Serempak of the Bajau People

This is the traditional festive head gear worn by Bajau women. The Bajau, a formerly nomadic people now mostly home to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, live by and from the sea and have recently gained recognition for a genetic trait that allows them to dive deeper and for longer time stretches than any other ethnic group. They are often referred to as Sea People and this traditional head gear seems to symbolize this. I could not find any interpretation of the shape, but they appear to me like ships or tail fins of sea mammals or mermaids – or all three.

The woman in the fur coat who brought the flood

Australian Geographer Patrick Nunn opens a book of his with the following story told by a Chief of the Haida people of Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands).

“Young recalled, his people lived in northwest Haida Gwaii in a large village across from Frederick Island. One day, a group of children playing on the beach noticed a stranger some distance away, wearing a fur cape of a kind never before seen in Haida lands. Running up to her, one cheeky boy lifted the cape to expose the stranger’s back, the sight of which made the children laugh and jeer.

After the adults called their children away, the woman went to sit alone on the sand near the ocean’s edge. The water rose to her feet, so she got up and moved a little distance up the beach. The water again reached her feet and so it went on until the ocean had climbed higher than ever before. It became clear to the Haida that their homes would shortly be flooded, so in panic they tied logs together to make rafts and, taking to the ocean, were able to save themselves.

Young explained that because these crude rafts could not be steered, each drifted to a different place, a story that could be a distant memory of the time — thousands of years ago — when the first Haida peoples are known to have been dispersed by the rising of the ocean level here.”

Patrick Nunn goes on to conclude: “Young’s story can be read as myth, especially the detail about the stranger and the unfamiliar fur cape she wore. […] But ist is also science, a distant echo of ancient people’s explanations of what happenend to them […] 12.700 years ago.”

Patrick Nunn stresses the point that stories llike these must have been passed on orally for around 500 generations, an astonishing cultural achievement that defys the notion of oral culture as short-lived or deficiant. See also this article by Nunn for magazine here.

A Chinese Flood and Creation Myth

(This text is from the site by the University of Pittsburg.)

“The Miao people in Southern China have no written records, but they have many legends in verse, which they learn to repeat and sing. The Hei Miao (or Black Miao, so called from their dark chocolate-colored clothes) treasure poetical legends of the creation and of a deluge. These are composed in lines of five syllables, in stanzas of unequal length, one interrogative and one responsive. They are sung or recited by two persons or two groups at feasts and festivals, often by a group of youths and a group of maidens. The legend of the creation commences:

Who made heaven and earth?
Who made insects?
Who made men?
Made male and made female?
I who speak don’t know.

Heavenly King made heaven and earth,
Ziene made insects,
Ziene made men and demons,
Made male and made female.
How is it you don’t know?

How made heaven and earth?
How made insects?
How made men and demons?
Made male and made female?
I who speak don’t know.

Heavenly King was intelligent,
Spat a lot of spittle into his hand,
Clapped his hands with a noise,
Produced heaven and earth,
Tall grass made insects,
Stories made men and demons,
Made men and demons,
Made male and made female.
How is it you don’t know?

The legend proceeds to state how and by whom the heavens were propped up and how the sun was made and fixed in its place.

The legend of the flood tells of a great deluge. It commences:

Who came to the bad disposition,
To send fire and burn the hill?
Who came to the bad disposition,
To send water and destroy the earth?
I who sing don’t know.

Zie did. Zie was of bad disposition,
Zie sent fire and burned the hill;
Thunder did. Thunder was of bad disposition,
Thunder sent water and destroyed the earth.
Why don’t you know?

In this story of the flood only two persons were saved in a large bottle gourd used as a boat, and these were A-Zie and his sister. After the flood the brother wished his sister to become his wife, but she objected to this as not being proper. At length she proposed that one should take the upper and one the lower millstone, and going to opposite hills should set the stones rolling to the valley between. If these should be found in the valley properly adjusted one above the other, she would be his wife, but not if they came to rest apart.

The young man, considering it unlikely that two stones thus rolled down from opposite hills would be found in the valley, one upon another, while pretending to accept the test suggested, secretly placed two other stones in the valley, one upon the other. The stones rolled from the hills were lost in the tall wild grass, and on descending into the valley, A-Zie called his sister to come and see the stones he had placed.

She, however, was not satisfied, and suggested as another test that each should take a knife from a double sheath and, going again to the opposite hilltops, hurl them into the valley below. If both these knives were found in the sheath in the valley, she would marry him, but if the knives were found apart, they would live apart.

Again the brother surreptitiously placed two knives in the sheath, and, the experiment ending as A-Zie wished, his sister became his wife. They had one child, a misshapen thing without arms or legs, which A-Zie in great anger killed and cut to pieces. He threw the pieces all over the hill, and next morning, on awakening, he found these pieces transformed into men and women. Thus the earth was re-peopled.

  • Source: E. T. C. Werner, Myths and Legends of China (London: George G. Harrap and Company, 1922), pp. 406-408.
  • Edited by D. L. Ashliman. © 2002-2003.

Thunderbird and Whale

“Throughout Cascadia (southern Canadian and northern US-American west coast), earth shaking and/or tsunamilike effects are frequently described in stories about the acts and personalities of supernatural beings, often in the guise of animals. Many stories from western Vancouver Island and northern Washington tell of a struggle between Thunderbird and Whale, and throughout Cascadia stories about these figures frequently include explicit mention or visual imagery suggesting shaking and/or tsunamilike effects.

Alert Bay; a Thunderbird and Whale painted on the front of the house of Kwakwaka’ wakw Chief Tlah go glas (Malin 1999). Photo taken by Richard Maynard, 1873, print available from Vancouver Museum, 23.

Thunderbird and Whale are beings of supernatural size and power. A story from Vancouver Island says that all creation rests on the back of a mammoth whale, and that Thunderbird causes thunder by moving even a feather and carries a large lake on his back from which water pours in thunderstorms.

Shaking and ocean surges can be inferred from the story of Thunderbird driving his talons deeply into Whale’s back, and Whale diving and dragging the struggling Thunderbird to the bottom of the ocean (other versions have Thunderbird conquering Whale). Shaking is implied by imagery: Thunderbird lifts the massive Whale into the air and drops him on the land surface.

The struggle between Thunderbird and Whale is unique to the Cascadia coast and appears in stories from Vancouver Island to northern Oregon. From central Oregon south, thunder or whale figures appear individually in stories describing earthquake or tsunami themes. The central figures are variously identified as Thunder, Thunderbird, or bird and Whale, fish, or sea monster. In northern California, one tribe has an “Earthquake” figure with “Thunder” as his companion. Stories from Puget Sound and eastern Washington also use these motifs in conjunction with descriptions of earthquake effects.

Thunderbird and Whale stories are part of a systematic oral tradition that used symbolism and mnemonic keys to condense and present information in a format that could be remembered and retold for generations.”

excerpt from Ruth S. Ludwin et al.: “Dating the 1700 Cascadia Earthquake: Great Coastal Earthquakes in Native Stories”

full text:

The Sea Wall in the shape of a Bird

Image may contain Outdoors Nature Land Shoreline Water Ocean Sea Scenery Landscape Coast and Aerial View

While Jakarta has serious evacuation plans, there are apparently also plans to build a new and unique sea wall. Quote from an article from 2016:
“The National Capital Integrated Coastal Development consortium will build a new set of barrier islands and a sea wall that will guard the city from waves and storm surges. The extensive project will take the shape of the Garuda, a mythical bird and symbol of Indonesia. While construction is already under way (the first pile was planted in October 2014), KuiperCompagnons, the Dutch firm behind much of the design, estimates that the project will take 30 to 40 years to complete.”

Read the full article here.
And more info here and here:

And this is Garuda:

Quote from wikipedia:
“Garuda is described as the king of the birds and a  kite-like figure. He is shown either in a zoomorphic form (a giant bird with partially open wings) or an anthropomorphic form (a man with wings and some ornithic features). Garuda is generally portrayed as a protector with the power to swiftly travel anywhere, ever vigilant and an enemy of every serpent. Garuda is a part of state insignia of IndiaIndonesia and Thailand. The Indonesian official coat of arms is centered on the Garuda and the national emblem of Indonesia is called Garuda Pancasila.”

Thanks to Johanna Fischer for the lead!

Manimekhala: The Goddess of the Sea

Manimekhala is a budddhist goddess regarded in Southeast Asia as guardian of the Seas.

Nyai Roro Kidul: The Queen of the Southern Seas

The legends around the mermaid goddess Kidul – also Ratu Kidul – are mostly linked to the 16th century Javanese Mataram Sultanate. However, anthropological studies suggest that the myth of the Queen of Java’s Southern Seas probably originated from older prehistoric animistic beliefs in the pre-Hindu-Buddhist female deity of the southern ocean. The fierce waves of the Indian Ocean on southern Java’s coasts, its storms and sometimes tsunamis, probably had raised in the locals awe and fear of natural power, and locals attributed it to the spiritual realm of deities and demons that inhabit the southern seas ruled by their queen, a female deity, later identified as “Queen Kidul”. (from wikipedia)


There is an optical phenomenon called looming in which objects at sea appear to be floating in the air above water level. In Spring 2021 such an image photographed went viral online.

Apparently this phenomenon was well known throughout history among coastal communities as it appears as a sign for bad luck in legends and myths. Along the German North Sea coast it is a common superstition that loomings announce severe floods and houses or cities that are seen that way will be submerged and lost. (see the post on vineta) It’s interesting to note that in the superstition the city is first elevated above and then submerged under the sea level.

This image is also a case of looming:

It shows lake Michigan apparently with the skyline of Chicago in the distance. The accompanying text reads: “Due to the curvature of the earth, the city isn’t visible over the lake from here: the image is a refraction of the real skyline projected above the horizon. Like the boat in David Morris’s image, this is an example of ‘looming.”

According to the National Geographic article, similar illusions of floating cities also appear on land, particularly in arctic regions due to the extreme temperatures. During the gold rush in the 19. Century, reports of mysterious cityscapes became very popular. agical cities foating Cities floating above ground are also a popular topic in science fiction literature and film. There are numerous reports of travelers seeing city skylines appear out of the fog or above the ground, ofter referred to as “Silent Cities”.
Read the full article here.

The shepherd and Vineta

This is a popular German legend about Vineta and how the city reappears every hundred years for a day. I have not found an author to this version of the legend and also no professional english translation yet.

Two motives appear in many versions of the legend: There is a looming of the city observed shortly before it’s destruction. Looming is an optical illusion that makes objects appear to be floating above the water. It is seen as a sign of bad luck. The other motive is the ringing of the bells of the city’s churches that can be heard through the ocean on quiet days. (see also the posts about: Saeftinghe and Claude Debussy)

This text is from the website:

Die Sage der Stadt Vineta
(Sage von der Ostsee)

An einem Ostermorgen hütete ein Schäferjunge seine Herde nahe dem Strand. Als er über die Ostsee blickte, die in der Sonne schimmernd ruhig dalag, stieg mit einem Male eine alte, ehrwürdige Stadt aus dem Wasser empor. Gerade vor ihm tat sich das reich verzierte Tor in der Mauer auf.

Erstaunt und wie von einem Trugbild geblendet saß er da. Dann aber sprang er auf und lief neugierig hinein. Die Wächter, bärtige Männer mit Spießen und Hellebarden, ließen ihn ungehindert durch und gleich sah er sich mitten unter Menschen, die sonderbar altertümlich aber prächtig gekleidet waren. Die Männer trugen lange pelzbesetzte Mäntel und Feder geschmückte Barette. Die Frauen gingen in Samt und Seide gekleidet und vom Hals hingen ihnen schwere, mit Edelsteinen besetzte Goldketten herab.

Die Straßen der Stadt waren von ungeheurer Pracht. Von den Häusern war eines immer prunkvoller gebaut als das andere, mit Fenstern aus buntem Glas, mit Säulen von weißem Marmor und Alabaster, mit reich verzierten Giebeln und die vergoldeten Ziegel ihrer Fassaden tauchten die Straßen in hellen Glanz und Schein. Von den Dächern schimmerte pures Gold.

Eilig lief der Junge auf und ab, ihm wurde unheimlich zumute, denn alles in dieser seltsamen Stadt geschah ohne den geringsten Laut. Stumm bewegten sich die Menschen auf den Straßen, stumm drängten sie sich auch um die Tische auf dem Markt, wo die Kaufleute ihre Waren ausbreiteten und stumm ihre Stoffballen entrollten, welche aus schimmerndem Samt, glänzendem Brokat, leuchtender Seide oder hauchdünner Spitze waren. Dazu gab es weiche Decken und schwere Teppiche.

Vor Staunen blieb der Junge stehen. Da winkte ihm einer der Kaufleute zu und als er weiterlaufen wollte, winkte er wieder und lachte freundlich, breitete dabei herrlichen Stoff aus und bot ihn dem Jungen an. Doch der schüttelte den Kopf. Woher sollte er, ein armer Schäferjunge, denn Geld haben, um etwas zu kaufen ? Jetzt aber begannen auch die anderen Kaufleute ihm zuzuwinken. Ihre schönsten Sachen holten sie hervor, um sie ihm anzubieten. Was sollte er nur tun ? Seine beiden leeren Hände streckte er ihnen hin. Nun mussten sie doch verstehen, dass er nichts hatte.

Der Kaufmann zeigte ihm ein kleines Geldstück und wies auf seinen ganzen Tisch voll Ware. Der Junge suchte in allen Taschen seines alten Anzugs. Aber er wusste, dass er nicht einen einzigen Pfennig besaß. Traurig und enttäuscht sahen ihm alle zu. Da lief er eilig durch die Straßen und durch das hohe Tor zurück zum Strande und zu seinen Schafen.

Als er sich umwandte, schimmerte vor ihm in der Sonne nur wieder die See und nichts war mehr zu sehen von der schönen alten Stadt, von Pracht und Glanz. Lautlos, wie sie emporgestiegen, war sie wieder in den Fluten versunken. Betrübt und nachdenklich saß der Junge noch am Strand, als ein alter Fischer vorbeikam, sich zu ihm setzte und ihn ansprach: ” Höre, wenn Du ein Sonntagskind bist, so kannst Du heute, am Ostermorgen, die Stadt Vineta aus dem Meer steigen sehen, die hier vor vielen, vielen Jahren untergegangen ist.” ” Oh, ich hab sie gesehen !” rief der Junge und berichtete dem alten Mann, was er erlebt hatte und dass die Stadt dann gleich wieder verschwunden war.

Der Fischer nickte bedächtig und begann nun zu erzählen, was ihm von Vineta bekannt geworden war: “Siehst du, hättest du auch nur einen Pfennig gehabt und damit bezahlen können, so wäre Vineta erlöst und die ganze Stadt mit allem, was darin ist, an der Oberfläche geblieben. Diese Stadt Vineta ist einst größer gewesen, als irgend eine andere Stadt in Europa, größer selbst als die gewiss sehr große und schöne Stadt Konstantinopel. Ihre Bewohner waren über alle Maßen reich, da sie mit allen Völkern der Erde Handel trieben und ihre Schiffe aus allen Teilen der Welt die schönsten und kostbarsten Waren brachten. Ihre Stadttore waren aus Erz und die Glocken aus Silber, welches überhaupt für so gewöhnlich galt, dass man die einfachsten Dinge daraus herstellte und die Kinder auf der Straße sogar mit Silbertalern Klingpenning spielten.

Je mehr Reichtum in Vineta Einzug hielt, desto mehr verfielen die Bewohner aber auch dem Hochmut und der Verschwendung. Bei den Mahlzeiten aßen sie nur die auserlesene Speisen und Wein tranken sie aus Bechern von purem Silber oder Gold. Ebenso beschlugen sie die Hufe ihrer Pferde nur mit Silber oder Gold anstatt mit Eisen und ließen selbst die Schweine aus goldenen Trögen fressen. Löcher in den Häuserwenden verstopften Sie mit Brot oder Semmeln. Drei Monate, drei Wochen und drei Tage vor dem Untergang der Stadt erschien sie über dem Meer mit allen Häusern, Türmen und Mauern als ein deutliches, farbiges Luftgebilde. Darauf rieten alte, erfahrene Einwohner allen Leuten, die Stadt zu verlassen. Denn sähe man Städte, Schiffe oder Menschen doppelt, so bedeute das immer den sicheren Untergang. Aber man gab nichts auf diese Warnungen und verlachte sie nur.

Einige Wochen danach tauchte eine Wasserfrau dicht vor der Stadt aus dem Meer und rief dreimal mit hoher, schauerlicher Stimme, dass es laut in den Straßen widerhallte:

“Vineta, Vineta, du rieke Stadt, Vineta sall unnergahn, wieldeß se het väl Böses dahn”

Auch darum kümmerte sich keiner, alle lebten weiter in Saus und Braus, bis sie das Strafgericht ereilte. In einer stürmischen Novembernacht brach eine furchtbare Sturmflut über die Stadt herein. Im Nu durcheilte der riesige Wogenschwall die Straßen und Gassen. Das Wasser stieg und stieg, bis es alle Häuser und Menschen unter sich begrub.

Dass man Vineta erlösen kann, wenn es alle hundert Jahre am Ostermorgen aus dem Meer auftaucht, hast du ja schon erfahren und erlebt, wenn es dir auch nicht glückte. Wisse nun noch, dass die silbernen Glocken der versunkenen Stadt am Johannistag in der Mittagsstunde aus der Tiefe herauf klingen, dass aber jeder, der ihren dumpfen, traurigen Tönen lauscht, eilends davongehen muss. Er wird sonst von ihrem Klang unwiderstehlich angelockt und folgt ihm nach, bis er selbst da drunten ruht.”

Ludwig Bechstein: The Tale of Vineta

This is the version from Ludwig Bechsteins collection of German Legends from 1853:

Bei der Insel Usedom ist eine Stelle im Meere, eine halbe Meile von der Stadt gleichen Namens, da ist eine große, reiche und schöne Stadt versunken, die hieß Vineta. Sie war ihrer Zeit eine der größesten Städte Europas, der Mittelpunkt des Welthandels zwischen den germanischen Völkern des Südens und Westens und den slavischen Völkern des Ostens. Überaus großer Reichtum herrschte allda. Die Stadttore waren von Erz und reich an kunstvoller Bildnerei, alles gemeine Geschirr war von Silber, alles Tischgeräte von Gold. Endlich aber zerstörte bürgerliche Uneinigkeit und der Einwohner ungezügeltes Leben die Blüte der Stadt Vineta, welche an Pracht und Glanz und der Lage nach das Venedig des Norden war. Das Meer erhob sich, und die Stadt versank. Bei Meeresstille sehen die Schiffer tief unten im Grunde noch die Gassen, die Häuser eines Teiles der Stadt in schönster Ordnung, und der Rest Vinetas, der hier sich zeigt, ist immer noch so groß als die Stadt Lübeck. Die Sage geht, daß Vineta drei Monate, drei Wochen und drei Tage vor seinem Untergang gewafelt habe, da sei es als ein Luftgebilde erschienen mit allen Türmen und Palästen und Mauern, und kundige Alte haben die Einwohner gewarnt, die Stadt zu verlassen, denn wenn Städte, Schiffe oder Menschen wafeln und sich doppelt sehen lassen, so bedeute das vorspukend sichern Untergang oder das Ende voraus – jene Alten seien aber verlacht worden.

An Sonntagen bei recht stiller See hört man noch über Vineta die Glocken aus der Meerestiefe heraufklingen mit einem trauervoll summenden Ton.

english translation:
There is a place in the sea near the island of Usedom, half a mile from the town of the same name, where a large, rich, and beautiful town has sunk, which was called Vineta. In its time it was one of the largest cities in Europe, the center of world trade between the Germanic peoples of the south and west and the Slavic peoples of the east. Exceedingly great wealth reigned there. The city gates were of bronze and rich in artistic sculpture, all common utensils were of silver, all table utensils of gold. Finally, however, civil discord and the unbridled life of the inhabitants destroyed the flowering of the city of Vineta, which in splendor and splendor and location was the Venice of the north. The sea rose and the city sank. When the sea is calm, the boatmen can basically still see the streets far below, the houses of a part of the city in the most beautiful order, and the rest of Vineta, which is shown here, is still as big as the city of Lübeck. The legend goes that Vineta waffled three months, three weeks and three days before its sinking, when it appeared as an aerial structure with all towers and palaces and walls, and knowledgeable elders warned the inhabitants to leave the city, because if Cities, ships or people waffle and let themselves be seen twice, that means spookily certain doom or the end ahead – but those old people were laughed at. On Sundays when the sea is fairly calm, you can still hear the bells ringing up from the depths of the sea above Vineta with a mournful humming sound. (This is a very rough google translation. I did not find the tale in a proper english translation)