Stories of whales destroying ships and swallowing humans can often be heard in many folklores tales.
While others believe that whales are gods, deities and divine spirits that bring peace, luck and harmony to their tribes and the world.
In mythology whales have been revered as Gods and feared as demons depending on the myths that span across the many different cultures throughout the world.
Here are just a few of these stories:
In ancient China it was believed that a mythical creature by the name of Yu-kiang ruled the ocean.
This creature was often described as a large fish (whale) that was several thousand feet long and had human hands and feet.
When Yu-kiang became angered it would turn into a giant bird and cause terrible wind storms in the ocean.
Jonah and the whale
In bibliography a story of Jonah and the whale depicts a tale of Jonah, a man who chose not to heed gods warning and decided to do the opposite of what god told him to do.
In the story god commanded Jonah to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh.
Jonah however believed the city was terrible and did not listen to god and instead went down to the seaport of Joppa and booked passage on a ship to Tar Shish, which headed directly away from Nineveh.
On the way to Tar Shish the sea began to storm making the ship uncontrollable in the ocean.
Fearful of the situation the ship members tried their best to level out the ship but it was no use.
Jonah feeling upset and guilty for not obeying gods request told the crew to throw him overboard as a sacrifice, which they did.
Suddenly the ocean began to calm allowing the members of the ship to calm down and continue their journey.
Jonah on the other hand didn’t drown in the water; instead he was swallowed up by a giant fish sent by god.
While inside the belly of this giant creature Jonah prayed and repented for his disobedience to god and after three days of prayer god commanded the whale to vomit causing Jonah to be released from its stomach.
The meaning of whales in Vietnam
In Vietnam whales are regarded as sacred creatures and are believed to bring luck, safety and prosperity.
When a whale is found dead it is buried on land and in some cases a shrine may be resurrected at the whale’s burial.
Thousands of Vietnamese may come to the burial and mourn the whale’s death as if it were a part of their family.
Whales that are found are respectfully addressed as “Lord”.
King Sulemani and the Hungry Whale
In east Africa there is a story about king Sulemani and the hungry whale.
In the story King Sulemani grew large crops of corn to feed the starving people and animals that inhabited the land.
One day after all the people and animals were fed King Sulemani asked god to grant him the strength to feed the whole world.
God unhappy with his request resurrected a giant creature from the water that went over to King Sulemani’s crops and ate every last crop of corn.
The whale then turned to King Sulemani and said, “I’m still hungry, feed me”.
To this King Sulemani asked, “Are there more of you?”
The whale looked at King Sulemani and replied, “Yes, there are 70,000 in my tribe.
At that moment King Sulemani thanked god for teaching him a valuable lesson, repented and realized that it was neither his responsibility nor place to try to feed all the worlds’ people and animals.
From that day on he never attempted to defy god’s rule of taking on the responsibility of feeding the world.
The story of Big Raven
The Inuit people of the Arctic share a story about Big Raven.
One day Big Raven (a deity in human form) finds a stranded whale.
Wanting to save the whale Big Raven asks the Great Spirit for help.
The Great Spirit told Big Raven that if he wanted to help the stranded whale he must go to a place in the forest where the moonlight fell in a special way.
Once there he would find special mushrooms that if eaten would grant him the strength to carry the whale back to the ocean.
Big Raven agreed and followed the Great Spirits advice, went to the forest and ate the mushrooms.
Once he was done he came back to the stranded whale and brought it back to the ocean.
Paikea the Whale Rider
In New Zealand the local Maori tribe from the east coast tells a story of a young man named Paikea who was considered a favorite son of chief Uenuku.
One day his older brother Ruatapu was offended when his father chose to give his older half-brother Paikea a higher rank so he devised a plot to kill Paikea along with many of his other high status brothers.
Ruatapu decided to build a canoe and put a hole in it, which he plugged with his foot to keep it from leaking.
When the canoe was finished he conned and lured many of his brothers to take a fishing trip out to sea with him.
Once they were far enough from the shore Ruatapu removed his heel from the hole causing the canoe to sink and went to each brother and downed them.
When Ruatapu got to Paikea he attempted to drown him as well however Paikea recited an incarnation that summoned a humpback whale which saved him and brought him back to land.
Paikea remained the sole survivor of his brother’s plot for revenge and eventually bared children of his own.
One of his sons Tahupotiki eventually migrated south and became the founder of the south island tribes.
Natsilane and the Orca
A long time ago among the tinglit people of northern Canada lived a young man named Natsilane.
Natsilane was a great hunter who also happened to be highly intelligent and very pleasant.
He was highly respected by the tinglit people and destined to be the next chief.
His brothers jealous of his achievements decided to take him out on a hunting trip.
During the hunting trip Natsilane speared a sea-lion, but didn’t kill it.
Disappointed by his missed kill he turned to his brothers to see their reaction just in time to find them paddling away, leaving Natsilane stranded on a desolate island.
Finding himself left on an island tired with no supplies Natsilane laid down and took a nap.
The next day when Natsilane awoke the chief of the sea lions met him.
The chief looked at Natsilane and asked him for a favor.
He said that his son was speared and told Natsilane that if he would help save his son he would teach Natsilane new skills and guide him back home safely.
Natsilane agreed and removed the spear saving his son’s life.
The chief kept his promise and taught Natsilane new skills and abilities, and eventually brought him back home safely.
Once Natsilane arrived back to his village he carved a giant fish (killer whale) from cedar wood and set it into the ocean where his brothers were hunting.
Singing his most powerful spirit song the killer whale came to life and Natsilane ordered it to attack and kill his brothers, which it did without hesitation.
When the killer whale came back he ordered it to never kill again and that if it found someone stranded in the water it was to help save that person and bring him or her back to land.
Among the hundreds or possibly thousands of myths or stories told about whales it is easy to say that they have been an important part of human culture since the beginning of mankind.
Carvings can be found etched into ancient rocks and totem poles before man even learned how to write.
Songs and stories have also been created to keep these tales from disappearing as time passes.
Note: Please keep in mind that stories in mythology often have many different versions, so the version you read here may be told differently depending on who tells it.