Legends in the Rocks

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Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Myths and legends are such an inviting way to learn about the landscape. It may not always been scientific, but that doesn’t have to matter. Often of great cultural significance, the story remains with us. It’s another way to respect nature. Storytelling can be an inspirational way to teach geology – it’s the legends in the rocks. It’s worth thinking about. The pretty colours of minerals and gems only attract the student’s attention for a while.

Volcanic landscapes have been incorporated into all sorts of books, songs and movies. Ernest Hemmingway wrote about Mount Kilimanjaro in his short story “The snows of Kilimanjaro”. Kilimanjaro is also sung in the song ‘Africa’ by the rock band Toto.

Numerous artists have painted volcanoes. Japanese take pride in Mount Fuji – it’s a sacred symbol of Japan. Temples and shrines surround the 3776 metre high stratovolcano and climbing the mountain is considered a religious practice. The symbolic image has been reproduced many times.

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Mount Fuji

We can thank the Masai tribal people for the name Hells Gate National Park in Kenya. Folklore believed this energy to come from the fires of hell below. As the earth grew warmer and gases were released I discovered sites called the devils bedroom and devil’s shower. And then there was hell’s kitchen, the most impressive of all as rock pools roared with boiling water and mud. Some of the volcanic features seen in Kenya’s Hells Gate National Park are seen in the movie Lion King. I learnt this from speaking with film crew producing a documentary there at the time.

I found a distinct character amongst Icelandic people, a very unique humour in fact. Often myths and legends would be intertwined with scientific descriptions of the landscape. I learnt more about elves, and how they were kind, and about the trolls and their ugly faces in rocks. We also had one spare seat unoccupied in the bus for traditional reasons. To pick up the famous hitchhiker, often known as the ghost. Now, wouldn’t that make a good story for the students to start writing….

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