Anyone who knows me, knows that I have loved Pokémon for as long as I’ve had living memory.
One of the things I really love about Pokémon is that many of these critters are based off not only objects and creatures we can see in the every day, but also real-world mythology. And while the designs are purely the product of Game Freak’s active imagination (and in the case of some Pokémon less than active imaginations), many of their Pokémon feature moves and back-stories inspired by some of the oldest stories ever told by mankind.
My current favourite Pokémon’s final evolution (which if you’ve read my game review is pretty obvious) has a rich origin. It probably is, I think, one of the most interesting takes Game Freak has had with Pokémon design, definitely in my top five within the Alolan region.
The current Pokémon game (SUN AND MOON) is inspired by the Hawaiian Islands, the Pokémon in question is Decidueye; a Robin-Hood-esque owl whose entire character can be drawn back to Hawaiian influence.
The most obvious connection that can be drawn is that, perhaps, Decidueye is based on the Hawaiian Stilt Owl. Stilt-owls are a genus of ‘true owls’ (containing four species: O’ahu, Maui, Moloka’I and Kaua’i) once found in the islands of Hawaii, but are now, themselves, extinct.
Visually, Decidueye looks like these owls, the legs in particular are a stand out *punny drumroll*. Feeding on from, since the Stilt Owl/s are technically extinct, the ghost typing of Decidueye makes sense. But it’s a thin connection at best. Looks and mere extinction do not a compelling mythos make.
Rather I think, there is a richer and even more interesting inspiration behind Decidueye.
While we in the West see owls as adorable, wise, and attribute them with knowledge and Hogwarts delivery, Hawaiian culture see’s owls in a very different light.
In Hawaii, from before the time of the first Polynesians, flew the short-eared brown owl or Pueo. The Pueo are sacred, the word itself not only signifying an owl, but also holding several other meanings, shortness, the shroud of a canoe, the rocking of a child. Throughout Hawaii streets, areas and valleys all bare the Pueo name, with many of these places housing their own legends and stories.
There is this old Hawaiian legend often called ‘the owl gifts’, about an Oahu man (in some cases a farmer, in others an archer) named Kapo’i. At this time, the rainy season had just set in, and fishing was getting extremely difficult. Kapo’i was pretty much starving so he went out to try and find some food, and after some time came across a nest of six eggs. Quickly Kapo’i robbed the nest, gathered up all the eggs in his cloak.
Shrieks of complaint cut through the sky, and suddenly Kapo’i was descended upon by the mother owl. Kapo’i though starving, was a good man, so he returned her eggs and in return for his compassion the owl mother instructed him to build a temple to the owls and by doing so, the owls would look over him and his family for the rest of time. So Kapo’i did.
Naturally, this whole ‘build a temple thing’ didn’t go down well with the ruling chief, who thought it an act of rebellion against the prevalent gods, and ordered Kapo’i’s execution.
Yet, just when Kapo’i was about to be put to death the sky began to darken, and shift which turned out to be a massive flock of owls coming to Kapo’i's aid.
Everyone was in complete awe of the owls and designated them guardian spirits from that time onwards. The Pueo now are seen as ancestral guardians, the aumakua.
It is believed that after the death of an ancestor, the aumakua spirit can still protect and influence the remaining family of the one they were protecting, and action this influence through the form of the Pueo owl, which, it is said is a spirit form specifically skilled in battle.
So, in summary, how does this mythos connect to Decidueye?
- The Alolan Pokémon region is based/inspired by Hawaii, having a starter Pokémon reflect this culture in its design, concept is a reasonable assumption.
- Decidueye is distinctly an owl, the most well known owl in Hawaiian mythology is the Pueo.
- Decidueye’s controversial (and I think awesome) typing of ghost can be explained by the Pueo owl’s identity as a spirit.
- Not only are Pueo owls (as ancestral beings) believed to be skilled in battle, but in some versions of the myth Kapo’i is known as an archer/hunter hence, Decidueye’s archer like design, ability and move set.
All in all, it’s really fun to try and unearth the mythic inspirations of Pokémon, stretching right back to the first generation of Pokémon.
Below are a couple of my other favourite Pokémon/mythic counterparts:
Nine-tails— Nine-tailed fox/Kurama (Chinese)
Zapdos— Thunder Bird (Native American)
Shiftry— Tengu (Japanese)
Jynx— Yamanba (Japanese)
Espeon— Bakeneko (Japanese)
Wishcast— Onamazu (Japanese)
Absol— Bai Ze (Chinese)
Golurk— The Golem of Prague
Xerneas, Yvetal and Zygarde— the three axes held by Yggdrasil: Asgard, Midgard and Niflheim (Norse)
Groudon, Kyogre, and Rayquaza— Behemoth, Leviathan and Ziz (Old Testament)
Drampa— ZhuLong (Chinese)
Marowak— Huaka’i Po (Samoan)