The origin story, “The Merman’s Prophecy”, by Emma Newashe, depicted the legend of the merman and his prophecy to the Sac tribe about the importance of their location and native land. Newashe created her own iteration of the Sac’s origin through a story of two brothers fasting until they broke the fast and something mystical occurred. The two brothers, elder and younger, fasted until the seventh day after they saw a fish hung on a tree. This fish, a common food in the tribe’s diet, was hung on a tree and it created curiosity within the two hungry brothers. The elder brother attempted several times to climb the tree until he could not make it. After the elder brother could not climb the tree, the younger brother anxiously waiting for food was finally able to get the fish down. The two brothers were surprised to see that the object attached to the tree limbs was truly a fish and they knew it was something mysterious. The two desirous brothers anxiously wanted to eat the fish, especially the younger brother, so the elder brother returned to the village with a pot and water from the lake to make the fish and broke the fast. The meal made the two thirsty and the younger brother returned to the lake to drink until he was satisfied. Following his younger brother, the elder brother drank too and eventually drank so much he turned into a merman. This mystical occurrence brought all the village people, Sac tribal members, to the river to see the merman. The merman prophesied that if the tribe migrated past the Missouri River many of their traditional customs would be lost and changed. The merman even said that if the tribe did end up relocating past the river they would be living close to the Gulf of Mexico providing another source of water to the tribe. This legend demonstrated and explored the many cultural values of the Sac tribe including the value of water and food, the age dynamic within the brothers, and the mystery behind a merman.
The tale retold by Newashe reflected water as a very valuable resource to the Sac tribe. The temptation to get and eat the mysterious fish hung up on the tree is just one reference to water. The fish was hanging on the tree with no attachment and this puzzled the brothers. The brothers saw the fish and were so curious to see if it really was a fish. They broke their fast due to temptation and got the fish down from the tree. The brothers broke the fast for the rare occurrence and the mystery continued. The two brothers not only broke the fast, but also broke the thirst fast due to their continued temptations. This was weird, especially if the younger brother was going through a rite of passage into adulthood because fasting in Native American culture is taken very seriously. These temptations showed the value of food and water and demonstrated their lack of willpower because the brothers’ broke their fasting. The water significance concludes in the story through the merman’s prophecy when he said the Missouri River and the Gulf of Mexico were significant land features to the Sac tribe. These mysterious occurrences continued when the younger brother endlessly drank water from the lake and turned into a merman.
The age dynamic between the two brothers is yet another interesting cultural value of the Sac tribe reflected in this piece. The younger brother with less experience in fasting and hunting allowed his hunger and thirst temptations to break his fast and therefore caused his elder brother to break his fast. This dynamic is interesting and somewhat contrary to the normal age dynamic. The age dynamic in the Sac tribe usually resulted in the elder brother making the decisions for the two and his decision should not be influenced by his younger brother because he is supposedly wiser, more experienced, and simply older. The elder brother’s decisions were influenced by his younger brother’s ideas and this broke the age dynamic prevalent in the Sac culture and led both of the brothers to break fast. The younger brother’s temptations impacted the elder brother’s decisions to break the fast which culturally did not occur, but in this tale the two brothers’ curiosity caused this reversal. The elder brother had to take care of the younger brother, but should not have been influenced by the younger’s wants and desires to eat the fish. He then endlessly drank the water until the elder brother had to save his drowning brother. The elder brother then became a merman because he allowed the younger brother’s temptations to influence his decisions.
The merman occurrence in this tale is commonly reflected within tribal lore due to their mysteriousness. The merman’s prophecy reflected the tribe’s history of relocations and was written about for its truth and for the sole mystery of a merman. Newashe called the merman’s prophecy “true” and “considered wonderful by the tribe” which is somewhat true to the tribe’s migratory history. Although the prophecy granted the tribe future insight, the elder brother becoming a merman seems like a punishment for breaking the age dynamic so quickly. Since the idea of a merman is such a mystery to all people including Native Americans, Newashe depicted the merman as both a good and bad thing for all people. This mystical being perplexed Newashe and Native Americans in general due to its true unknown identity.
These three values depicted in Newashe’s “The Merman’s Prophecy” hold true in the Sac culture and history. Her cultural iteration to the origin story of the Sac tribe creates a theme of contrary rights and wrongs constructed by her tribe’s culture. The elder brother was turned into a merman because he allowed his younger brother to influence his decisions and overall influence the seven day fast. Newashe created a wonderful original legend of the Sac tribe’s origin story. Newashe not only created an origin story for The Red Man, she was also one of the more scholarly students and published multiple other works in The Arrow and The Carlisle Arrow.
This makes her an interesting addition to this created Carlisle Indian School Anthology. Although her works, this one included, were cultural works she often ends with a nuance that reflects her agreement to assimilate. The concluding sentence to The Merman’s Prophecy entails a positive reflection on the relocation of her tribe and her tribe’s changed customs due to the relocation. This cultural and historical work depicts a legend with a cultural theme and her multiple publications during her time at the Carlisle Indian School provide evidence to why Emma Newashe is in this anthology.