I come to you today with a beautiful West African folktale! This one is a tale from the Yoruba people. I found it from this book called African-American Folktales For Young Readers, in case you wanted to read more. I haven’t read it all yet, but I really liked this fairy tale!
A girl with beautiful brown eyes lived beside a river in Benin. Every boy who saw those eyes was sure to fall a little bit in love, and the old folk in her village often talked among themselves about who she would marry, and what beautiful children she would surely have.* But when she grew up, everyone had more on their mind than her marriage. A drought had struck the village, withering the plants and drying the river. The hot sun beat down upon the earth, and there was no water to be found except for small muddy pools where the river had been.
*(As a side note, it always annoys me when old people do that. WHAT IF SHE GROWS UP TO BE A LESBIAN, CHARLES.)
The girl made many trips back and forth from the river, carrying water that saved the lives of the villagers. She always seemed to find more water than everyone else, but it was only because she was so dutiful and resourceful. But the drought continued, and eventually, even she could find no water to bring home. She sat down in the dry riverbed and began to weep.
Her tear hit the ground, and out of her tear came a fish.
The fish had beautiful dark eyes. “Give me your jar, and I will fill it for you,” he told her.
She was frightened at first, of course, but the fish’s voice was gentle and kind, and she had no other choice. She lowered the jar in front of him. The fish put his mouth to the opening of the jar, and spewed clear, sparkling water into it. The girl could hardly believe her luck.
The people at her village wanted to know where she had gotten such clear water, but she didn’t tell them, because she did not think they would believe her. Which, yeah, can’t say I’d blame them. This story is a drug trip and I love it. It’s a very beautiful drug trip.
She came to the fish for water the next day, and the next, until a week had passed. The fish had a gentle voice, and beautiful, colorful scales that reflected the bright light of the sun. She grew to love the fish, for his kindness as well as his beauty. And so the girl became the bride of the fish.
Yeah, the real horror of reading fairy tales is finding out your ancestors were all furries. ALL of them. They all sat around the fire and told stories about some boy with a beautiful seal-wife, or a girl with a fish-husband. I do not know for the life of me why this is such a common fairy tale trope, but it is.
I, for one, am supportive of fish-husband!
The girl’s parents were as in the dark about how she was getting the water as anyone else. They sent her youngest brother to follow her down to the river in secret. As he watched her from his hiding place, the girl got the water from the fish as always, and bent down to give the fish a kiss. The brother slipped away and told his parents what he had seen. The parents were angry, because now there would be no wedding, and the village would consider her an outcast. Additionally, the village might ostracize her family, as well, because apparently fish aren’t considered to be respectable in-laws. Who knew.
Okay. Okay this is hilarious. You live in a rural area where everyone knows each other and whenever something big happens, people talk about it for a while, you know? Anyway, you’re just peaceably living your life when suddenly, out of nowhere, you get eternally labeled as ‘that guy who’s daughter married a fish.’ I don’t know how I’d show my face again.
Anyway, the parents decide to take matters into their own hands. Of course, since they’re parents in a fairy tale, they do this in the most traumatizing way possible. They stopped the daughter from going down to the river, and sent the brother instead. The brother took a knife and a jar, carrying the jar the same way that the women did. When the fish came up out of the mud, the brother stabbed him. He took the fish’s body back home and gave it to his father, and the father tossed the body at the daughter’s feet. To the dad’s credit, the story does say that he thought the fish was an evil spirit. But still! That was her husband! Put some thought into how she must feel!
Also, like…the fish was providing the village with water, so exactly how evil a spirit are we talking here
The daughter took the fish in her hands and carried it through the village and down to the riverside. And so she stood in the empty riverbed and wept. As the tears ran down her face, the riverbed began to fill, until the water was up to her waist and the currents tore through, sending her skirts billowing. But still she cried, until the water rose over her head, and she drowned in the river. But instead of sinking to the bottom, she was transformed into a water lily, and all the water lilies in the river are her descendants.
Anyway, the moral of this story is to not come between your daughter and her furry lifestyle
I’m kidding, I think it’s a beautiful story and I love how brave the heroine is. I guess you could interpret the ending as a suicide, but I think you can also interpret it as her sacrificing herself to save the same people who killed her husband, and that’s kind of how I prefer to interpret it? She just comes across as a loving, kind person who honestly deserves better. I really like her.