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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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