Menana Of The Waterfall

North American Indian

        Many ages ago, a little girl named Menana begged the Great Spirit to let her live among the stars.

        "You can only travel through the heavens if you give up your human body," said the Great Spirit.

        Menana agreed to give up her human body, so the Great Spirit allowed her to wander the sky.

        But soon Menana grew bored with the stars. "I want to go home now, she told the Great Spirit.

        "Oh, it is not that easy to become a human again," said the Great Spirit.

        But Menana begged and pleaded until finally the Great Spirit said, "I will let you be a human again.  But first you must return to earth to live among the spirits of the flood who will adopt you as their daughter.  Then over time, you will develop a human body."

        When Menana returned to earth, she lived beneath a great waterfall as a water spirit and, over time, her spirit body did begin to change.  First it became the body of a fish.  Then it began turning into the body of a girl.

        Finally, when Menana was more human than fish, the Great Spirit said, "Now you can go live among people.  As you live among them, you will lose the rest of your fish body.  However, you will not be completely human until you fall in love."

        Soon thereafter, the ancient head warrior of the Ottawa nation stepped outside to look at the rising sun.  To his great surprise he found a little creature standing before him.  She was half girl and half fish.  Her hands and arms were covered with glittering fish scales, and in place of legs, she had a fish tail.

        "Who are you?" said the old man.

        "I am Menana of the Waterfall, she said.

        Without further questions, the warrior took Menana into his household and began treating her as if she were his own daughter.  Though she was strange to look upon, he assumed she was a gift from the Great Spirit.

        In fact, all the Ottawas thought Menana was a wonderful gift.  They loved to hear her laughter, for it was as lovely as the song of a sparrow.  They loved to hear her stories for they were as fantastic as moonlit dreams. They also admired the exquisite work she did with her hands, especially the robes she plaited with mulberry bark and the feathers of war - eagles.

        As she lived and worked among the Ottawas, the scales fell from Menana's arms and hands, and her fish tail turned into a pair of human legs. Menana's spirit, however, remained as untamed as any creature of the sea. She passionately loved swimming in the rushing rivers and dancing in the torrents of the spring rains.

         More than anything, Menana liked to slip away from the company of the Ottawas and go down to the great waterfall in the forest.  There she bathed and sang and talked to the invisible spirits who had once been her family.

        One day when Menana returned home from the waterfall, she found a group of Adirondack warriors smoking a peace pipe with her adopted father. Menana's eyes rested upon a handsome young chief named Piskaret.  He was the bravest warrior of the tribe.  His arm was the arm of a strong man; his arrow aim was the aim of a stalwart man; and his heart was the heart of a good man.

         Menana stared straight at Piskaret without the slightest trace of fear in her eyes or the slightest blush to her cheeks.  Then she walked straight up to him and said, "Tell me how I can win your love."

         Piskaret was immediately taken with her. "I already love you better than any other maiden in the world, he whispered in her ear.  "Come, marry me and live with my people."

         Piskaret went on to paint the charms of his native land.  As he described the tall oaks, thick glades, and winding rivers, Menana felt great love for him.  She knew she was now a complete human being, alive to all the joys, fears, and sorrows of human life.  "I will marry ft. you," she said to Piskaret.

        But the proud Adirondacks refused to sanction the marriage of the young couple. 

        "We have heard strange stories about her, their leader told Piskaret. "We know her people are not truly human.  They are the spirits of the flood." 

        "Yes, they have drowned our warriors in the past," said another  warrior. 

        "And they have rushed into our villages and brought harm to our crops," said another.

         Piskaret begged to be allowed to marry Menana.  "She herself has injured no one," he said.  "Why must she be punished?"

         But the Adirondacks would not allow their hearts to bend with pity. They drove Menana away from the arms of her beloved.  When Piskaret tried to run after her, they tied him up and bore him away from the Ottawa village. 

        "When the water spirits heard about what had happened, they vowed vengeance against the proud Adirondacks who had brought their daughter Menana such sorrow.  Thereafter, a black cloud covered the land of the Adirondacks, and they began having many wars with other tribes.

        As for Menana, after she was separated from Piskaret, her eyes lost their lovely light.  Like a bird of night, she wandered the dark forest, singing a sad song.  She no longer joined the dance of the maidens, nor did she plait her beautiful robes.

        Menana spent more and more time sitting alone by the edge of the waterfall, telling her sad tale to the cascading waters and listening to the waters speak soothing words back to her.

    One day, after spending an afternoon conversing with the waterfall Menana rushed back to her village.  Her friends were surprised to see such a happy look on her face.  Smiling radiantly, she announced, "I am going to leave human life now and return to the world of the water spirits."

        "Why? Why?" everyone wanted to know.  They all felt panic at the thought of losing Menana.

        "I cannot tell you," she said.  "I can only say that I must leave now."

        Though everyone tried to talk her out of her decision, Menana would not change her mind. Finally, the Ottawas had no choice but to follow her in a large procession through the forest to the waterfall.

        No sooner had Menana reached the cascading waters, than out of the swirling torrent rose a host of fallen spirits.  They moved like ghosts through the air and welcomed Menana into the water.  She gave one last wave to her Ottawa friends, then disappeared forever.

        Later that same afternoon, an Adirondack war party was canoeing down the river above the waterfall.  The leader of the expedition was none other than Piskaret.  When the war party was within bow-shot of the waterfall, the surface of the water was covered with the apparition of grisly heads.  The water spirits had assumed the disguise of warriors.  They grinned hatefully at the Adirondacks and waved their spears.

        In the middle of the water spirits was Menana.  When she saw Piskaret, her eyes shone with love.  As the warrior ghosts began slaying the Adirondacks, Menana caught Piskaret in her arms. She shielded him from the sharp spears and pulled him out of the canoe and sank with him beneath the surface.

        The water spirits turned the slain Adirondack warriors into eagles and forced them to dwell forever on a misty island which stood below the raging waterfall. An eagle's sense of hearing is so refined that the roar of the torrents nearly drove all of them mad.

        As for Piskaret, since Menana could not marry him on earth, she turned him into a water spirit and married him beneath the wild, cascading waters.

From: Mermaid Tales From Around The World
By: Mary Pope Osborne
Illustration: Troy Howell