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OTHER ITA SITES:
My Favorite Mermaid
It is dangerous for me to talk of my favorite mermaid because like anyone else I have a continual changeover in favorites. In any case, my favorite mermaid is Mami Wata. She is a fertility goddess from Africa and her cult is still very popular there. Mami Wata is a corruption of the English words Water Mother. It is a reference to her status as the goddess of the waters and the mother of life on earth.
Mami Wata is described as fair skinned with long straight black hair. Many people believe that her appearance is European because of the influence of mermaid pictures from Europe. This is only partly true. In Africa white is the color associated with spirituality and particularly with Mami Wata as we will see in a moment. Otherwise, Mami Wata is called the "more than beautiful woman" because her beauty is more than human -- it is supernatural. She is also said to be incredibly wealthy. She is usually depicted in one of two forms: as a human woman dressed in the height of fashion or as a naked mermaid.
You can see in Mami Wata the influence of other mermaids. As I have already said, her image was influenced by European mermaid pictures. I have read that originally Mami Wata may have been a snake goddess, in form half human and half snake. This is not impossible -- quite the opposite there are many examples of this happening. Iara, the mermaid from Brazil, the Rusalka of Russia and at least some of the Celtic mermaids. The mermaid image must be an extremely powerful one since it seems to have influenced so many cultures.
Aphrodite and Venus are close cousins of Mami Wata. Each is the most beautiful goddess in her pantheon. They have many lovers. The are known for being cruel and kind, capricious and vengeful. They are associated with fertility, sex, creation, water, doves, mirrors, combs and death.
Mami Wata is not identical with these goddesses, of course. She is much more directly involved with her followers. She appears frequently in visions, or in the flesh. She often takes human form to punish men with venereal disease or impotency. She has many human lovers that she rewards with wealth and prosperity providing that they remain absolutely faithful to her. Sometimes she will abduct people, taking them to her watery realm. When they return their clothes are dry and they have a remote, other-worldly attitude.
Colors are important in African mythology and Mami Wata's colors are red and white. These colors highlight the contradictions in Mami Wata's nature. Red is the color of blood associated with violence and destruction, male attributes. It also symbolizes flesh. White in Africa is often used to mean clear, transparent. It is associated with spirituality, passivity and femininity.
Mami Wata is always some mixture of red and white. She is very red when she takes human form. She is incarnated which literally means "in the flesh." Whiter she is a beautifully dressed woman, her form only hinting at something more than the physical. Whiter still she is the mermaid, beyond the need for clothing and edging into the inhuman. At the far extreme she is white or clear, like pure water, invisible in her unknowable spiritual dimension.
For some folk tales about Mami Wata visit this page on my website:
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