Native American Myth:
Ne Hwas - The Mermaid

I always associate mermaids with Europe, so finding them in native American myth was quite a surprise. Actually, there are many similarities between the two. Notice how the mermaids in this native American myth are described as beautiful, with long black hair and dark, flashing eyes. This is fitting the mermaid image to a native American ideal of beauty.

A long time ago there was an Indian, his wife and two daughters. They lived by the sea, and the mother told her girls never to go into the water because if they did, something bad would happen to them. The girls however, went repeatedly. When swimming is prohibited it becomes delightful. The sands of the shore slope away to an island. One day they went to it, leaving their clothes on the beach. Their parents began to miss them.

The father went to seek them. He saw them swimming far out, and called to them. The girls swam up to the sand, but could get no further. Their father asked them why they could not. They cried that the water was filled with slime and they had grown so heavy that it was impossible. Soon, they were covered in slime. They grew to be snakes from below the waist. After sinking a few times in this strange slime they became very handsome, with long black hair and large, bright black eyes, with silver bands on their neck and arms.

When their father went to get their clothes, they began to sing in the most exquisite tones:--

"Leave them there
Do not touch them
Leave them there!"

Hearing this, their mother began to weep, but the girls kept on:--

"It is all our own fault,
But do not blame us;
'T will be none the worse for you.
When you go in your canoe,
Then you need not paddle
We shall carry it along!"

And so it was, when their parents went in the canoe, the girls carried it safely through the water.

One day some Indians saw the girls' clothes on the beach, and looked for the wearers. They found them in the water, and pursued them, and tried to capture them. The girls were so slimy that it was impossible to hold them. Finally, one Indian, catching hold of a mermaid by her long black hair, cut it off.

Then the girl began to rock the canoe, and threatened to upset it unless her hair was given back to her. The fellow who had played the trick at first refused. The mermaid promised that they should all be drowned unless it was returned. In native American myth, as elsewhere, mermaids can be very threatening. Fearing for their lives, the Indians persuaded the trickster to give it back. The next day the mermaids were heard singing, and the hair on the girl who had lost it was as long as before.

This native American myth is often compared to Norse mythology. Loki, the Norse trickster god, having once cut off the hair of a goddess. At then end of that story, as in this one, the hair is not only returned to her but magically reattaches itself.


Native American Myth: Ne Hwas --> Mermaid Mythology