Native American Legends
Ne Hwas, the Mermaid
A Passamaquoddy Legend
A long time ago there was an Indian, with his wife and two daughters.
They lived by a great lake, or the sea, and the mother told her
girls never to go into the water there, for that, if they did, something
would happen to them.
They, however, deceived her repeatedly. When swimming is prohibited
it becomes delightful. The shore of this lake sands away out or
slopes to an island. One day they went to it, leaving their clothes
on the beach. The parents missed them.
The father went to seek them. He saw them swimming far out, and
called to them. The girls swam up to the sand, but could get no
further. Their father asked them why they could not. They cried
that they had grown to be so heavy that it was impossible. They
were all slimy; they grew to be snakes from below the waist. After
sinking a few times in this strange slime they became very handsome,
with long black hair and large, bright black eyes, with silver bands
on their neck and arms.
When their father went to get their clothes, they began to sing
in the most exquisite tones:-
Leave them there!
Do not touch them!
Leave them there!
Hearing this, their mother began to weep, but the girls kept on:-
It is all our own fault,
But do not blame us;
It will be none the worse for you.
When you go in your canoe,
Then you need not paddle;
We shall carry it along!
And so it was: when their parents went in the canoe, the girls
carried it safely on everywhere.
One day some Indians saw the girls' clothes on the beach, and so
looked out for the wearers. They found them in the water, and pursued
them, and tried to capture them, but they were so slimy that it
was impossible to take them, till one, catching hold of a mermaid
by her long black hair, cut it off.
Then the girl began to rock the canoe, and threatened to upset
it unless her hair was given to her again. The fellow who had played
the trick at first refused, but as the mermaids, or snake-maids,
promised that they should all be drowned unless this was done, the
locks were restored. And the next day they were heard singing and
were seen, and on her who had lost her hair it was all growing as
long as ever.
We may very easily detect the hand of Lox, the Mischief Maker,
in this last incident. It was the same trick which Loki played on
Sif, the wife of Odin. That both Lox and Loki were compelled to
replace the hair and make it grow again-the one on the snake-maid,
the other on the goddess, is, if a coincidence, at least a very
remarkable one. It is a rule with little exception that where we
have to deal with myths which have passed into romances or tales,
that which was originally one character becomes many, just as the
king who has but one name and one appearance at court assumes a
score when he descends to disguise of low degree and goes among
the people. But when, in addition to characteristic traits, we have
even a single anecdote or attribute in common, the identification
is very far advanced. When not one, but many, of these coincidences
occur, we are in all probability at the truth. Thus we find in the
mythology of the Wabanaki, as in the Edda, the chief evil being
indulging in mere wanton, comic mischief, to an extent not to be
found in the devil of any other race whatever. Here, in a mythical
tale, the same mischief maker steals a snake-girl's hair, and is
compelled to replace it. In the Edda, the corresponding mischief
maker steals the hair of a goddess, and is also forced to make restitution.
Yet this is only one of many such resemblances in these tales. It
will be observed that in both cases the hair of the loser is made
to grow again. But while the incident has in the Edda a meaning,
as appears from its context, it has none in the Indian tale. All
that we can conclude from this is that the Wabanaki tale is subsequent
to the Norse, or taken from it. The incidents of tales are often
remembered when the plot is lost. It is certainly very remarkable
that, wherever the mischief maker occurs in these Indian tales,
he in every narrative does something in common with his Norse prototype.
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