Native American Legends
The Water Cannibals
A Cherokee Legend
Besides the friendly Nûñnë'hï of the streams
and mountains there is a race of cannibal spirits, who stay at the
bottom of the deep rivers and live upon human flesh, especially
that of little children.
They come out just after daybreak and go about unseen from house
to house until they find some one still asleep, when they shoot
him with their invisible arrows and carry the dead body down under
the water to feast upon it. That no one may know what has happened
they leave in place of the body a shade or image of the dead man
or little child, that wakes up and talks and goes about just as
he did, but there is no life in it, and in seven days it withers
and dies, and the people bury it and think they are burying their
dead friend. It was a long time before the people found out about
this, but now they always try to be awake at daylight and wake up
the children, telling them "The hunters are among you."
This is the way they first knew about the water cannibals: There
was a man in Tïkwäli'tsï town who became sick and
grew worse until the doctors said he could not live, and then his
friends went away from the house and left him alone to die, They
were not so kind to each other in the old times as they are now,
because they were afraid of the witches that came to torment dying
He was alone several days, not able to rise from his bed, when
one morning an old woman came in at the door. She looked just like
the other women of the settlement, but he did not know her. She
came over to the bed and said, "You are very sick and your
friends seem to have left you. Come with me and I will make you
well." The man was so near death that he could not move, but
now her words made him feel stronger at once, and he asked her where
she wanted him to go. "We live close by; come with me and I
will show you," said the woman, so he got up from his bed and
she led the way down to the water. When she came to the water she
stepped in and he followed, and there was a road under the water,
and another country there just like that above.
They went on until they came to a settlement with a great many
houses, and women going about their work and children playing. They
met a party of hunters coming in from a hunt, but instead of deer
or bear quarters hanging from their shoulders they carried the bodies
of dead men and children, and several of the bodies the man knew
for those of his own friends in Tïkwäli'tsï. They
came to a house and the woman said "This is where I live,"
and took him in and fixed a bed for him and made him comfortable.
By this time he was very hungry, but the woman knew his thoughts
and said, "We must get him something to eat. She took one of
the bodies that the hunters had just brought in and cut off a slice
to roast. The man was terribly frightened, but she read his thoughts
again and said, "I see you can not eat our food." Then
she turned away from him and held her hands before her stomach--so--and
when she turned around again she had them full of bread and beans
such as he used to have at home.
So it was every day, until soon he was well and strong again. Then
she told him he might go home now, but he must be sure not to speak
to anyone for seven days, and if any of his friends should question
him he must make signs as if his throat were sore and keep silent.
She went with him along the same trail to the water's edge, and
the water closed over her and he went back alone to Tïkwäli'tsï.
When he came there his friends were surprised, because they thought
he had wandered off and died in the woods. They asked him where
he had been, but he only pointed to his throat and said nothing,
so they thought he was not yet well and let him alone until the
seven days were past, when he began to talk again and told the whole
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