Posts Tagged ‘sea dragons’

I mentioned on Wednesday that the taniwha of New Zealand were guardians to their own, but could be dangerous to outsiders. In fact, taniwha could be man-eaters as much as any other dragon. Many tales relate attacks by taniwha against humans they weren’t connected to. Luckily, there were warriors with enough spiritual prowess to defeat a rogue spirit, whether by use of wits or force of arms.

One taniwha, Nagarara Haurau, had devoured several villagers before capturing a young woman as his bride. He lived with her in a cave near the sea. The villagers pretended to accept him as their neighbor, and prepared a feast to honor him. During the festivities they ambushed and killed him. It’s said that Nagarara’s severed tail flew off and landed in a lake or stream. Prominent waterfalls in various locations are thought to have been created by the impact of Nagarara’s tail.

Another taniwha, named Kaiwhare, was preying on the people of Manukau. No one could stop him. There was a warrior named Tamure who lived in Hauraki and owned a magical club with power to defeat taniwha. The people of Manukau pleaded for help and Tamure came to them. Kaiwhare readily attacked, for Tamure was a stranger. They wrestled on the shore until Tamure bashed the taniwha over the head with his club. Kaiwhare was not killed, but he did become tame. This taniwha is still believed to live in the waters near Manukau. His diet now consists of octopus and crab.

Near Kaipara, three sisters were out gathering berries one day. As they returned, a taniwha fell upon them. He captured each in turn, finally selecting the loveliest one as his bride. (The fate of the other girls is unspoken. Perhaps he ate them.) The taniwha took the lucky (?) girl to his cave. As time passed, she bore him six sons. Three were taniwha, like their father, and three were human, like their mother. In secret, the captive mother taught her human sons to be warriors. The human sons eventually killed their taniwha brothers, and later their father. They then returned to their mother’s home with her.

Like their distant cousins, the mo’o of Hawai’ian tradition, taniwha could sometimes blur the line with humans. Tales tell of a “woman from the sea” named Pania, who married a human man. Their child was a taniwha. A priest named Te Tahi-o-te-rangi had served as a spirit medium for taniwha. He transformed into one of them after his death.

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Taniwha are nature spirits in the folklore of New Zealand’s Maori culture. They can appear as large sharks, whales, crocodiles — or dragons! According to legend, these spirits traveled alongside the canoes that carried Maori ancestors over the sea from their original islands. After the Maori established their new homes, the taniwha remained to watch over them. Even in modern times, many tribes and local communities can name a specific taniwha who is their guardian.

It was believed that taniwha granted visions to priests, warning of natural disasters or that enemies were nearby. However, taniwha could be both friendly or deadly. They made their homes in deep rivers, caves, and ocean shores prone to dangerous currents or sneaker waves. Friends of the taniwha might be guided away or rescued from drowning. In return, taniwha expected to be treated with respect. They received offerings of the first fruit each season. Even friendly tribesmen passing near a taniwha’s home would make offerings to please these spirits.

In addition to spiritual guardianship, taniwha were enforcers of tapu (commonly Anglicized as taboo), the social code governing Maori life. Violations of tapu would be met by swift retribution. So would any intrusion into the taniwha’s domain. Though they protected their own people, outsiders were fair game. Strangers might be dragged into the water or attacked and devoured. Women might be captured as brides.

Respect for the taniwha has remained strong even into modern times. Several news reports from the early 2000s related that construction projects had been moved or redesigned to avoid disturbing areas where taniwha were believed to dwell.

Check back on Saturday for a few taniwha legends.

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Humans of many cultures have looked to the night sky and found pictures among the stars, then spun tales of who or what these constellations represent. But those stories are all from the human perspective. Today I have a special guest, an actual dragon,* to share a dragon’s version of these star-stories.

Yes, hello. I am Tetheus, a sea dragon from the land of Aerde, and I’ve come to correct your silly human notions about the constellations. We sea dragons were swimming the deeps of Aerde for centuries before any of your kind put a canoe in the water. We know a thing or two.

Let’s start with some of the figures most commonly labeled as human. There’s the one you call “Orion the Hunter.” We dragons known it as The Knight, a warning of human aggression against dragons.

There’s another you call “Hercules,” a hero who slew the monstrous Hydra. Really? Just look at those arms and legs flailing — he’s obviously running for his life. That’s why we dragons know him as The Peasant.

Finally, there’s “Andromeda,” who’s allegedly being sacrificed — to a sea dragon, of all things. (I’ll have you know we sea dragons only eat fish!) In our telling, this is The Witch. Witches are often victims of human superstition. They think they’re sacrificing witches to us sea dragons, but we have found them to be excellent and faithful allies.

Well, that’s enough for now. Come back in a day or two, after my nap, and I’ll share more of our star-stories.

* Tetheus is a character in “The Dragon Stone,” one of the short stories in Lucy D. Ford’s upcoming collection.

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Not only are there dragons in space, thanks to the pioneering work of Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX. There also are dragons in the deep sea, courtesy of Graham Hawkes’s company, Deepflight.

Hawkes is a veteran designer of submarines, submersibles, and similar oceanographic equipment. He founded Deepflight in 1996 with the idea that people should have the ability to move around below the sea, just as we do in the air with small airplanes. As Hawkes states in his public appearances, the Earth is covered with oceans that have barely been studied. Deepflight aims to provide access for exploration, scientific research, and for average tourists who want to admire scenic vistas beneath the waves.

Unlike traditional submarines, which are intended to house humans and weapons while remaining under water for extended times, Deepflight’s craft are meant to submerge for a short time before returning to the surface. The company has developed a series of these “personal submarines,” the latest of which is called the Dragon.

Among several technical advances, Dragon submarines have a safety system allowing the craft to surface automatically in case of emergency. They have life support for up to 24 hours, for the same reason. Piloting is easy for anyone with just a little training, so you don’t have to join the Navy in order to have a beautiful undersea experience.

In the pictures I’ve seen, Dragon submarines appear rather like a drag-racing car, with stubby wings rather than wheels. There are domed seats for two people (pilot and passenger, presumably) so you can see all around you. Deepflight’s current plan is to market their Dragons to major resorts and tour operators, and also to the super-rich for their newest toys. The eventual hope is to bring prices down so that individuals can have private submarines the way we have private boats and cars.

It does sound like a pretty awesome experience, to soar undersea on the back of a dragon. If I was on a Caribbean vacation, I’m sure I would take that tour.

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