"Lifesaving Sirens," #177
Pitre, Cut Off, Lafourche Parish, Louisiana
Collected by Pat Mire and Maida Owens
on September 20, 1993. The following tale is one of the many told in
connection with the great hurricane of 1893, which had a devastating
effect on South Louisiana. At least 1,500 people were killed in this
storm, one of the worst in American history.
Well, it's hilarious -- it's funny.
Although it was tragic then, it's funny now.
One man, he was about
twenty-four. Not an old man . . . Maybe younger than that. And he had been
given up for lost. And this goes six, seven days after the storm. They'd
just about accounted for everybody they'd hoped to find. And a lot of
people had gone up on the rooftops into the Gulf a mile or so. But they
got picked up. Or they floated back into the beach. But this fellow, no.
And nobody had seen him during the storm. Lo and behold, about three weeks
later, he comes in -- in one of those freight boats that was hauling ice .
. . and food to Grand Isle for these people that'd been hurt bad. He's a
passenger and he makes his way back to Cheniere.
"Hey, what in the
world happened to you?" [he was asked.]
"Well," he said, "I'll
tell you what. I spent seven days on a door and a door frame, floating,
lying on it."
"And, well, how did you survive?"
kept hearing this singing." He said they had some mermaids or something
singing all the time. "And it kept me alive."
And they laughed,
And he said, "No, no, I saw them. They were singing just
for me. They'd come there and swim around and sing."
And one day,
he was semiconscious, and he heard some racket, and there was a bunch of
Portuguese, and the little yard boat was picking him up. And it was a
Portuguese sloop that had seen him on that door and stopped. And that
sloop was loaded with salted pork going into New Orleans. And that's a
"miracle" he got saved. And he couldn't believe his --
daddy said, when they tried to talk to him and really get the story out of
him, all he'd remembered was the singing. That's all he'd want to talk
about. Beautiful. Beautiful voices. And evidently, he lived a nice long
life because he moved to Golden Meadow afterwards, bought land, and raised
a big family, this fellow. But he never forgot his ordeal on that
Here is another tale displaying the helpful side of
supernatural beings. In European and American legends mermaids and sirens
tend to drown or abduct sailors; the life-threatening sirens of Book 12 of
the Odyssey are typical. In coastal Brittany, however, there is a
tradition that sirens are lifesavers. Brittany was the French homeland for
some of the Acadians who migrated to Louisiana; perhaps that group
influenced the mermaid tradition represented in this tale. Richard Dorson
documents a substantial tradition of mermaid tales from African Americans
in the South; like the mermaids featured in this tale, those of black
legendry often nurture mortal men, but, like mermaids elsewhere, they also
tend to abduct their men and live with them undersea before taking them
safely back to land.
For more information about this and related
tales, refer to the book Swapping Stories: Folktales from
Louisiana, published by University Press of
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