13: The Song the Marsh Mussel Sang

Tonupeka ranran
Strong sunlight had dried out the place where I lived,
And I was in danger of death.
“Someone, please bring me water to drink,
Help me, I beg! Water, water!”
We all cried, and from the beach a woman came
With a basket on her back.
As we were crying out, she came past us,
Looked at us, and
“You stupid mussels, you bad mussels,
What are you bawling about,
Why are you making such a racket?” she said,
And she trod on us, and kicked us out of her way,
And crushed us in our shells, and went on her way
Up into the mountains.

“Ohhh, the pain! Water, water!”
We cried, and from the beach came another woman
With a basket on her back.
“Someone bring us water to drink! Help us!
Ohhh the pain! Water, water!!” we cried,
And with a manner as refined and beautiful as a god’s,
She came over to us and said,
“Oh, poor things! In this heat,
The mussel beds are drying out, and they must need water,
And what’s this? It’s as if someone has been squashing them!”
She said as she gathered us all up in a big leaf
And put us down in a nice lake.
The clean, cold water revived us completely
And we glowed with health.

Now that we have had time to think about it,
The differences in disposition of these ladies
Tell us that the first, the one who trod on us,
That horrible woman, that nasty woman,
Was Samayunkur’s little sister –
Whereas the one who took pity on us,
The young maid who helped us with such gracefulness,
Was Okikirmui’s little sister.
Because Samayunkur’s sister was so unpleasant,
Her millet fields dried out, but
Okikirmui’s sister’s fields prospered.
That year, Okikirmui’s little sister had a plentiful harvest,
And knowing that it was thanks to us
She piled up millet ears in mussel shells.
And that is why every year, when women harvest millet,
They use mussel shells.

So said a marsh mussel.