Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Fish Husband

Today's tale comes to us from the book Mermaid Tales From Around the World by Mary Pope Osbourn. The tale is Nigerian.

Long ago, in an African village, there lived a very beautiful girl.  All the men in the village were bewitched by her, and asked for her hand in marriage.  But steadfastly she refused.  She insisted she would only marry the most handsome man in all the land.
        One day, as the girl was browsing through the market place, she saw a very striking man, and instantly she fell in love with him.
        Boldly, the beautiful girl approached the man.  "Sir, I love you," she said.  "If you will have me, I will be your wife."
        "Oh, I should like very much to have you for my wife," he said, "but sadly, I cannot.  For I am not a man and I am not of your people.  I only look like a man because the gods have given me the power to turn into one whenever I visit land.  But in truth, I am a fish and my true home is the river at Idunmaibo.  And to the river I must return."
        "I don't care if you're man. or fish," the girl said, "I still love you.  If you promise to come forth from the water from time to time to visit me, I will still gladly marry you."
    "Then let it be so.  Come with me," said the fish man, and he led the girl to a certain place on the river at Idunmaibo where they were married.
        Then the fish man spoke again to the girl.  "This is my home," he said. "Whenever you want me, come to this very place and sing a magic song." Then the fish man sang a lovely song:


    Oh beautiful fish of the river,
     May I look through the flowing waters? 
Through the surface of the river I will see you. 
Oh lovely river that looks like silver and gems 
With palace beneath, more lovely 
Than the Palace of kings of men.
        The fish man then dove into the water and disappeared from sight.
        Every day thereafter, the girl prepared sweetmeats for her husband and carried them to Idunmaibo.  There, by the river, she sang the magic song, and the fish came to the surface and changed into a handsome man.
        The fish man gave the girl many gifts - beautiful coral and gems of the sea - and he sat with her on the river bank, and they both loved each other very much.
        One day, while the girl was making a basket of sweetmeats, her parents told her she must get married soon.  The girl replied that she already had a husband, but she could not tell them who he was.
    Her family was indeed very puzzled by her answer, and they watched her closely as she prepared her husband's food.  Her brother asked if he might help her carry it.  But she told him she must go alone and nobody must follow her. This only aroused her brother's curiosity, and he made up his mind to follow her to see where she went and what she did with the food. Using magic, he turned himself into a fly.  Then he flew behind his sister all the way to Idunmaibo.  There the fly brother watched the girl as she sang her magic song.  To his astonishment, he saw the fish come out of the water and turn into a man.  And he saw the fish man visit with his sister, then jump back into the water.
        The girl's brother quickly flew back home.  He changed from a fly back into a boy and hastened to his parents to tell them what he had seen.
        The girl's parents were enraged when they heard about the fish man. They decided to send their daughter away until they could figure out what to do.  So as soon as the girl returned from the river at Idunmaibo, her parents sent her to live with her father's people - far, far from the river.
        The poor girl was heartbroken because she could no longer visit the fish man.  While she was away grieving, her brother led her father to the river at Idunmaibo.  There, the brother sang the magic song, and the fish man rose from the water.
        As soon as the fish man stepped onto the bank of the river, the girl's father drew a long knife and stabbed him.  The handsome, young man was mortally wounded and, as he died, he slowly shriveled into a fish, then disappeared.
        Soon after, the girl was sent home from her relatives.  She could hardly wait to rush back to the river and into the arms of her beloved.  She quickly prepared the fish man's meal, and was in such a hurry that she hadn't noticed her brother following close behind her.
        The girl stood on the bank and sang her lovely magic song, but the fish man did not rise from the river.  She waited a moment, then sang her song again, but still the fish man did not appear.
        Suddenly, she heard someone singing the magic song.  Filled with she turned around, expecting to find the fish man, but was startled to find her brother.
        "He will come to you no longer," her brother told her, "for our father has slain him."
        At that instant, the surface of the water turned blood - red and the girl knew then that her brother spoke the truth. The girl cried out in terrible grief, "Then I will go to join the spirit of my beloved.  And she jumped into the river.  But instead of drowning, she sank down into the waters and became an onijegi, a mermaid.  And people say that, even today, an onijegi can sometimes be heard singing softly at the river Idunmaibo.



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