Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Merfolk from non-European mythology

Was reading up on merfolk mythology from around the world while working on my series of three mermaids from non-European cultures. Here is a partial list of mermaids I encountered during my research:

  1. Afrekete
    Afrekete (aka Avrekete) is the youngest offspring  of two Dahomean sea deities - sea god Hu/Aghueh and sea goddess Naete.1 Avrekete is a guardian goddess of the sea's riches.1 She manifests as a woman or a mermaid.2 The city Avrekete in modern Benin (Dahomey) is named after her.2 She may be re-envisioned as male in some African diaspora traditions in the Americas.2
  2. Atargatis
    The Syrian goddess Atargitis is sometimes depicted as a fish-bodied human-headed deity.3
  3. Ganga
    The Hindu goddess of the Ganges river is represented as a mermaid in South Indian depictions.4
  4. Janaina
    Janaina is an indigenous Brazilian deity whose identity has merged with the imported African deity Iemanja, but they started out as two distinct deities - unlike Iemanja, Janaina always appears as a mermaid.5
  5. Nyai Roro Kidul
    A sea spirit in Javanese and Sundanese mythology, Nyai Roro Kidul (aka Nyai Loro Kidul) is Queen of the Southern Sea and a shapeshifter who can take the form of a naga or a mermaid.6
  6. Olukun
    Olokun, a West African water deity whose gender and mythology varies among the ethnic groups venerating her/him, may be seen as a merman or mermaid, in addition to other forms.7 This representation of Olokun from Nigeria has a split tail.
  7. Sedna
    Sedna, or Talelayu, is an important Inuit sea deity who provides the animals hunted by the Inuit. In one version of her myth, she is described as a woman who developed a fish tail after falling to the bottom of the sea.8 Some Inuit depictions of Sedna in mermaid form can be seen in the book Stones, Bones and Stitches: Storytelling through Inuit Art (A Lord Museum Book).
  8. Yawkyawk
    Australian aboriginal water spirits of the Kunwinjku people, Yawkyawk have the face of a young woman and the tail of a fish. 9

Not an exhaustive list. I did not include the mermaid myths and legends that I already mentioned in earlier blog posts, or seafolk that don't have a fish tail, (e.g.the kataw or siyokoy from Filipino mythology) or those myths whose merfolk representations may not have predated European contact.

  1. Judika Illes, "Afrekete", Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses , 1st Edition, 2009
    Robin Law, West Africa's Discovery of the Atlantic
  2. Judika Illes, "Afrekete", Encyclopedia of Spirits, 1st Edition, 2009
  3. Atargatis on Wikipedia
  4. Ganga on HinduWisdom.info
  5. Judika Illes, "Janaina", Encyclopedia of Spirits , 1st Edition, 2009
  6. Nyai Loro Kidul on Wikipedia
  7. Judika Illes, "Olokun", Encyclopedia of Spirits, 1st Edition, 2009
  8. Sedna on wikipedia
  9. National Museum of Australia - Yawkyawk sculptures
    Powerhouse Museum - Yawkyawk spirit

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