Monday, March 17, 2014

Mississippi's Singing River - The Mysterious Song of the Pascagoula

The Pascagoula - Mississippi's "Singing River"
Roughly 80 miles long and draining an area of 8,800 square miles along the border of Mississippi and Alabama, the Pascagoula River is a major source of clean, fresh water for the Gulf of Mexico. It holds a unique place in Southern culture as the "Singing River" of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

When French settlers arrived in the region in 1699, they heard a remarkable sound rising from the waters of the Pascagoula. The river takes its name from the Pascagoula Indians, a tribe with with a name that translates literally to "bread eaters."

The people of this tribe told the French that an earlier people had lived on the modern site of Pascagoula. These Native Americans, they said, had worshiped a mermaid who lived in the river. In their temple was a beautifully carved idol of the mermaid, around which the villagers gathered each night to sing and chant.

A strange, repetitive humming sound rises from the river.
At around the time of the Hernando de Soto expedition (1539-1540), however, the Pascagoula said that a strange white man had appeared in the town of the mermaid worshipers. He brought a book and a cross and sought to convert them to Christianity. This angered the mermaid herself, prompting her to rise from the bottom of the river with dramatic fury:

...One night, when the moon at her zenith poured on heaven and earth, with more profusion than usual, a flood of light angelic, at the solemn hour of twelve, when all in nature was in repose and silence, there came, on a sudden, a rushing on the surface of the river, as if the still air had been flapped into a whirlwind by myriads of invisible wings sweeping onward. - Charles Gayerre, History of Louisiana, 1867.

The Pascagoula River.
The water rose up into a "towering column" and at the top stood the mermaid herself. She began to sing a haunting song, calling out to her followers. One after another every man, woman and child in the village walked into the river and were never seen again. According to a 19th century historian, the Pascagoula and other tribes that lived in the area "have always thought it was their musical brethren" who made the sounds of the singing river. Their ghosts, they said, lived on in the palace of the mermaid far beneath the waves.

It is a tragic and unusual story but appears to be the oldest version of a legend still repeated in Mississippi about the American Indians who once lived along the banks of the Pascagoula. Other versions hold that the villagers walked into the river to avoid losing their freedom at the hands of a neighboring tribe or the Spanish conquistadors.

The story was the Pascagoula's way of explaining the strange music that came from the river that bore their name.

Does the river really sing?  Find out by visiting our new page: The Pascagoula - Mississippi's Singing River.

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