Tezin (A Haitian folktale)

Growing up in Haiti was a memorable experience, mostly because of the richness of the Haitian culture and folklore.  When I was a child, what I enjoyed the most was the stories told after supper. When there was an occasional power outage, we often gathered around a gas lamp called “tet gridap” and tell all kind of stories and charades. The stories would sometimes evoke one’s laughter or fear, sometimes they told to teach a lesson of wisdom, and other times, one would not know what to make of the story. Some stories were told just for the sake of telling stories. The storyteller would say “Krick” and the audience would respond “Krack”. One story I remember is the story of Tezin, a big fish. This story plays an important role in the Haitian Folklore and culture. I’ll try my best to keep it brief and to tell it to the best of my knowledge.



As the custom wants it, boys and girls who grew up in rural areas actively participated in the family’s duties. So there was a brother and a sister who, sometimes, were sent off to collect water in a river (or pond) located not too far from the family house. When both returned home, the family always complained about the boy not bringing crystal clear water like her sister did. So, the parents asked the  brother to learn from her sister, but the brother was really hard-headed and never really listened to her sister’s instructions. He would rather play in the woods, and who knows, enjoy nice naps under the shadows the “Mapou” (a tall tree) . One day, while the sister was collecting water, a big Fish appeared. The Fish introduced itself as Tezin and told the girl that it would help her because she is nice and loyal. So Tezin and the girl made a pact. The fish would go and collect the utter most clear water from the depth of the pond for the girl if she kept it a secret. Upon arriving to the river, the girl had to sing a song to invoke the fish. However, Tezin warned the girl not to tell anyone about his existence because this would put his life at stake. Also, he gave her a handkerchief; if the handkerchief becomes stained with three drops of blood , this means that Tezin was killed. From then, because of Tezin, the girl would bring the clearest water they have ever seen home . Her parents were very suspicious and asked the brother to spy on the girl. So the next day, after witnessing the interaction between the fish and her sister, the boy ran home and divulged her sister’s secret friendship with the fish. The parents got mad and worried that the fish was a monster who meant harm to their daughter. They thought that the monster of the river had taken their daughter’s soul, so they planned on killing the fish. The next morning, they sent the girl off to the marketplace instead of the pond. Meanwhile the parents went off the pond and sang the song and killed Tezin. The next day she went to the pond and sang countless times but the fish didn’t appear; she took a look at the handkerchief, and it was in fact stained with the blood. She went off to her house and that evening, fish was served at the family dinner. The girl refused to eat and went out and cried. As she was singing the song she usually sing to invoke Tezin, she was surprisingly going into the ground!  Her brother went out to fetch her but he saw her slowly going into the ground. Astonished, The boy ran inside and called their parents but they didn’t believe him. When he went back the girl was already deep into the ground up to her neck. he went and called his parents and they finally came to see only one of her braids on the surface of the ground!

As the storyteller tells that story, she always finish off by saying that when one passes by the river on a full moon night, one can hear the  girl sing and Tezin splashing out of the water.  We, Haitians, are know to be very superstitious, so this story might confirm your doubts. But what culture or ethnic group doesn’t share some kind of superstitious beliefs, truly?

Stephanie Joseph

2 thoughts on “Tezin (A Haitian folktale)

  1. Beautifully told, Stephanie. This tale reminds me of a folktale collected by the Brothers Grimm called “The Fisherman and his Wife.” That story also involves a magic fish that comes when summoned and that gives gifts. Other than that, the two stories are very different, as you can see for yourself:


  2. I do see some similarities in the two tales. I find it interesting how these elements of magic are included in any tales from any parts of the world. There’s a sort of universality in the purpose of storytelling: to amaze the listeners. This is what both tales are doing.

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