January 21, 2018

The Legend of the Victoria Regia

By Odeen Ishmael

Victoria Regia (Photo by Nicholas Laughlin)

Many years ago, there was a little forest village on the bank of a wide river in southern Guyana. All of the inhabitants were very happy as they always reaped good crops from their gardens, and wild animals they hunted for meat were abundant in the forests on both sides of the river.

In this forest village lived twelve teenage girls who always gathered in the evenings under a tall mora tree on the riverside to sing songs their mothers had taught them. After their singing, as the moon rose from beneath the horizon and the stars twinkled in the dark sky, the girls would stare in awe at these beautiful heavenly bodies.

They became particularly interested in these attractive objects since there was a general belief in those days of long ago that anyone who touched a beautiful object would acquire some of its beauty.

“The moon and the stars are so lovely,” said Neca, one of the girls in the group. “I wish we could touch them so we can acquire some of their beauty, but they are so far away.”

“We must find a way to touch them,” replied another girl in the group. “Maybe, we should climb to the top of the mountain, and from there we will be able to touch them.”

So every evening after their singing session, they stared at the moon and the stars and contemplated various ways they could attempt to touch them.

Of all the girls, Neca was more interested in touching the Moon, and in the evening she spent long hours just staring at it as it moved slowly across the night sky.

“I know what I will do,” she declared to her friends one evening. “I will climb to the top of this tall mora tree and try to touch the moon.”

“Well, you may climb to the top of the tree, but I think we can touch the moon and the stars if we go to the top of the mountain,” one of her friends explained. This view seemed to be more popular, and all except Neca decided that they would do exactly that.

One night when the full moon was rising in the sky, Neca climbed to the top of the mora tree and stretched out her hands towards the shining orb. But, clearly, the moon was too far away for her to accomplish this feat. In great disappointment, she descended and tearfully went home to sleep.

Meanwhile, that same night her friends walked through the forest to the high mountain some distance away from the village. After reaching the peak, they stretched out their hands towards the moon and the stars, but they, too, failed to attain their objective. With long, sad faces, they wearily walked back home realising that they could never acquire the beauty of those distant objects.

But Neca never gave up. The following night, when her friends had all gone to sleep, she walked along the river bank once again and stared at the big golden moon as it rose above the trees. Then she looked into the calm water of the river and there she observed the moon’s glowing reflection.

“Now, this is how I can touch the moon,” she reasoned. And with that, she plunged into the river and reached out to the reflection. But she soon disappeared beneath the deep still water and was never seen again.

But the moon goddess did see Neca as she made that fateful plunge.

“I truly pity her,” she sighed. “Neca always wanted to become more beautiful than ever, so I’ll ensure that people will admire that beauty for all times.”

So, the moon goddess, from the depths of the river, brought up Neca’s body which she transformed into a large majestic pink water lily in the water near the river bank. From that day, people everywhere became fascinated with this most gorgeous flower growing beside its large circular lily pad.  Today, that stately and attractive water lily is widely known as the Victoria Regia.

Story, published with permission from author, is taken from “Guyana Legends – Folktales of the Indigenous Amerindians” by Odeen Ishmael, published 2012. Ishmael is a veteran retired Guyanese diplomat. He retired from the diplomatic service in June 2014. He last served as Guyana’s ambassador to Kuwait, taking up that post in January 2011.