I told the story of  ‘The Water Spirit’ to a friend over tea the other day. When she asked me to write it down so that she may share it with her daughters, I was not only delighted to pass it on, but thought it a good opportunity to spread the mysterious healing power of the story …

Early one morning, two sisters went to the river to fetch water in their calabashes. One was married with children while the other had only just grown breasts.

The sun shone brilliantly on the water and lit up a beautiful water lily in the river. The young sister waded into the water to pick the flower, but as she touched it, the girl disappeared into the water without a ripple or trace.

Her sister rushed home to fetch the family, but the elders at the homestead warned everyone to stay calm; they knew where the sister had gone. They knew how to call her back. The most accomplished healer among the clan ordered the people to fetch wood. Once a fire had been made, the old healer danced while the people sang and clapped. He moved and rushed through the reeds and bent his figure close to the shallow water – to hear the message he had to give to his people. He knew how to talk to the ancestors, how to ask for help.

When he returned from his trance, he ordered the people to sacrifice a goat. The woman of the sister’s family were told to go to their hut in silence and prepare a new floor with fresh dung and mud.

The healer told them that the sister was alive, had married the Water Snake and had given birth to a baby boy. That they lived under the water. Time passed and did not pass. Then, a whirlwind came up. In this wind, the sister and her little boy appeared in the hut head upside down – both of them – just like that…

She sat down quietly with her family and explained that she become a healer and that her child had been born a healer. She said that she had more children with the Water Snake, who continue to live under the water. She told them that she would be their healer in the future and asked that they should not be afraid of her. She told them that she would visit her river water family from time to time and that her invisible children would come to see her. She asked the people to accept them.

In this way, she ensured the continued existence of her children and family.

My story walks ’till here.

I have heard many different versions of this wonderful story from people who live close to rivers in Southern Africa – sometimes it is called ‘The Water Snake” or “The Water Maiden”. This retelling is based on a story as I heard it from Ronelia Kaffeer who lives near the Orange River in the Kalahari. Ronelia’s #Khomani grandmother told it to her. In her brilliant book Water, Legend and Stone, Rene Rusts explains to us how we can read the legend of the Water Spirit, or Water Maiden, on numerous rock art panels in South Africa. (Rust 2012)