Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Jersey Devil

Q: Hopefully you can help me in my quest.  Here in New Jersey, we have a legend about the "Jersey Devil" born of a witch. But years ago, I talked to an historian about the folk lore, and he said that a native tribe who lived by the Jersey shore, had a legend about flying sea dragons that were around for hundreds of years.  And this fits the description of
the Jersey devil.  This person told me that there were colonies of these creatures that also lived in the caves.  I thought that if this was true, you would definitely know for sure.

A: Thanks for writing. I've never heard of the Jersey Devil having any basis in Native American myth... it's a folk tradition of English settlers, with an origin story in the 1700's (being born to a settler woman at that time.) But there certainly were plenty of monsters and other creatures in the folklore of local Native American tribes as well. I'm not sure underwater monsters are a good match for the Jersey Devil, which was a winged devil-like creature that lived in the pine forest. But here's our page on Lenape mythology-- maybe you can find something of interest there. (The historian you were talking to was probably thinking of underwater panthers, a race of dragonlike big cats that lurk in lakes and drag people to a watery grave.)

Hope that helps, have a good day!
Native Languages of the Americas

Further reading:
Native American legends
New Jersey Native Americans
Lenape language

Monday, December 9, 2013


Q: Is it true that Shappa means Red Thunder in Sioux?

A: No, it's not. Baby name websites claim that "Shappa" means "Red Thunder" in a Sioux language, but this is false. "Red Thunder" is Wakinyan-Luta in Lakota or Wakinyan-Duta in Dakota. "Shappa" means "dirty" if you sound it out phonetically (shah-pah), but historically, this was the English way of spelling a Lakota man's name Capa (chah-pah), which means "beaver." The mistake apparently came about because there was a Dakota man named Shappa (Capa) who became chief and took the honorific name Wackhawendutah (Wakinyan-Duta).

Hope that helps, have a good day!
Native Languages of the Americas

Further reading:
Dakota language
Sioux Indians
Native American names