Maman Dlo, whose name is derived from the French ‘maman de l’eau’, which means ‘mother of the water’ is one of the protectresses of the forest and its rivers, waterfalls and pools.
It was towards the end of the rainy season. Ti Jeanne, who lived with her grandmother in Blanchisseuse, went to the river ppol with her basket of laundry. She tied up her skirt around her waist, waded in the sater, and her round, brown arms moved rhythmically up and down as she beat the laundry against a stone. Her voice rang out in the forest, mingling with the song of birds high up in the trees, the screech of parrots and the more mysterious sounds of the forest. Whap, whap went the wet laundry, “La rene, la rene, la rene rivé” sang Ti Jeanne, “Qu’est-ce qu’elle dit?” asked the Kiskidee who never really understands anything. Ti Jeanne worked away in the solitude of the ravine, the sun travelled its course across the sky, and when the last piece of laundry was washed and wrung and was laid out to bleach on the stones, Ti Jeanne sat down, splashing her feet in the water, and looking at her reflection in the water of a small clear pool, turning this way and that to catch a glimpse of her pretty features.
“Who’s that singing so fine?” came a hissing, creaky voice from the dark greenery. “Who’s that splashing in the water? Who’s that looking at herself?”
Ti Jeanne got scared, because she heard the voice but couldn’t see who it belonged to. Not daring to move, she asked in a feeble voice:
“Who you talkin but not showin youself?”
A throaty chuckle came from the dark, then a rustle. Ti Jeanne saw circular ripples on the water emerging from under the foliage, and then the face of an old old African woman emerged from the water. She had tatoos, and wore large earrings and strands and strands of necklaces made of colourful beads.
“Ti Jeanne, Ti Jeanne,” the woman sang in her rusty old voice, “Ti Jeanne, so beautiful, washerwoman, blanchisseuse! Ti Jeanne, mmh, mmh.”
As her song changed to a humming sound, rising and falling, the old woman rose and rose, and Ti Jeanne, who was by now totally entranced in spite of her fear, saw that the hag had the body of an anaconda.
“Maman Dlo,” Ti Jeanne whispered. “Maman Dlo, I didn’t mean to be rude. I didn’t hurt anything.” For the girl knew that punishment awaits the one who offends the forest creatures, the plants or the animals, and she was in great fear to be talked to by the great water spirit.
“Vanity, vanity, my child,” said Maman Dlo, who was now full seven feet erect on her snakebody, swaying from side to side. “Looking at yourself in the water’s reflection. But beautiful you are, ssssssso beautiful! Mmh, mmh!”
Ti Jeanne, entranced, started to swing along with Maman Dlo. As she listened to her song, the girl got up from her seat, and slowly walked into the water. Maman Dlo’s tail flapped furiously, creating bigger and bigger splashes, waves, and foam started to rise. Ti Jeanne’s chemise fell from her, her hair grew long, covering her round shoulders and her bare breasts, and when the girl’s lips reached the water’s surface, the pool covered the pool as if hundreds of laundresses had been working.
Maman Dlo had enchanted Ti Jeanne, who was to live with her and serve her forever after. She gave the girl a fishtail, and Ti Jeanne was to become one of the most beautiful fairy maids, playing with the other river spirits and protecting the forest, its waters and pools for a long time to come.
When the villagers came to look for her, they only found the laundry she had washed, and next to it on the river ‘s banks the chemise she had been wearing and seven shiny fishscales.
Ti Jeanne in later times also chose a husband from amongst the village, but that is another story and shall be told another time. If you don not want to be lured by Maman Dlo, take off your left shoe, turn it upside down and immediately leave the scene, walking backwards until you reach home.
Monkey break he back.