Old men tell of a noble chief who possessed a daughter of surpassing grace and beauty, and called Tola. She was a maiden both talented and fair, as lovely as a rising moon and tutored well in wifely skills, as was the custom of those times; but, over-proud of her perfection and deaf to her father’s wish, she refused to marry any many with a spot or blemish on his skin.
Her father sent messengers and envoys to countries near and far, searching for a perfect man to mate his perfect daughter; from far and near came princes, chiefs, the sons of chief’s, great warriors and youths of noble birth to suffer close inspection and in turn be turned away. Many tried to hide their defects but in this they failed: for Tola had a devoted brother, as warped and ugly as she was beautiful, and out of love for her he would change himself into a fly and spy the imperfections of her suitors.
She refused them one and all, for all who came had scars, or moles, or wounds, or warts, or other and worse things. And the rat of unrequited love gnawed the hearts of those who saw her.
A demon who dwelt in the ocean depths heard of Tola’s exceeding loveliness, and made up his mind to have her. Using gentle and fine persuasion he borrowed the soft and flawless skin of the Sea Goddess herself, and with a long canoe fully laden with such treasures as pearls and precious shells and pounds of gold he journeyed to the shore.
When she heard another rich and handsome man had come to ask her hand, Tola sent her brother (as a fly) to see if this new stranger had spots, or sores, or birthmarks. Her brother found the stranger preparing himself to meet the chief, dressing himself in costly clothes and ornaments and anointing himself with the fragrant juices of sweet herbs.
The fly buzzed around and around, searching the suitor’s ears and legs, belly and chest and back for even the smallest blemish; but the skin of the Sea Goddess had none, and in deep wonder the ugly brother returned to his sister to report.
“O Sister,” he announced, “this stranger’s skin is perfect. There is no pimple, spot, or any mark. His skin is whole and pure, and beautiful to see!”
“Then he is the first, “ she said, and calmly added: “I shall marry him.”
But her brother was wise beyond his years, and devotion for her sharpened his natural wit.
“Beloved sister,” he began, “take care! Take time! There is something strange about this man I cannot yet define. He has an evil air. I feel he is —.”
“Be quiet!” she commanded with quick temper. “Who are you to judge a perfect man, or speak against him? A crooked, twisted, hare-lipped creature such as your should learn to keep his place. And besides, “in wistful and more gentle tones, “I have been maiden long enough.”
The demon from the sea entered the Chief’s great court, splendidly dressed and bearing find presents for the Chief; and sadly the old man listened to the young and handsome suitor. At length he said:
“O man, it seems to me you are a fine and worthy fellow; but my daughter will not have you. She is a proud and disobedient girl, and nothing I can say will help you. She will not marry you, or any other man.”
But at that moment Tola came, straight and slender as a palm, exquisite as a dewdrop flaming with dawn’s early light.
“O Father, who is this man?” “He is a prince from a distant land, my daughter, come with the finest gifts and asking for your hand.”
When she saw the demon to be more than twice as handsome as those who came before, her heart was made light with sudden love and she said at once:
“Then give my hand, O Father, and let him marry me!”
The Chief rose from his seat in joy to embrace both his daughter and the demon. He shouted for his heralds, and proclaimed a Day of Days. He seated the stranger at his side and sent urgent messengers through the land to lesser chiefs to attend a Week of Weeks; the city dressed in gaiety and splendor for a festival surpassing any festival which ever went before.
From towns and villages men came with gifts, hunters searched the forests for red meat, palms were tapped for wine, great cooking fires appeared and the leading dancers and musicians of the land were summoned to perform.
Thus it was that the lovely Tola was married to the demon from the Under Sea. And her ugly brother grieved alone, and wondered what it was which made him grieve.
Now, some men lie and others shuffle words, but this I say in truth: the joyful Chief gave the married couple one whole river with its valley, cattle and goats which ten men could not count, and not one town but two whole towns of servants.
And yet in a week and a day the pair departed on their journey to the stranger’s ‘distant land’.
They traveled down to the coast and entered the demon’s long canoe, with silver and gold and treasures which the Chief had given them; and as he paddled to sea with his bride the demon sang a song:
“Pa Ma wei lei, ma ya pa; Pa Ma a li e!”
The name of the demon was Pa Ma, and the song he sang was:
“Pa Ma is going , going far away; Pa Ma sings farewell, forever!”
And every time he came to the ‘wei’ part he paddled more strongly, as people do, so that the canoe sped swiftly and more swiftly out to sea.
When they were far at sea and winds began brushing water from the waves, he said magic words and the ocean opened to them: much to Tola’s horror and despair the canoe descended rapidly to the gloomy world of the Under Sea . . . and there, long frightful shadows and slimy things which crawled and slithered, the demon shed the soft skin of the Sea Goddess.
He was hideous to look upon, a scaly thing with cruel eyes. Tola shrank from him in fear and disgust and tried to run away: but with scabby claws he seized her, dragged her to the entrance of a silent cave, and into the dismal shadow-world inside.
Nights passed. Night succeeded night, for in the Under Sea there are no days, there is not sufficient light. The daughter of the noble Chief existed in mortal fear of the sly demon, and of the shadowy Shapes which watched her every move. Her one friend was the mother of the demon, who one day said to her:
“Child, you are both beautiful and tender-hearted; what are you doing here? Why did you come? My son is cruel and wicked, even more so than I: many are the girls he has lured here from the land . . . and he has destroyed and devoured them all. Surely this will be your fate. I fear for you!”
From this moment the poor bride lived in hourly fear of both; she wept, she sobbed, she prayed, she would not eat; and then, after days of sobbing, weeping, praying, and not eating a fly buzzed gently by her face.
A fly? But there were no flies in the Under Sea. She ceased weeping and looked up to find her ugly little brother standing by her side. Her eyes grew wide in wonder and delight.
“Oh, beloved brother! Oh, how did you —?”
“Hush, let us waste no time,” he urged her. “I traveled with you in the canoe, for I feared something evil might happen to you. I have discovered the demon’s magic box. The canoe is waiting. It is time to go!”
She rose and went with him. Hand in hand they ran through dark tunnels curtained with waiving seaweed, through rocky places where sea-animals on thin legs clicked and scuttled, and past the gaping mouths of caves, and came to the canoe. Her brother had stolen the demon’s box of magic secrets, and now as they sat in the canoe he said certain magic words and the canoe bore them up to the ocean surface.
They paddled to land singing the demon’s song backwards, and every time they came to the ‘wei’ part they paddled more strongly than before, as people do, so that the canoe sped swiftly and more swiftly to shore.
So it was that they made their way back to their own land, where they were received with treat rejoicing. The Chief’s family held a long and happy palaver and Tola married a loyal and devoted warrior of her father’s choice. She bore many sons; and she loved and respected her ugly, twisted little brother for the strength of his heart and the power of his chivalry.