Kate Farrell (author of Story Power) shares a Haitian folktale about this simple maid and her magical experience.
Haitian stories are introduced by the invitation to hear a story. The person willing to tell the story shouts out: KRIK. If people want to hear the tale, and they nearly always do, they answer in chorus: KRAK.
Growing up in Haiti was a memorable experience, mostly because of the richness of the Haitian culture and folklore. When I was a child, what I enjoyed the most were the stories told after supper. When there was an occasional power outage, we often gathered around a gas lamp called “tet gridap” to tell all kind of stories and charades.
The stories would sometimes evoke one’s laughter or fear, sometimes they told to teach a lesson of wisdom, and other times, one would not know what to make of the story. Some stories were told just for the sake of telling stories. The storyteller would say “Krick” and the audience would respond “Krack”.
One story I remember is the story of Tezin the Fish. This story plays an important role in Haitian folklore and culture.
TEZIN THE FISH
As was the custom, boys and girls who grew up in rural areas actively participated in the family’s duties. There was a brother and a sister who, sometimes were sent off to collect water in a river located not too far from the family house. When both returned home, the family always complained about the boy not bringing crystal clear water like her sister did.
So, the parents asked the brother to learn from her sister, but the brother was really hard-headed and never really listened to her sister’s instructions. He would rather play in the woods, and who knows, enjoy nice naps under the shadows the “Mapou” (a tall tree).
One day, while the sister was collecting water, a big Fish appeared. The Fish introduced itself as Tezin and told the girl that it would help her because she was nice and loyal. So Tezin and the girl made a pact. The fish would go and collect the utterly most clear water from the depth of the river for the girl if she kept it a secret.
Upon arriving to the river, the girl had to sing a song to invoke the fish. However, Tezin warned the girl not to tell anyone about his existence because this would put his life at stake. Also, he gave her a handkerchief; if the handkerchief became stained with three drops of blood, this meant that Tezin was killed.
From then on, because of Tezin, the girl would bring the clearest water they have ever saw home. Her parents were very suspicious and asked the brother to spy on the girl. So the next day, after witnessing the interaction between the fish and her sister, the boy ran home and divulged her sister’s secret friendship with the fish.
The parents got angry and worried that the fish was a monster who meant harm to their daughter. They thought that the monster of the river had taken their daughter’s soul, so they planned on killing the fish. The next morning, they sent the girl off to the marketplace instead of the river. Meanwhile the parents went off the pond and sang the song and killed Tezin.
The next day she went to the river and sang countless times but the fish didn’t appear; she took a look at the handkerchief, and it was in fact stained with the blood. She went off to her house and that evening, fish was served at the family dinner. The girl refused to eat and went out and cried.
As she was singing the song she usually sang to invoke Tezin, she was surprisingly going into the ground! Her brother went out to fetch her but he saw her slowly going into the ground. Astonished, the boy ran inside and called their parents, but they didn’t believe him. When he went back the girl was already deep into the ground up to her neck. He went and called his parents and when they finally came to see only one of her braids was on the surface of the ground!
As the storyteller tells that story, she always finished off by saying that when one passes by the river on a full moon night, one can hear the girl singing and Tezin splashing out of the water. We, Haitians, are known to be very superstitious, so this story might confirm your doubts. But what culture or ethnic group doesn’t share some kind of superstitious beliefs, truly?
Source: “Tezin the Fish” retold by Stephanie Joseph
Note: Ye Xian, a Chinese fairytale is similar to Tezin, with a magical fish who helps a maid, but is killed by the family and eaten for dinner.
Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories
Stories are everywhere. The art of storytelling has been around as long as humans have. And in today’s noisy, techy, automated world, storytelling is not only prevalent—it’s vital. Whether you’re interested in enlivening conversation, building your business brand, sharing family wisdom, or performing on stage, Story Power will show you how to make use of a good story.