Turtles are a popular symbol in mythology because of their longevity and appearance. With their protective shells and charming demeanor, they are often found to be symbols of tranquility. Many cultures depict the turtle as carrying the world on its back or supporting the heavens.
Kauila was the legendary turtle who would turn into a girl to watch over the children playing on the beach. The hole dug by her mother for her nest became a freshwater spring used by the people of Punalu'u Bay. She is celebrated at Punalu'u Beach State Park with a plaque.
Vishnu's second avatar was Kurma the Turtle. Kurma the Turtle came to help the Devas obtain the nectar of immortality. To churn the sea into nectar, a giant snake was used as a rope and Mount Mandara was used as a rod. When the mountain began to sink, they called upon Vishnu to help them. He incarnated as a turtle and supported the mountain on his back, so that the nectar of immortality could manifest.
In the Mayan Creation Myth, the Maize God Twins were transported in a giant canoe (The Milky Way) to Orion's belt, which they saw as a giant cosmic turtle. The god Chak cracked open the back of the turtle with a lightning stone. The Maize Gods grew from the crack in the back of the turtle and it stretched out two serpents that formed a path for the sun and represented the umbilicus through which the Maya communicate with their sky gods.
In some Native American traditions, the World Turtle carries the earth upon its back. The great spirit of the Cheyenne, Maheo, kneads mud from a coot's beak until the grandmother turtle can support the earth on her back. The Mohawk believe that the trembling of the earth is caused by the old grandmother turtle stretching beneath the great weight of the earth she carries upon her back.
In ancient history, the Mesopotamian people believed that the turtle was associated with one of their Gods called Ea. The turtle was used on “kudurrus” (a type of stone document) as a symbol of Ea, a deity in Summerian mythology.
In the African mythology of the Yoruba tribe, a semi-independent, large ethnic nation in Africa located in Southeastern Nigeria; Iapa the tortoise is a trickster in a series of tales they tell of exploits. Traditional Yoruba religion is centered around several deities called “orisha.” As adults, the Yoruba often honor several of these deities.
The Gong Gong, a Chinese water god was responsible for the great flood. In Chinese mythology, Gong Gong was ashamed that he lost the fight to claim the throne of heaven and smashed his head against Mount Buzhou, a pillar holding up the sky. To fix the situation, the goddess Nu Gua cuts off the legs of a sea turtle to take the place of the mountains in propping up the sky. In this sense, the turtle's shell with the flat underside and the rounded top represents the idea of the flat earth and domed sky.
In the African mythology of the Yoruba tribe, a semi-independent, large ethnic nation in Africa located in Southeastern Nigeria; Iapa the tortoise is a trickster in a series of tales they tell of exploits. Traditional Yoruba religion is centered around several deities called "orisha." As adults, the Yoruba often honor several of these deities.
In villages, turtle shapes are made with paste cakes for festivals held in honor of the lineage's patron deity. In order to assure prosperity, harmony, and security for the next year, people buy these cakes and take them to their family.