Mami Wata

11 11 2010

The mystical pantheon of Mami Wata deities are often pictured in their most ancient primordial aspects as a mermaid, half-human or either half-fish or half-reptile. Mermaids are not a recent phenomena in African history. For example, according to the Dogon’s creation myth, they attribute the creation of the world to mermaid/mermen like creatures whom they call Nommos. They claimed to have known about the existence of these mermaid-like divinities for more than 4000 years. Also according to Dogon mythology, the ancient home of these (originally crude) reptilian (half-woman/half-men/fish) pantheon of water spirits is believed to be the obscure and celebrated star system in the belt of Orion known as Sirius (or Sopdet, Sothis), more popularly known as the “Dog Star” of Isis. When asked where their ancestors obtained these stories of mermaids and mermen, they quickly point to ancient Egypt (Griaule, 1997, Winters 1985, p. 50-64, Temple 1999, p.303-304). Mermaid/mermen “nymphs” worshiped as goddesses and gods born from the sea are numerous in ancient African cultures history and spiritual mythology. Most were honored and respected as being “bringers of divine law” and for establishing the theological, moral, social, political, economic and, cultural foundation, to regulating the overflow of the Nile, and regulating the ecology i.e., establishing days for success at sailing and fishing, hunting, planting etc., to punishment by devastating floods when laws and taboos were violated. However, just as not all serpents were revered, not all mermaids/mermen were considered “good.” In one story, the famed London, Naturalists Henry Lee (1883) recounts that “in the sea of Angola mermaids are frequently caught which resemble the human species. They are taken in nets, and killed . . . and are heard to shriek and cry like women (p. 22).”