Part 1: Etaname
“Sometimes, he is angry, and sometimes he is hungry, and sometimes he is lonely and just wants company.”
Uncle Bevaun cut some sugarcane and offered his niece Ruby and nephews Flore and Evens big chunks to suck on. “When he is angry, he sends the flooding. When he is hungry, the alligators come out to hunt with him. When he needs friends around him, he grabs the ones too young, too old, or too weak to swim. He takes them deep down and keeps them there. Forever.”
Through childhood, Ruby Milner’s parents always took her to the “Home Country” in the summers. During those weeks in Guyana, her Uncle Bevaun took her and her two cousins Flore and Evens out on the river almost daily, and she fell under the spell of the lush green jungle. Even more enchanting were his folktales.
“What does he look like, Uncle Bevaun?” Evens anxiously scanned the flowing waters.
“He is tall, very tall. If you look down in the river and see his eyes, it is a very bad thing. That means he is looking up at you. Thinking about you. Coming close enough to grab you. Drag you down. Once he thinks about you, he will never forget you.
“There are yellow lights in his eyes. If he is watching you, then you will see them. Day or night. No matter.” Uncle Bevaun’s own eyes glittered black like the jet in his wristlet. “The lights have a strange power. When you see them, you cannot look away. You cannot talk. You cannot move. You are in his spell. Ready for him to grab you and pull you down.”
Evens shrank deeper into the boat. He had worked out his strategy to avoid any eye contact with the river god.
Ruby’s oldest cousin Flore did not scare so easily. “How do we fight him, Uncle Bevaun?”
“No one can fight Etaname. He is too powerful. How do you fight a river, eh?” Uncle Bevaun left Flore some moments to contemplate the prospect. “When people see his hair, they think they are seeing dreads. But Etaname does not have hair. His head is alive. With snakes. They ripple the water. Some want to bite you. Some want to wrap around you. Squeeze you and choke you.” He looked at Flore. “You will see the rippling. Then you know he is coming.”
Uncle Bevaun only achieved measured skepticism Ruby’s brave cousin. “There is always rippling in the river.”
Their uncle replied, “And he is always in the river.”
The three children forgot about sugar cane. They scooted closer to each for reassurance. In Flore still blazed a fighting spirit. “A spear. A harpoon. That should work.”
“Those are for Eskimos,” their uncle responded.
“Well, Eskimos use harpoons to kill giant whales that are much bigger than anything else on earth.”
“Etaname is a river god and is too strong and powerful for them. Their harpoons cannot hurt him. He is not a fish. He would just reach up, and catch them in his hand, and snap them.” Their uncle’s pantomime convinced them of the futility of resorting to such weaponry.
Ruby was worried. “Uncle Bevaun, will Etaname come for us?”
“No, Ruby. He is happy today. We have no worries,” he assured her.
Evens reached for her hand and squeezed it. Uncle Bevaun pulled onto the bank, and they stepped onto land again.
Later that evening after dinner, Ruby’s family sat outside in the usual local custom to chat and cool off with the breezes that blew in from the river. Her father and some uncles were preparing nets for the next day’s fishing and shrimping. She sat watching them with her Granny Milner. Her mother talked with the aunts. Granny Milner caught Flore sharpening a staff point to a spear tip. “What in the world, child?”
“To fight Etaname,” Flore explained.
“To fight Etaname!” Granny Milner chuckled.
Auntie Marina sang some lines from the old folk song. Then she told them, “Uncle Bevaun just tells you those stories to make sure you children don’t crowd the edges, and you keep yourself inside the boat.”
Evens looked relieved. “Etaname isn’t real?”
Granny Milner answered, “He is real, and he is always in the river, but he does not want to take little boys named Evens.”
“How do you fight him, Granny Milner?” Flore stopped sharpening his harpoon.
“Not with a spear,” she answered immediately. “No one can fight Etaname. He is the river. How do you fight the river, eh?” she echoed Uncle Bevaun. “But there is Mamawata. She is just as powerful, even more. She has the power to walk on land. Etaname must stay in the river.”
“Can we see Mamawata?” Ruby asked.
“When she comes from the water, you can see her clear. Better than you can ever see Etaname. You can talk to her, and she can talk to you. She likes presents. Sometimes she even gives presents in return. One day, I will take you to see her and give her some rum cake,” her granny promised.
Evens perked at the mention of cake. “I want to go!”
That summer they ate plenty of rum cake and made trips into town to offer some to Mamawata at her shrine at the edge of the river, but they did not see her.
Part 2: Ruby Milner ….. Part 3: Old Bibi ….. Part 4: Som Pedersen ….. Part 5: Medusa ….. Part 6: Chief Harrison ….. Part 7: MacNamara, Hound of the Sea ….. Part 8: The Treachery of Glenmore Williams ….. Part 9: A Very Blue Fell King ….. Part 10: