori legends


  • Māori legends of a man-eating bird, known variously as the Pouākai, Hokioi, or Hakawai are commonly believed to recount Haast's eagle, a giant predatory bird that became extinct with the moa only 600 years ago.[6] Opposing claims have been made that associate the Hokioi and Hakawai with the extirpated Coenocorypha snipe.[7]
  • Mapinguari legends of a giant sloth-like creature that corresponds with the Megatherium, which has been extinct for 10,000 years.[8]
  • Legends of the bunyip within Australian Aboriginal mythology have been associated with extinct marsupial megafauna such as Zygomaturus or Palorchestes.[9] When shown fossil remains, some Aboriginal peoples identified them as those of the bunyip.[10]
  • Descriptions of the mihirung paringmal among Western Victorian Aboriginal peoples correspond to the extinct giant birds the Dromornithidae.[10]
  • A Noongar Aboriginal story from Perth, Western Australia, has been interpreted as referring to the extinct giant monitor lizard Megalania.[11][12]
  • Legends throughout Eurasia describing creatures such as the unicorn may have been based upon Elasmotherium, a rhinoceros believed to have been extinct for up to 50,000 years.[original research?]
  • The Ebu Gogo myths of the people of Flores have been hypothesised to represent Homo floresiensis, which perhaps became extinct around 10,000 BCE (although the Flores Islanders hold that the Ebu Gogo remained alive 400 years ago).[13]
  • An Inuit string figure representing a large creature is identified with the extinct woolly mammoth[14][15][16]
  • Legends from dozens of Native American tribes have been interpreted by some as indicative of Woolly Mammoth.[17][18][19][20][21] One example is from the Kaska tribe from northern British Columbia; in 1917 an ethnologist recorded their tradition of: “A very large kind of animal which roamed the country a long time ago. It corresponded somewhat to white men's pictures of elephants. It was of huge size, in build like an elephant, had tusks, and was hairy. These animals were seen not so very long ago, it is said, generally singly, but none have been seen now for several generations. Indians come across their bones occasionally. The narrator said he and some others, a few years ago, came on a shoulder-blade... as wide as a table (about three feet).” However, the animal in this story was predatory and carnivorous, suggesting the memory of the proboscideans had become conflated with that of other megafauna, such as bears and sabertooths.[22][23]

Even more so than is ordinary for the study of history, the plausible historical connections listed above could be inaccurate due to the difficulty of piecing together prehistoric or preliterate fragments of evidence into a meaningful understanding. They must rely on more speculation to fill in evidence gaps than would be acceptable in another context that provided more rigorous verifiability of the records available.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Roberts, Janine P., ed. (1975). Mapoon: The Cape York Aluminium Companies and the Native Peoples. Vol. 3. Fitzroy, Victoria: International Development Action. pp. 35–36. ISBN 0-9598588-4-9.
  2. ^ Roberts, Janine P. (1981). From Massacres to Mining. Blackburn, Victoria: Dove Communications. p. 15. ISBN 0-85924-171-8.
  3. ^ Ruth S. Ludwin, Robert Dennis, Deborah Carver, Alan D. McMillan, Robert Losey, John Clague, Chris Jonientz-Trisler, Janine Bowechop, Jacilee Wray and Karen James, "Dating the 1700 Cascadia Earthquake: Great Coastal Earthquakes in Native Stories" Archived 2015-07-24 at the Wayback Machine. Seismological Research Letters (Volume 76, Number 2), March/April 2005.
  4. ^ Lennart Meri (1976). Hõbevalge (Silverwhite). Tallinn, Estonia: Eesti Raamat.
  5. ^ Ryan, W.B.; Pitman, W.C. (1998). Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries about the Event that Changed History. New York: Touchstone. pp. 249. ISBN 978-0684810522.
  6. ^ Rodgers, Paul (14 September 2009). "Maori legend of man-eating bird is true". The Independent. Retrieved 14 September 2009.
  7. ^ Miskelly, C. M. (1987). "The identity of the hakawai" (PDF). Notornis. 34 (2): 95–116. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-01-18. Retrieved 2012-01-01.
  8. ^ Oren, David C. "Did Ground Sloths Survive to Recent Times in the Amazon Region?," Edentata (1993) p. 1-11
  9. ^ Robert Holden(2001) p.90
  10. ^ a b P.Vikers-Rich, J.M.Monaghan, R.F.Baird and T.H.Rich (eds) (1991)Vertebrate Palaeontology of Australasia. p.2. Pioneer Design Studio and Monash University. ISBN 0-909674-36-1.
  11. ^ "Noongar story reveals 'dragon'".
  12. ^ "Joondalup Mooro Boodjar" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-09-25.
  13. ^ Gregory Forth (2005), "Hominids, hairy hominoids and the science of humanity", Anthropology Today 21 no. 3, 13–17.
  14. ^ T. T. Paterson (1949), "Eskimo String Figures and Their Origin", Acta Arctica 3:1-98.
  15. ^ Bruemmer, Fred (February 1974). "The Northernmost People". Natural History. 83. American Museum of Natural History: 32. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  16. ^ Bruemmer, Fred (1993). Arctic memories: living with the Inuit. Key Porter Books. p. 37. ISBN 1550134612. Retrieved 2015-06-24.
  17. ^ Strong, W. D. (1934). "North American Indian Traditions Suggesting a Knowledge of the Mammoth". American Anthropologist. 36 (1): 81–88. doi:10.1525/aa.1934.36.1.02a00060.
  18. ^ Scott, William Berryman (1887). "American Elephant Myths". Scribner's Magazine. 1. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons: 474–476. Retrieved 2019-01-02.
  19. ^ Records of the Past Exploration Society, “Pre-Indian Inhabitants of North America, Part II, Man and the Elephant and Mastodon”, Records of the Past, (Washington D.C.: Records of the Past Exploration Society, 1907), 164, retrieved online October 2008 at
  20. ^ Lankford, G. E. (1980). "Pleistocene Animals in Folk Memory". The Journal of American Folklore. 93 (369): 293–304. doi:10.2307/540573. JSTOR 540573.
  21. ^ Mayor, Adrienne (2005). Fossil Legends of the First Americans. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 97. ISBN 0-691-11345-9.
  22. ^ Teit, J. A. (1917). "Kaska tales". The Journal of American Folklore. 30 (118): 427–473 [450–451]. doi:10.2307/534495. JSTOR 534495. Retrieved 1 April 2011.
  23. ^ Examples of British Columbia Folklore: Bladder-Head Boy (A Kaska Woolly-Mammoth Legend) Archived 2012-01-14 at the Wayback Machine, (The British Columbia Folklore Society, 2003).

Further reading[edit]

  • Guy Beiner, Remembering the Year of the French: Irish Folk History and Social Memory, University of Wisconsin Press (2007)