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Squant, The Sea-woman

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Native American tale

Every Indian knows the story of how Maushop fought the Bird-monster, challenged that man-eating eagle to come down from a tree and fight, how the eagle flew at Maushop’s eyes, tried to claw out the giant’s heart, how talons tore at living flesh and great beak ripped at veins and muscles of neck and shoulders; and how, finally Maushop permitted the monster to come so close that it seemed as if the Bird-demon were beating its black wings on his breast. At that moment a storm arose over the sea; the island shook with thunder of battle; lightning flashed; waters howled; and Maushop reached out his two hands, caught the eagle around the neck and wrung that neck as if it were a deer’s hide washed after the drying.

The Black Demon fell dead. His wings, falling over the white shore, covered the bones of children that he had stolen and devoured. Weary with battle, Maushop sat down in the Eagle’s Den. There was no tobacco on the island, so he filled his pipe with pokeweed, for he needed to smoke and rest awhile with the great Bird-monster at his feet. Wind raged over the sea; waves snarled and showed their teeth. Suddenly, among them, a Sea-woman arose and approached the Den. Her eyes were square, her head was covered with locks of seaweed, her fingers were webbed as the tern’s feet, and she sang a wild song, in which joined the Wolf-waves who followed her, howling as they came.

Maushop continued to smoke his pipe, though he watched that Sea-woman well. She came close enough to make sure that the Black Eagle was dead; them tore her hair and whimpered, and turned away with the tide. When the tide came in again, she drifted along with it, and this time she smiled. The storm went away; the wind blew from the south; the sun came out; and Maushop saw that her hair was green, glistening, her body wide and flat like a ribbon of kelp. He knew then, that she was Squant, the sea-giantess. So he waded into the ocean and reached for a hold on her braids. They slipped like green water through his fingers. Squant laughed, sang a song, and hid in an underseas cave not far from the cliffs at Gay Head. Maushop desired to follow her, and wrap her hair around him; but he, a man giant, needed to breathe the wind.

Every day Squant came with the incoming tide, smiled, and beckoned him to follow. Maushop sat in his Den and thought about it. Sometimes he swam in the sea with her, but when she went down to the undersea cave he did not dare to follow. Back in Poponesset on the Narrow Land he had a wife and sons who were waiting for his return; and the Indian mothers also waited to know the fate of their eagle-born children. Maushop’s wife was ugly, a terrible scold. There was no peace in their wigwam, so, occasionally, Maushop grew a little tired of her. It was pleasant to rest in the eagle’s Den, and watch the smoke from his pipe drift over the mainland. When Squant called to him and he did not come, she frowned. The wind veered to the northeast, the sea grew white, and Maushop knew that it would be no use to attempt to return to the Narrow Land. Squant could stir up such fearful weather that not even a giant might breast the waves, or fight the north wind that beat him steadily offshore.

Year by year Maushop rested. To have an excuse for his absence, he began to build a bridge from Gay Head to Cuttyhunk. He filled one of his moccasins with sand and waded out to empty it on the intended line. Along came a crab that was looking for something to do, and when he saw Maushop’s uncovered foot, he took a hold of it. Crabs have no use for giants. Giants have no use for crabs. Maushop reached out his arm and broke off a portion of Gay Head Cliff. The crab let go of Maushop’s foot in a hurry and scuttled out of the way. Maushop lifted that piece of cliff and heaved it after the crab. It fell directly on top of the offender and buried him deeply in the sea bottom. A part of the cliff stuck out of water, and is called No Man’s land.

Maushop gave building his bridge, and that spring determined to return to the Cape, to visit his wife, and tell the Indian people the story of the eagle’s Den. Then he remembered that it was the season of planting corn, which should be put into the ground when the leaf of the white oak is as big as a mouse’s ear. He knew that his wife would bother him about corn, and in the villages the men and women would stop their work to mourn for the eagle-born children. So he waited a little longer, till he chanced to think of his wife’s strawberry bread. Like other Indian women, she bruised strawberry in a mortar, mixed them with meal, and baked them into loaves. Maushop climbed from his den and started across the South Sea, to advise his children, discipline his wife, and eat strawberry bread. In the summer Squant never lost her temper as she did when the days were short. She sat in her cave and blew bubbles, and sang a song that made Maushop desire to cover himself with her green hair. He walked quickly away from her. Squant laughed, and sang another song that meant that he would return.

On the mainland, he came upon his wife in a wigwam with a Bad Indian from the North. The Indian was like an ant crawling over her. Maushop picked him off and threw him into Great Marshes. There the land lapped over him, and he lies to this day in the mound known as Scorton`s Neck. The giant spoke to his wife. He was very angry; for Indians, unlike white people, are loyal to one another and believe in keeping their wives. He ordered her to bake strawberry bread. She only covered her head with ashes and mourned for the Man from the North. Maushop lost his temper. He picked her up and tossed her across-cannel to Succonesset. He picked up his five children and threw them into the sea. They were transformed into fishes and swam away to the south. Sometimes, when storms are heavy, they come close to shore again. Hidden in waves, they wail aloud and suck at the sand as though they were still giant-babies suckling at a squaw’s breast.

Maushop sat down on a hill and bowed his head in his hands. He thought of the bed that he had made of eagle fathers and bear hide in the den at Gay Head. He went back to the Island before the sun was fallen, and sat on the edge of a rainbow cliff to smoke his pipe. The waters churned. Squant came up between the waves and shook her hair.

That night, as the tide went out, the Gentle Giant followed her to the underseas cave. The Sea-woman twined her green braids about him and so he fell asleep.

Maushop has never awakened from those long years of slumber. Squant sits in the Cave day and night, with the young giant’s body laid across her knees. Sometimes she sings to make his sleep happy, or blows bubbles and smiles. When winter comes and the days grow shorter, she is in terror that he will never waken. Then the waters over the underseas cave seethe and circle like fighting eagles. Into that whirlpool white men’s ships are sucked down as readily as Indian canoes. The Sea-woman takes them in the hope that Maushop will rouse himself when he feels in his hands these reminders of life on the Long Land.

Mariners, it is well to know where that whirlpool lies!

Reynard E. The Narrow Land, Boston and New York , The Riverside Press Cambridge 1934, pp.41-44.

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