A MAN and a woman lived by themselves in a clearing in the forest. The man hunted; the woman raised beans and corn.
One day, when the woman sat in front of the fire baking an ash cake, a large spark flew out and burned her. She rubbed the spot with her finger, and when it began to blister she wet her finger in her mouth and rubbed the blister; in this way she got the taste of her own flesh, and she liked it.
She took a flint knife, cut out the burnt piece of flesh and ate it. The taste was so agreeable that she took a coal of fire, burned another place on her arm, cut out the flesh and ate it. The desire grew upon her and she kept burning and eating herself till she had eaten all the flesh she could reach on her arms and legs.
The man had a dog that was wise and was his friend. The dog sat by the fire and watched the woman. When she was about half through eating herself, she said to him, “You had better go and tell your friend to run away and to take you with him. If he doesn’t hurry off, I shall eat both of you.”
The dog ran as fast as he could and when he came to where the man was hunting, he told him what had happened, that his wife had become a ONGWEIAS (Man-eater) and was going to eat herself and then eat them.
The man and the dog started off. The dog’s legs were short, he couldn’t run fast, so the man put him in a hollow tree and commanded him to become punk. The dog was willing, for he wanted his master to save himself.
The man went on as fast as he could till he came to a river with high banks. By the river sat an old man.
“Grandfather,” said the man, “I am in great trouble. Put me across the river; save me, my wife is following me I she wants to kill and eat me.”
“I know she is following you,” said the old man, “but she is still a long way off. I will put you across but first you must bring me a basketful of fish from my fish pond.”
The man went for the fish. The pond was enclosed. On the bank was a basket with a handle. The man caught a large number of fish, filled the basket and carried it to the old man, who cooked the fish and then said, “Sit down and eat with me.”
They ate together, then the old man said, “Now you must bring me a basketful of groundnuts.”
The man ran to the old man’s garden, dug up the groundnuts as quickly as possible and carried them to him. After he had cooked and eaten the nuts, he said, “Now I will put you across the river.”
He lay down at the edge of the water and, leaning on his elbows, stretched his neck to the opposite bank, and called out, “Walk across on my neck, but be careful, I am not as strong as I used to be.”
The man walked over carefully, then the old man bade him, good-bye, saying, “Far off in the West you will come to a large bark house; that house belongs to your three aunts; they will help you.”
After the women sent the dog away, she took a stick, and pushing the marrow out of her bones, ate it. She filled her bones with pebbles and the pebbles rattled as she moved. Every little while she stopped eating and danced and when she heard the stones rattle in her legs and arms, she said, “Oh, that sounds good!”
The woman devoured everything in the cabin, meat, bread, skins, everything that could be eaten, and when there was nothing left she started off to find her husband.
She came upon his tracks and followed them. Once in a while she stopped and danced and listened with delight to the rattle of the pebbles in her bones; then she went on again.
When she came to the bank of the river and saw the old ferryman she screamed to him, “Old man, come and put me across the river; I am following my husband. Be quick!”
The fisherman turned slowly toward her, and said, “I can’t put you across. There is no crossing for a woman who is chasing her husband to catch and eat him.”
But the woman urged and begged till at last the old man said, “I’ll put you across, but first you must bring me a basketful of fish, and dig me a basketful of groundnuts.”
She brought the fish and the nuts, but when they were cooked she wouldn’t eat with the old man. She would eat nothing now but human flesh.
After the old man had eaten the fish and the nuts he stretched his neck across the river but in the form of a horse’s neck, very narrow and arching. The woman was angry, and asked, “How do you think I am going to walk on that?”
“You can do as you like,” answered he, “I am old. I can’t make my neck flat; it would break. As it is you must walk carefully.”
No matter how the woman raged, she had to stay where she was or cross on the arched neck. At last she started, picking her steps and scolding as she went.
The water was deep and full of terrible creatures. When the woman reached the middle of the river the old man, angry because she scolded, jerked his neck. She fell into the water and that minute was seized and devoured all except her stomach; that floated down the river and past the house of the three aunts.
The woman’s life was in her stomach.
The aunts were watching, for their nephew had been at the house and they had promised to help him; they caught the stomach, chopped it up and killed it.
The husband hurried on till he came to a forest where he found a young woman gathering sticks. “Where are you going?” asked the woman.
“I am going on till I find pleasant pleasant to live with.”
“Stay here and be my husband,” said the woman. “We can live happily if you can manage my Grandmother, who is a little old woman and very troublesome.”
The woman was good-looking, pleasant and young; the man was glad to go home with her. When they came to the cabin the little old woman was sitting outside, she was not half as tall as an ordinary person and was very thick. As soon as she saw them she called out, “Oh, you have brought a husband! Give him something to eat.”
“Ask him in, Grandmother,” said the young woman. The old woman said, “Come in!” They followed her into the cabin and sat down, then she picked up a club and began to beat her granddaughter, saying, “You want a husband, do you?” She struck and struck and the woman endured the blows without saying a word.
The next morning the old woman said to her grandson, “We must go to the island and hunt.” They went— The island was low and in the center of a deep lake. They landed and drew up the canoe, then the old woman said, pointing in a direction away from the landing, “Take your place over there, I will drive the game toward you.”
When the man had gone some distance he turned and saw that the old woman was in the canoe and paddling off as fast as she could go. He called to her, but she didn’t answer. He stayed all day on the island; there was no way of escape. After a while he noticed water marks very high up on the trees and then he knew that at times the island was almost under water. When night came the water began to rise; the man climbed the tallest tree he could find ; the water kept rising and he kept climbing. About half way between midnight and morning, when all the smaller trees were covered, the man was at the very top of the high tree and around was a crowd of creatures waiting to devour him.
All at once the man saw the Morning Star shining brightly. Then he remembered that in his youth the Morning Star had promised him, in a dream, to help him in time of trouble or peril, and he thought, “If the Morning Star will hurry the day and make light come quickly, the water will go down and I will be saved.” And he called out, “Oh, Morning Star, hurry on the day; Oh Morning Star, hurry on the day! When I was young you promised to help me if I were ever in great peril.” The Morning Star lived in a beautiful house and had a small boy as servant, hearing the voice he called to the boy, “Who is that shouting on the island?”
“Oh,” said the boy, “that is the husband of the little old woman’s Granddaughter. He says that when he was young you promised in a dream, to help him.” “Yes, I did promise,” said Morning Star. “Let day come right away!”
Day came immediately and the water on the island went down at once. When the ground was dry the man slipped down from the tree and going to the landing place buried himself in the sand, leaving only his nostrils and eyes exposed. Early in the forenoon the little old woman came in a canoe and pulling it up on the beach, she said to herself, “The flesh of my granddaughter’s husband is eaten up, but maybe his bones are left; they are young and full of nice marrow. I’ll find them and eat the marrow.”
And she began to search for the bones. When she was far enough away, the man crawled out of the sand, sprang into the canoe, pushed out, and paddled away. When he was some distance from the island the old woman turned, and seeing him, cried out, “Come back, my Grandson, come back ! I’ll never play another trick on you. I will love you.”
“Oh, no!” called the man, “You’ll not play another trick on me,” and he hurried on. When night came and the water began to rise the old woman climbed the tall pine tree. Halfway between midnight and morning, when the water was near the top of the tree, and the creatures in the water were waiting to eat her.
She screamed out to the Morning Star, “When I was young, you promised to help me if ever I were in distress. Help me now.”
The Morning Star heard the voice and called to his boy, “Is that man on the island yet?”
“Oh, no!” answered the boy. “He got off yesterday; that is the little old woman herself. She says that, when she was young, you promised in a dream that if ever she were in trouble you would help her.”
“Oh, no!” said the Morning Star. “I never had any conversation with that old woman, I never made her any promise.”
The Morning Star went to sleep and let day come at its own time. The water rose till it reached the top of the pine tree, then the creatures of the lake seized the little old woman and ate her up.
The man went home to his wife and they lived happily ever after.