Exploring Indigenous Cultures Through Service Learning Trips
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Exploring Indigenous Cultures Through Service Learning Trips

Stories about gods and frightening, unearthly creatures play a big role in island folklore. From Fiji to Hawaii, there are tales that have been passed down through generations that are designed to explain the complexity of the world.

Here are just a few of the stories from nations and regions where Rustic Pathways’ students visit:

The Fiji Islands

In folklore, Fijians trace back their arrival on the islands to the snake god Degei. He is credited with not only bringing them to the islands, but also triggering various weather phenomena.

Sunset in Fiji

Sunset in Fiji

Storytellers say Degei was lonely until he met a hawk named Turukawa. One day Turukawa disappeared and so Degei went searching. He found two abandoned eggs in Turukawa’s nest, so Degei raised the two humans that hatched.

After these humans had children. Degei set off with them on an ocean journey to Lautoka, Fiji, where he established the first human settlement

To this day, it is said Degei lives in a cave in Fiji, and when he shakes he can trigger bad weather or necessary rain for the fields. Fijians also are said to pass through the cave when they die so that Dejei can judge them and decide if they deserve to go to paradise.


Hawaii has much folklore passed down from Polynesia, which includes Fiji. One of Hawaii’s legendary figures is Pele, who is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and fire. Folklore says that Pele travels throughout the islands, appearing as a woman. If her requests are refused, it is said that she unleashes her wrath. Because of Pele, it is considered bad luck to take a volcanic rock from Hawaii and bring it home.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has a creation story as well that includes an earth mother who had two sons – one who created a fertile earth and one who was destructive. The story helps explain natural elements of the world including animal life and strong storms.

There is a diversity of wildlife in Puerto Rico.

Another Puerto Rican story, though, hits on a second common theme – love.

It is a Romeo and Juliet-type story that comes to mind when you see a hummingbird. The story centers on Alida and Taroo who fell in love even though they were from different tribes. Alida’s father tries to stop the relationship by arranging for his daughter to marry a man in her tribe. Alida prayed to the gods to stop this, and so they turn her into a red flower.

Taroo, who does not know this, tries fruitlessly to find her until one night the moon tells him what happened. He asks the gods to help him find her, and they respond by turning him into a hummingbird. So if you see a hummingbird while in Puerto Rico, it is said it may be Taroo trying to find his lost love Alida.

The Dominican Republic

This island nation has multiple legends that aren’t quite as heartwarming. Its folklore includes terrifying beings that wreak havoc. Among the more innocent ones may be the los menos or duendes, which are similar to elves and play jokes on people.

The Dominican Republic, Copyright: © 2016 Rustic Pathways
Usage with express permission only.

They may be blamed if there are strange noises in a house. They also have a frightening side though since they are said to be unkind to butterflies and steal unbaptized children to turn them into one of them.

These imps are just the tip of the iceberg. Other folklore creatures in the Dominican Republic are said to be rather frightening in both appearance and behavior with everything from backward feet to long nails. These stories will make you watch your back if something goes bump in the night.

Maybe another folklore story from Hawaii could be borrowed to help frightened children who hear about unpleasant creatures. In Hawaii, their folklore encourages recognition of an aumakua or personal, family god that often takes the form of an animal. These aumakua are said sometimes to have miraculous powers that can protect people from harm – a nice guardian to get you through the ups and downs of life.

More folklore stories will be shared in the coming weeks. Check back for another #FolkloreThursday addition in the near future.


About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer

Mary is a Content Writer at Rustic Pathways. She has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. Prior to covering student travel, Mary created content for the music education company J.W. Pepper & Son. She also was a writer and producer at CNN International and a communications director for a social service agency and a K-12 private school.