Why do Most Cultures Have Flood Myths and Stories?
Flood Myths go Global
Flood myths have been around probably since man first started oral traditions. The most well known in Western culture is the story of Noah's flood from the Bible but there are many other stories. The Sumerians were probably the first to write down their flood myths with the story of Gilgamesh in around 2,600 BC.
In Europe Plato wrote of the city of Atlantis that swallowed up by the sea. It is said he got his story from the ancient Egyptians. This isn't to say that Europe did not have any original flood myths, as they did. The Arcadians, Samothrace, ancient Germans, Scandinavians, Celtic, Welsh, Lithuanian, Transylvanian, and Turkish peoples all had various forms of flood myths popping up in their culture.
In Asia the Vogul, Samoyeds, Yenisey-Ostyak, Kamchadale, Ataic, Tuvinian, Mongolian, Sagaiye, Buryat, Bhil, Kamar, Assam, Tamil, Lepcha, Tibetian, Singpho, Lushai, Lisu. Lolo, Jino, Karen, Chingpa, Chinese, Korean, Munda, Santal, Ho, Banar, Kammu, Zhuang, Sui, Shan, Tsuwo, Bunun, Ami, Benua-Jakun, Kelantan, Ifugao, Atá, Mandaya, Tinguian, Batak, Nias, Engano, Dusun, Dyak, Ot-Danom, Toradja, Alfoor, Rotti, and Nage all had their different versions of flood myths.
In Africa flood myths can be seen in the cultures of the Cameroon, Masai, Komililo Nandi, Kwaya, Pygmy, Ababua, Kikuyu, Bakongo, Basonge, Bena-Lulua , Yoruba, Ekoi, Efik-Ibibio, and Mandingo.
In Australia the Aboriginals of each region seemed to have a different flood myth and hundreds of tribes in the Americas each had their own wild stories of flooding as well. These stories often involved animals, sometimes rescuing people, sometimes riding the storm out with boats. In our current modern day world most of the major religions still have at least one flood myth among their texts.
The Common Threads
Although all the flood myths vary, sometimes to large degrees, many of them have some thread of commonality. Often these stories are told about one human character or one human family. Animals are involved in many of these stories and there is almost always a moral, with the flood coming only after the human race has committed some wrong doing.
Theories about their Origin
It's long been noted that flood myths are one of a handful of stories that seem to be common in almost every culture. This may be because floods are a common experience to the human race when heavy rains, monsoons, tropical storms, tsunamis, and other natural occurrences flood and destroy human habitations. It could also be part of our collective conscience, something strange in and of itself. Collective conscience is thought to be a throw-back memory from Paleolithic times. It's one theory why many mythologies around the world have not only flood myths but also tales of water monsters and ape-men (possibly a memory of Neanderthals.) This theory is sketchy at best.
Cross-cultural germination can be the root of some of these flood myths. Scholars are quick to note that flood myths in the Middle East started with the Sumerians story of Gilgamesh but soon was followed by cultures that came after including the Babylonians and Hebrews. As each culture became more globalized these stories got passed around and took on the moral undertones of the societies adopting them, accounting for the variations in the tales.
One of the most interesting theories is that all these stories could have started out as one story that really happened sometime during the end of the last ice age when glaciers would have been melting rapidly making ocean waters rise and swallowing whole civilizations near the coasts. So far this theory has gone unproven as many anthropologists think that civilizations (such as the building of cities) wasn't possible until much later, citing the lack of evidence. However if this ancient culture were to exist records of their existence would be very difficult to find, probably being erased by the sea. It is an intriguing idea.
In the end we may never know why flood myths are so prevalent across time and civilizations. Perhaps it is a testament to our fears about the collapse of society, civilization, or the world. It is not beyond our reach to hypothesize that perhaps even ancient man feared the ending of their known world and sought not to take on the vengeance of Mother Nature. Within every moral story, fable, and tale there does lie some element of human truth. Perhaps in this case the truth is our ancient knowledge that natural disaster and other people are our worst enemies in life.
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