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Native American Shark Mythology

Oddly, despite being known to European sailors prior to the colonization of the Americas, the shark is one of several animals whose English name has Native American origins-- the word "shark" is an English corruption of the Mayan word xooc (pronounced "shok"), which became popularized in the 1500's. Before that the animals were known as "sea-dogs" in English.

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Sharks do not play a major role in most Native American mythology-- most coastal tribes consider sharks to be just another type of fish. Some California Indian tribes, such as the Pomo, had the same sort of myths about sharks that many Americans have today: that they are dangerous, violent man-eaters (although in actual fact, sharks rarely attack humans and avoid eating them.) In other tribes, sharks sighted near shore are believed to be an omen of hurricanes or other storms.

Sharks DO play a major role in Native Hawaiian mythology. Native Hawaiians are Polynesian people, not American Indian, but their traditional religious beliefs are often of interest to people researching indigenous American mythology. Here is a link to a good website of Native Hawaiian legends, including stories about the Hawaiian shark god and a shape-shifting shark-man.

Sharks are also used as a clan animal in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Shark Clans include the Tlingit tribe. Dogfish, a species of small shark, is an important family crest among many Northwest Coast cultures and is often represented on totem poles.

Native American Shark Gods and Spirits

*Cipactli (Aztec)
*Dogfish Woman (Haida)

Native American Legends About Sharks

*Glooskap and the Witch:
    Micmac legend about a witch who was turned into the first shark.
    (The word "keegunibe" must be a corruption of the Mi'kmaq word kíkanipit, "shark.")
Dogfish Woman: A Haida Ocean Story * The Dogfish Woman:
    Information about Dogfish Woman, a Haida shark spirit of the sea.

Recommended Books of Shark Stories from Native American Myth and Legend

The Shark God:
    Children's book illustrating a Native Hawaiian shark legend about the true importance of respect for the ocean.
Spirits of the Earth: A Guide to Native American Nature Symbols, Stories, and Ceremonies:
    Book by a Karuk elder about the meaning of Indian animal spirits, including a chapter on sharks.
Native American Animal Stories:
    Great collection of American Indian tales about animals, told by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.



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