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Menanna and Piskaret

Mermaid image Copyright © 2002 Chloe Hedden. It may not be reproduced in any way without permission of
Ottawa tale

Long, long ago a warrior of the nation of the Ottawas found a strange little figure at his door. Her face and breast were those of a woman, but her hands and arms were covered with scales and in place of legs she had twin fishtails.

Her story was as extraordinary as her appearance. Once, she told the wondering Indian, she was a mortal, but she longed so passionately to roam the starry heavens that the Great Spirit granted her prayers and permitted her to leave the earth. But in the time she grew tired of her celestial wanderings and was allowed to return to earth, though in a form ‘neither mortal nor immortal, neither man nor beast’ — the mermaid shape in which the warrior beheld her.

In this guise she became the adopted daughter of the Spirits of the Flood, but would be enabled to resume her original human form if she found one who should love her.

Moved by her story, the Indian brought her up as his daughter, and gradually the mermaid began to resemble more and more a mortal maiden. The scales fell from her arms and hands, and her twin tails turned into shapely legs, but, though she was now indistinguishable from a normal Indian maiden, she still loved to sport in the cataract and in the lakes and rivers as she had done when a mermaid.

About this time the Ottawas and the Adirondacks quarreled, and a deputation of the latter tribe came to the village of the Ottawas where lived Menanna, the former mermaid. A Young Adirondack, Piskaret, son of the chief, fell in love with Menanna. As she smiled upon him, tears came into her eyes, and she realized with joy that they meant she had acquired a human soul.

The love story of Piskaret and Menanna was not to have a happy ending. The proud Adirondacks refused the marriage of the son of their chief with one who was of the blood of the Spirits of the Flood. Deaf to the impassioned pleas of Piskaret, they drove Menanna from his arms and carried him away from the Ottawa village. Menanna, bereft of her lover, pined with grief until the Great Spirit, in compassion, bade her join the Spirits of the Flood in the cataract.

The broken-hearted girl bade farewell to the Ottawas and made her way to the cataract. When she reached the torrent, the Spirits welcomed her, and vowed vengeance on the Adirondacks who had brought such unhappiness upon their cherished daughter.

Soon afterwards the Spirits of the Flood attacked the canoes of the Adirondacks, leaving few of the tribe alive. Piskaret was caught and shielded in the arms of Menanna, who drew him from his canoe and sank with him beneath the waters.

There no “happy hunting grounds” for the spirits of the Adirondacks: the Great Spirit turned them into eagles and they were forced to dwell on a little rocky island below the Falls of St. Anthony. Since the hearing of an eagle is acutely sensitive, they suffered torture from the insistent roar of the cataract: the revenge of the water-spirits was complete.

Benwell G., Waugh A. Sea Enchantress, The Tale of the Mermaid and her Kin, The Citadel Press, New York 1961, pp. 202-203.

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