I have travelled through every parish in Jamaica. While I enjoy lying on a beach and soaking up the sun, I can never stay on the resort for long. I always need to go off in search of adventures. There is a two fold myth that I came across in Jamaica. I don’t know the origin of this tale, if it comes from the Arawak Indians that were the original inhabitants of the island or from the African’s that travelled to Jamaica on the slave ships. Regardless there are many stories of River Mumma.
Stories of beautiful women who lure men to their deaths by drowning are rife in every culture across the world. River Mumma, like many sirens and mermaids can hypnotize you with her gaze, her terrible beauty lures men to their death in her river. The story that is associated with her that I most enjoyed is that of the golden table. Enjoy!
Bastian could hear his stomach growl as he and his sister Lora made their way home. They had hardly had anything to eat these past few days and their attempt to find work at the market had been in vain. Bastian’s shoulders slumped and his stomach rumbled audibly as they made their way through the jungle towards home. His sister’s eyes were wide as she gazed around them hoping that they would come across a banana tree that was in fruit. He could hear her stomach growling as loudly as his own and he felt a deep shame that he had been unable to find work. He must have let out a sigh because his sister slid her small hand into his own,
“Do not worry Bastian. I am sure that when we get home there will be food waiting for us! Father and Mother will have both been paid today I am certain of it!” Bastian pasted a smile on his face for the sake of his sister. But he knew better. Father worked himself to the bone in the sugarcane fields but his boss had not paid him for last week’s labour. The greedy man had stated that his father had not worked hard enough to earn the week’s wages. If his father wanted to be paid he would have to work even harder this week. Job’s were hard to find on the island and so Bastian’s father had simply bowed his head and worked all the harder. Coming home and collapsing in exhaustion in his bed without time to hug and kiss or speak to his children. His mother was in just as dire straights. She had gotten a good position as a housekeeper for a wealthy woman in the town. The woman had just had a baby and Bastian’s mother had been with her through the whole pregnancy, she had even been there for the birth of the baby. And then this past week she too had not been paid,
“How can I pay you?” the wealthy woman had chastised Bastian’s mother, “I need that money for my baby. How can you ask for money? You might as well take the food right out of my baby’s mouth.” His mother had come home dejected but she could not quit, not without another job on the horizon. Bastian and his sister had snuck off to the market while their parents were at work. They were certain that they could get some work and help to contribute to the household. But everyone had laughed at the two skinny children and they had been turned away time and again until it was time for them to head home.
Bastian’s mind was so filled with dark thoughts that he hardly noticed where they were. It was not until his sister let out a gasp of wonder that Bastian looked up from his feet and saw that they were beside a rushing river. A waterfall tumbled down into the river. He looked at his sister and followed the direction of the gaze, she was not looking at the waterfall, she was looking into the depths of the river. A glint of gold appeared to be rising to the surface. Lora grasped his arm, her mouth open in wonder as the golden table appeared on the surface of the water. It shone so brightly that Bastian had to shield his eyes.
“Hello children.” A sweet voice called out from the bed of the river and Lora let out another small gasp before clapping her hands over Bastian’s eyes. Bastian struggled against her but she would not let go,
“It’s River Mumma” his sister hissed in his ears. Bastian stilled in shock. He had heard the stories of course. Everyone had heard the stories of the table of pure gold. Everyone knew that the Spanish had dumped it into a river to be guarded by the fierce River Mumma until they came back to retrieve it. He could feel his sister’s hands trembling as they held on to his eyes and he wondered desperately what it was that she saw. Was River Mumma as beautiful as the stories said? Her voice was certainly beautiful,
“Why do you hold your hands over your brother’s eyes? Do you want to keep the gold all to yourself selfish little girl?”
Lora’s voice rose in indignation, “I do not want that gold at all. It is only for the greedy to take what is not theirs!” Bastian couldn’t help himself. He so desperately wanted to see the woman who was attached to the sweet and seductive voice. He stood up on his tiptoes so that his sister could no longer hold on to him, her hands fell away and Bastian’s mouth dropped open. Across the river, combing her long black hair was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her skin was the colour of coffee, her lips were full and her eyes sparkled with sunlight.
“Come young man, all you need do is step forwards and place your hands on the golden table and it will be yours. Think what you could do with such wealth!” Bastian took a small step forwards mesmerized not only by the beautiful woman but also by the gleam of gold on the river’s surface. His sister jerked him backwards,
“No Bastian! You must not be greedy! That table is not yours. Only ill befalls the greedy!” Bastian struggled against his sister’s grip,
“I am not greedy Lora! You know this. I only want it to provide for our family. Is that not a noble thing?” River Mumma’s voice called across the river as seductive as the gold itself,
“Most noble Bastian. I think you are the one who is destined to possess the golden table. Come closer.” Lora threw herself in between Bastian and the golden table, she gripped his chin and forced his gaze down to meet her own.
“Listen to me Bastian, no good will come of this. You must listen to me! We need to continue on home. Our mother and father would never take gold that was gotten this way. You know that!” Bastian was torn, his sister was right. His parents would never accept it, but he was overwhelmed by thoughts of what he could buy with that money. He could buy them a beautiful big house, his mother would have people to clean for her, his father could relax and read. They would never be hungry again. As Bastian struggled with his sister and with his own conscience the sun began to dip low in the sky, with every step he took forwards his sister would drag him back. Eventually he threw up his hands,
“Fine Lora! I will not touch the gold!” The sun had sunk below the tree line and dark shadows were stretching across the river now. The golden table had sunk back into the river and there was no sign of River Mumma. The two children found themselves alone and hurried away from the place. They were still arguing about whether Bastian should have taken the table or not when they got to the sugarcane plantation their father worked on. So distracted were they by their argument that they did not even notice their father’s boss.
“What are you two talking about!” the man demanded causing Bastian and Lora to jump out of their skins. They looked over to see their father’s boss emerge from beneath a tree. He was dressed beautifully with the soft clean hands of one who has never had to truly work. Lora and Bastian looked at each other, neither of wanting to tell this awful man of the golden table. Their father appeared trudging down the road, his shoulders slumped, his feet dragging from another long day’s work. When he saw his children standing with his boss a look of fear crossed his face,
“I’m sorry sir, are my children bothering you?” their father asked grabbing them both by the arm. The boss smiled showing several gleaming golden teeth,
“No bother. They were just talking about gold they found in the jungle! I wanted to hear more about it.”
Their father let out a small sigh, “I’m sure it was just a childish fancy sir.” But his boss was a very greedy man and he did not like to think that there was gold hidden away in the jungle at the edge of his property. He did not like to think that two poor children should know about it and take it.
“They need to tell me exactly what they were talking about or you’ll be out of a job. I can’t employ somebody with disrespectful children.” Their father squeezed their arms and Lora burst out,
“The golden table is in the river at the bottom of the waterfall, River Mumma is there guarding it. It comes up in the daytime and disappears with the sun.” The man gave the two of them an oily smile. He patted them both on the head, causing Bastion to shudder. Their father took them home chastising them for being out and not at home helping their mother with dinner. His boss had not paid him yet and mother’s boss had not paid her either. Their dinner that night was a sad broth and a few green bananas. Bastian worried he would never fall asleep from the growling in his stomach.
The next day their father came home with a look of wonder on his face, it seemed that his boss had been found floating facedown in a river not far from his property.
The boss’s son took over the sugarcane business and he was a kinder and less greedy man than his father. He made sure to pay all of his employees and Bastian’s family was able to prosper. Bastian grew up to be a good, hardworking man. He never forgot his encounter with River Mama and always listened to his sister’s wise words.