The Singing Bones (French Louisiana)

by Alcée Fortier

Cheselden’s Plates of the Human Bones, by William Cheselden, 1814

Cheselden’s Plates of the Human Bones, by William Cheselden, 1814

Once upon a time there lived a man and a woman who had twenty-five children. They were very poor. The man was good, the woman was bad. Every day when the husband returned from his work the wife served his dinner, but always meat without bones.

"How is it that this meat has no bones?"

"Because bones are heavy, and meat is cheaper without bones. They give us more for the money."

The husband ate, and said nothing.

"How is it you don't eat meat?"

"You forget that I have no teeth. How do you expect me to eat meat without teeth?"

"That is true," said the husband, and he said nothing more, because he was afraid to grieve his wife, who was as wicked as she was ugly.

When one has twenty-five children one cannot think of them all the time, and one does not see if one or two are missing. One day, after his dinner, the husband asked for his children. When they were by him he counted them, and found only fifteen. He asked his wife where were the ten others. She answered that they were at their grandmother's, and every day she would send one more for them to get a change of air. That was true, every day there was one that was missing.

One day the husband was at the threshold of his house, in front of a large stone which was there. He was thinking of his children, and he wanted to go and get them at their grandmother's, when he heard voices that were saying:

Our mother killed us,
Our father ate us.
We are not in a coffin,
We are not in the cemetery.

At first he did not understand what that meant, but he raised the stone and saw a great quantity of bones, which began to sing again. He then understood that it was the bones of his children, whom his wife had killed, and whom he had eaten. Then he was so angry that he killed his wife, buried his children's bones in the cemetery, and stayed alone at his house.

From that time he never ate meat, because he believed it would always be his children that he would eat.

 

Source: Alcée Fortier, Louisiana Folk-Tales in French Dialect and English Translation (Boston and New York: Published for the American Folk-Lore Society by Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1895), no. 17, p. 61.