This is the tale I imagined to accompany my painting "Maiden's Hair Falls."
The Legend of Maiden’s Hair Falls
Back when native peoples freely inhabited most of New England, there lived two neighboring but rival Abenaki tribes in what is now New Hampshire. These settlements were separated by an offshoot of a mountain range; a mighty rushing waterfall that rose to five hundred feet above the valleys below was the main boundary between them.
And so it happened that one late summer morning, a maiden from one of the tribes was out with other young women gathering roots and seeds in a cleared area that was bordered by a thick forest on the far side. They knew that beyond the forest lay the village of their neighbors, and so never strayed beyond their own boundary.
Suddenly, a deer leaped out from the forest into the clearing, closely followed by a young hunter from the rival tribe. The young women shrieked and huddled together, so startled were they by his appearance. The warrior stopped, his gaze fixed on the young maiden with the long, lustrous braids that framed her frightened face.
An unexpected, inexplicable energy flowed across the clearing as they stared, wordlessly, at each other. Then, as if at an unseen signal, the young women turned and made their way swiftly back to their village. They mentioned the encounter with the hunter to the others, and one old wise woman cautioned them against speaking to or showing fear of anyone from the other tribe that they might encounter in the future.
That night, as the maiden lay on her pallet, eyes closed, waiting for sleep to steal her away to the Valley of Dreams, the image of the young hunter’s face appeared behind her eyelids. She found it difficult to fall asleep, and when she finally did, she saw him running and leaping and eventually slaying the deer he had been pursuing.
Meanwhile, the young man had returned empty-handed to his village. His compatriots teased him for failing to capture his prey; he laughed them off, saying nothing of the young woman who had captivated him. But he, too, could not forget the face of the maiden he had seen that afternoon in the clearing.
As these things happen, they met again, in that same clearing, later in the year when the leaves were gilded and rusted with the colors of the fall. The young woman had ventured forth alone for no particular reason other than to enjoy the beauty of the valley, but the young hunter had been haunting the edge of clearing for some time, hoping to meet her again.
When the maiden saw him walking out of the forest toward her, her eyes widened but, remembering the advice of the village wise woman, did not start and run. Before she could turn away, the young man held up his hand in the sign of peace as he continued toward her. As he drew close, he said, “Nodah (Hear me), do not fear, I offer friendship. Atian nia.”
The young woman cast down her eyes and would not meet the gaze of the hunter, Atian, a translation of the French Etienne, or Stephen.
“Awanigia (What is your name)?” he asked.
“I should not speak with you,” replied the maid.
“But you cannot deny that something unusual happened two moons past when we first saw each other!” Atian exclaimed. “So please, tell me your name.”
“Maliazonis (Marie Jeanne) nia, daughter of Obomsawin” she answered without raising her eyes to meet his.
And in this way began the courtship of Atian and Maliazonis.
They continued to meet in the clearing when it was safe to do so, which was not so often, and perhaps because of this and because the winter weather kept them apart for weeks at a time, their feelings for each other intensified each time they managed to spend some time together.
Finally, the spring snows melted and the sun warmed the valleys, and Atian said it was time to tell their families of their wish to marry.
Maliazonis rightly feared even revealing they had spoken, let alone fallen in love, but Atian declared he would accompany her to her village and stand by her when she spoke with her father. Maliazonis finally agreed to do this and the following week she met him once again in the clearing and they returned to her village together.
All activity came to a halt as the couple approached. Maliazonis’s mother, who had been sorting dried herbs with some of the other women, dropped her basket and covered her eyes, crying out in shame. Hearing her, the village men who were not out hunting came running, and one of them grabbed Atian roughly.
“Awanigis, piz wat (Who are you, good for nothing)?” he demanded.
“Kwai nedobak (Hello, my friends), Atian nia,” came the reply.
“You are no friend of ours,” shouted another man. “Go back to your own people!”
Maliazonis caught sight of her father, Obomsawin, and ran to him.
“Quiet! Do not speak!” thundered Obomsawin as he dragged the girl to the family wigwam. Once inside, he stood before her and said solemnly, “You shall not leave this place. Kchi phanem ta wdoza (Mother and daughter) will work, side by side, never apart, until a man from among our own people asks for you as a wife."
Maliazonis crept to her pallet and lay down, for she knew her father always kept his word and that she was now a virtual prisoner of her family.
Meanwhile, the assembled men of the village marched Atian out from the village to the clearing and, shoving him toward the forest, one shouted, “Alosa (Go – walk) – and never return!” They waited there until Atian disappeared into the trees.
The rolling year advanced – Zogalikas (April, the Sugarmaker) gave way to Kikas (May, the Planter), that gave way to Nokkahigas (June, the Hoer), and so on, until came Skakmonkas (September, the Corn Maker). Atian had honored the command of his neighbors; he was not seen in the clearing since the day he had been banished; Maliazonis had been her mother’s shadow, working with her and the other village woman all summer. No longer was she allowed to spend her days with the other maidens out gathering, gossiping and enjoying the usual activities of the young people of the tribe.
That month, on the Night of No Moon, Maliazonis lay on her pallet, pretending to sleep, until she was sure all her family were asleep. Rising quietly, she tiptoed to her where her younger sister was sleeping and bent to kiss her.
“Olegwasi (Dream well)”, she whispered, and did the same when she leaned over her baby brother. Moving swiftly, she left the wigwam, praying that none of the village dogs would bark and wake anyone as she ran off into the darkness of the Night of No Moon.
She reached the clearing and turned into the forest, following an ancient path that led not only to Atian”s village but also forked off to another that climbed to the crest of the mighty waterfall.
She ascended the steep path with sure steps; it took some time to reach the summit, and when she did she sat silently for a while and prayed.
Finally, Maliazonis rose, and, stepping to the edge of the cliff, looked across the rushing waters, cried out “Atian!” and leapt, preferring to die rather than live the life her father had commanded.
But as she fell, some of her long, beautiful unbound hair caught on the trees along the edge of the falls, where it can still be seen today, hanging bare and lifeless, from those same ancient branches.
© 2010 RC deWinter – All Rights Reserved