Category Archive 'Legends'

07 Oct 2021

The Story of Three Boulders

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Hakai Magazine:

The first time James Terry heard the legend of Makin Island’s three boulders was in 2012. Romano Reo, a retired chief surveyor from the Kiribati Lands and Survey Department, emailed him and relayed the story of a fabled king who once lived on an island that is now part of the Republic of Kiribati in the central Pacific Ocean. In the story, people on the nearby Makin Island brought the king a gift of fruit. But the fruit was rotten, and the king, enraged by the affront, sent three giant waves to punish the Makin Islanders. Each wave carried a huge rock toward the shore. As the deluge crashed down, the terrified islanders begged for forgiveness. The king relented, stopping the third wave just in time.

The story grabbed Terry because, as a geoscientist at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates, he had a thing about offshore boulders. He wondered if the story was, in fact, more than a story. It was possible that the tale about the angry king, passed down by the island’s Indigenous Micronesians, might be a geomyth—a legend that encodes true information about an area’s geological past.

And so, in June 2018, Terry and fellow researchers went to Makin Island to find out. They introduced themselves to the locals, making a traditional offering of tobacco to their ancestors. With their guidance, the researchers were led to Makin’s southern shores. There, standing proudly and almost entirely out of the water during low tide, were two massive rocks.

“They’re just sitting all alone, these isolated, huge boulders,” says Terry. Each of the rocks has a name. Arranged in a line, roughly east to west, are Tokia, a boulder 22 meters in circumference, and Rebua, slightly smaller at 18.5 meters. The third stone, Kamatoa, is the largest. Roughly 39 meters in circumference—broader than a school bus is long—Kamatoa is always underwater. It is the king’s mercy.

While on the trip, they unexpectedly met Tobeia Kabobouea, a man in his 60s who holds the position of the Wiin te Maneaba, or traditional storyteller. The man is a “living archive,” as Terry and his colleagues write in a recent paper. Noticing the scientists’ interest in the stones, Kabobouea offered to recite a story.

He proceeded to narrate a different tale from the one Terry had heard years earlier by email. The Wiin te Maneaba told the story of a Makin Island man who was cheated by his community. His neighbors on a nearby island had an ability to summon and hunt dolphins, but gave the Makin Island man only the internal organs—never the tastier meat. Out of anger, the man called three waves, each carrying a huge stone, and sent them hurtling toward the villagers. Eventually, he felt remorse and halted the final and most destructive wave.

That’s two distinct—yet strikingly similar—accounts of gigantic waves bearing Tokia, Rebua, and Kamatoa to their present resting places. Read the rest of this entry »

17 Feb 2020

The Pearl of Lao Tsu, aka The Stuff Dreams Are Made of

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Lao Tsu, a Chinese Emperor, Osama bin Laden, and the purported son of Al Capone, are all mixed together in the legendary saga of the largest pearl ever found. The Atlantic tells its story.

Legend says the diver drowned retrieving the pearl. Trapped in a giant Tridacna clam, his body was brought to the surface by his fellow tribesmen in Palawan, a province of the Philippines, in May 1934. When the clam was pried open, and the meat scraped out, the local chief beheld something marvelous: a massive pearl, its sheen like satin. In its surface, the chief discerned the face of the Prophet Muhammad. He named it the Pearl of Allah. At 14 pounds, one ounce, it was the largest pearl ever discovered.

A Filipino American, Wilburn Dowell Cobb, was visiting the island at the time and offered to buy the jewel. In a 1939 article that appeared in Natural History magazine, he recounted the chief’s refusal to sell: “A pearl with the image of Mohammed, the Prophet of Allah, is earned by devotion, by sacrifice, not bought with money.” But when the chief’s son fell ill with malaria, Cobb used atabrine, a modern medicine, to heal him. “You have earned your reward,” the chief proclaimed. “Here, my friend, claim this, your pearl.”

In 1939, Cobb brought the pearl to New York City, and exhibited it at Ripley’s Believe It or Not, on Broadway. There, a new legend emerged, eclipsing the first. Upon seeing the pearl, Cobb said, an elderly Chinese gentleman “of highest culture and significant wealth” named Mr. Lee “burst into an hysteria of trembling and weeping.” This wasn’t the Pearl of Allah; this was the long-lost Pearl of Lao Tzu.

Around 600 b.c., he told Cobb, Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism, carved an amulet depicting the “three friends”—Buddha, Confucius, and himself—and inserted it into a clam so that a pearl would grow around it. As it developed, the pearl was transferred to ever-larger shells until only the giant Tridacna could hold it. In its sheen, Mr. Lee claimed, was not just one face, but three.

On the spot, Mr. Lee offered Cobb half a million dollars, saying the pearl was actually worth $3.5 million. But like the principled chief before him, Cobb refused to sell.

The mysterious Mr. Lee returned to China, never to be heard from again. But his spontaneous appraisal—$3.5 million—still forms the basis of a price that has steadily grown, from $40 million to $60 million to $75 million and beyond. And Mr. Lee’s recognition of Lao Tzu’s legendary pearl is at the heart of an 80-year-old hoax that has left a trail of wreckage across the United States—a satin mirage many try to grasp, before the jaws snap shut.

Bits of the legend are true. The pearl really was discovered when a diver drowned; Cobb really did acquire it from the local chief; and gazing at the pearl, you really can discern the face of a turbaned man. The rest is a fantasy Cobb invented.


17 Mar 2018

St. Patrick’s Day Cartoon

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06 Dec 2010

Feast Day of St. Nicholas

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St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, d. 6 December 345 or 352

St. Nicholas was reportedly born in the city of Patara in Lycia in Asia Minor, heir to a wealthy family. He succeeded an uncle as bishop of Myra.

Nicholas left behind a legend of secret acts of benevolence and miracles (in Greek, he is spoken of as “Nikolaos o Thaumaturgos” — Nicholas the Wonder-Worker).

One of the saint’s prominent legends asserts that, in a time of famine, he foiled the crime of Fourth Century Sweeney Todd, an evil butcher who kidnapped and murdered three children, intending to market their remains as ham. St. Nicholas not only exposed the murder, but healed and resurrected the children intact.

Nicholas is also renowned for providing dowries for each of three daughters of an impoverished nobleman,who would otherwise have been unable to marry and who were about to be forced to prostitute themselves to live. In order to spare the sensibilities of the family, Nicholas is said to have secretly thrown a purse of gold coins into their window on each of three consecutive nights.

St. Nicholas’ covert acts of charity led to a custom of the giving of secret gifts concealed in shoes deliberately left out for their receipt on his feast day, and ultimately to the contemporary legend of Santa Claus leaving gifts in stockings on Christmas Eve.

St. Nicholas evolved into one of the most popular saints in the Church’s calendar, serving as patron of sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, prostitutes, pawnbrokers, children, and students, Greeks, Belgians, Frenchmen, Romanians, Bulgarians, Georgians, Albanians, Russians, Macedonians, Slovakians, Serbians, and Montenegrins, and all residents of Aberdeen, Amsterdam, Barranquilla, Campen, Corfu, Freiburg, Liverpool, Lorraine, Moscow, and New Amsterdam (New York).

His relics were stolen and removed to Bari to prevent capture by the Turks, and are alleged to exude a sweet-smelling oil down to the present day.

03 Dec 2010

Christopher Columbus Alleged Son of King of Poland

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Jan Matejko, Wladyslaw III at Varna, (Detail), 1879.

Wladyslaw III (1424-1444) was a child when he succeeded his father Wladyslaw II Jagiello to the throne of Poland in 1434. The boy king had been molded by the influence of his tutor, Bishop Zbigniew Olesnicki, to embrace eagerly the role of defender of the Christian Faith. In 1440, Wladyslaw accepted the throne of Hungary, pledging himself to defend that country against the Turks. In 1443, he launched a military campaign in the Balkans which liberated Sofia, and inspired a revolt in Albania, forcing the Turks to sign a peace treaty.

Wladyslaw was promised support from a number of European nations and the protection of a strong Christian fleet, and urged to resume the offensive. On August 4th, 1444, he proceeded to break the truce. No support was forthcoming, and it has long been rumored that the Genoese accepted substantial fees to ferry the Turkish Army across to the European shore, where on November 10th Wladislaw and his army was trapped their backs to the sea at Varna. Some authorities think the Christian Army might possibly have fought its way out of the encirclement, but faced with overwhelming enemy forces, the boy king simply placed himself at the head of two squadrons of Polish heavy cavalry, and brandishing a captured scimitar, charged directly at the Sultan’s person surrounded by the janissaries in the center of the Turkish camp. The king’s body was never recovered.

Turkish accounts claim the king’s head was first exhibited on a stake, then preserved in a jar of honey and taken to Brussa, the capital of the Turkish state, as a trophy.

A new book, just released in Spain, titled, “COLON. La Historia Nunca Contada” (COLUMBUS. The Untold Story), by Manuel Rosa, bases itself on a Portuguese legend that Wladyslaw survived and contends that Chrisopher Columbus was his son.

The legend suggests that Wladyslaw renounced his throne as the result of guilt, believing that his defeat was the judgment of God for his breaking the truce. He is said to have traveled in obscurity to the Holy Land as a penitiential pilgrim, becoming a Knight of Saint Catherine of Mount Sinai, and then settled on island of Madeira.

On Madeira, he was allegedly known as Henrique Alemão (Henry the German) and resided on land received directly from the King of Portugal, who served as his best man at his wedding to a Portuguese lady.

He is said to have built the church of Saint Catherine and Saint Mary Magdalene in Madalena do Mar in 1471), in which he is said to have been the model used for Saint Joachim meeting Saint Anne at the Golden Gate in a painting by Master of the Adoration of Machico done at the beginning of the 16th century.

Manuel Rosa adopts the viewpoint of the legend contending that Christopher Columbus had access to four royal courts on the basis of his own royal paternity, that Columbus’s marriage to a Portuguese noblewoman long before his voyages of discovery was only possible on the basis of his own illustrious birth, and that Columbus’s 1498 will stating he was born on Genoa was forged 80 years after his death.

Columbus’s light hair, fair skin, and blue eyes are also cited by the author as evidence of the great navigator’s Lithuanian ancestry.

The author refers to an alleged resemblance between the arms of Columbus and those of Wladyslaw III, but I cannot recognize any myself.

Rosa has proposed modern DNA testing using material from royal burials at Wawel Hill in Cracow to confirm his theory.


Daily Mail

Publisher’s press release

The author, incorrectly listed by his publisher as a professor at Duke University, is actually employed as a help desk IT staffer at the Duke University Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Christopher Columbus (detail), from Alejo Fernández, La Virgen de los Navegantes, circa 1505 to 1536, Alcázares Reales de Sevilla.

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