Sea cows are mammals that live only in the water and eat grass like a cow. They never come out even to give birth. They live in swamps, rivers, estuaries, marine wetlands, and coastal marine waters. They grow to a length of 7.5 to 12 feet long and can weigh up to 3,300 pounds.
Here is the legend of their origin…
Once upon a time there was a husband and wife who lived with their three children in central Sulawesi. They made their living off of farming and fishing.
Early one morning the father caught a bunch of fish in his net and took them home for his wife to cook for breakfast. There were so many fish that they could not eat them all for breakfast so the father asked his wife to save the leftovers for his evening meal. She put the fish away in a clay jar and closed it tight.
At lunch time when the mother and children came in to eat, the youngest child asked for fish for lunch. However, there was only the fish that was reserved for their father when he came home for dinner. When the mother said, No. The child began to throw a fit crying and rolling around on the floor. Because the mother was not strong she gave into the child’s request and gave him the fish which he scarfed down like a greedy pig.
In the evening the father came home tired and hungry from working in the fields. He asked for the fish that his wife saved for him but when he didn’t receive them he asked where they were. She related her experience earlier in the day and asked for his forgiveness. He became very angry and would not forgive his wife until she when out and caught fish to replace the ones she gave to the whiny child. He forbid her from coming home until she had the fish.
So, his wife left the house broken hearted and went to the sea. She was so sad she didn’t care if she drowned at sea while trying to catch the fish.
The next day her three children went down toward the beach looking for her. The youngest, who was still nursing, was crying and calling his mothers name. Once they reached the beach they were shocked and happy to see their mother come up out of the water. She nursed the youngest and told them all to go home and that she would follow once she caught the fish.
The three children went home and waited all night for their mother to return. When she hadn’t come home the next day they went back to the beach looking for her. Their mother came back up out of the water intending to nurse the youngest again. But, the children were afraid of her and the youngest didn’t want to nurse because her body was covered with scales like a fish.
Their mother insisted that she was really their mother. The first child replied, “our mother is beautiful with smooth skin. She doesn’t have skin like you.” When their mother approached them they ran away in fear. Later they returned to beach to call for their mother. She came back up out of the sea. This time with even more scales than before. The children runaway again in fear. This continued for some time. Every time the children would come calling for their mother she would come up out of the water looking more terrifying and covered with more scales, until finally, her two legs grew together into a fish tail and she turned into a mermaid. She swam away and was never seen from again.
The residence of central Sulawesi believe that this mother was the origin of the local sea cow population.
Question: I’m sure you can come up with some morals to the story. I would love to hear them? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Translated by Martin Johnson from Koleksi Terbaik 100 Plus Dongeng Rakyat Nusantara by Gamal Komandoko