Sirene, the Mermaid

This legend comes to us from the island of Guam. The story was found in the book, Legends of Micronesia. It is about a girl who just wants to spend her day swimming much to her mother’s chagrin.

Enjoy the story…

Sirene, the Mermaid

Once upon a time, long ago in Guam Island, there was a young girl named Sirene. She was beautiful, sweet and kind, but there was a strange thing about her. She would go swimming whenever she liked, even if her mother forbade her. She just had to be in the water. And how she could swim! No other person in all Guam Island could move so fast through the water or stay under so long.

She and her mother lived near Agana Spring, a deep pool in a river that ran past their thatched hut. Sirene was in and out of the pool all day long. Her mother couldn’t understand why Sirene swam so much. Many times a day she called the child to come and help with the work. Sometimes, Sirene would answer form the river, but often, she was too far down in the water to hear.

“It’s time you learned to do something,” her mother said, again and again. “Now stay right here and help me. She tried to teach her daughter to prepare food and cook it; to sweep fallen leaves from the house; to brush the ground with a broom; and to make clothes. But when she turned her back, Sirene ran away again to the river to dive and swim.

At that time Sirene had a matlina, or godmother, as well as a mother. The matlina was a good woman who loved Sirene very much, no matter how she behaved. The godmother thought a great deal about the life and happiness of her godchild. “Sirene is my daughter too,” she said.

One day, the mother called Sirene, but received no answer. When Sirene finally came, the mother scolded her. “Where have you been all this time?” she asked.


“Sirene, the Mermaid,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2017

“Oh, just swimming,” answered Sirene.

“That’s all you do, you naughty girl!” said her mother. “Swim, swim, swim! I’m very angry with you. I hope that soon, very soon, you will turn into a fish. Then you can swim all the time.” In that way, the mother put a curse upon her daughter. Suddenly, there stood the godmother, who always came when Sirene was in trouble.

“I heard the curse you placed upon Sirene, wishing that she would turn into a fish,” she said. “I can’t let you have that wish. She is part mine, and I won’t have her turned into a fish.”

The mother was frightened at what she had done. “Oh save her, save her!” she cried.

“It’s too late for me to save her entirely,” said the godmother. “Half of her body will remain as I wish, for I am her matlina. But the curse will fall upon the other half.” The godmother chose the upper part of the young girl’s body as her own. Then she spoke magical words, so that only half of Sirene’s body would be changed.

Before the mother could say another word, Sirene ran away to the river. She jumped in, and the lower part of her body changed into a fish. She was happy. She could swim much faster and stay under water longer. She dived and played in the water. Then away she swam to the ocean, a silvery mermaid, going through the water like lightning.

She was seen, here and there, along the way. She swam from Agana Spring in the minondo, the deepest part of the river, to Agana Bay and the blue Pacific Ocean.

Her mother and her godmother never saw her again, but Guamanian fishermen have often seen or heard her. She dives and swims as she pleases, and sometimes she rests near shore, singing and singing.

And what does she sing? Ah, you must ask the fishermen. They can tell you.

About islandculturearchivalsupport

Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of records pertaining to the cultural identity of island peoples in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia whose national and public archives, libraries, cultural centers, and business organizations are underprivileged, underfunded, and understaffed. The specific purpose for which this nonprofit corporation was formed is to support the needs of these South Pacific cultural heritage institutions by helping to preserve and make accessible records created for business, accountability or cultural purposes. The organization will endeavor to add value by providing resources or volunteers to advise, train, and work among island residents to support their efforts in building their future and preserving their collective memory through the use of modern archival techniques.
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