Warning: The following article in NOT aimed at little children. I strongly recommend adults read this article before considering whether their child should read it. If talk of the supernatural scares you, then I strongly suggest you read no further. This is a serious discussion about different cultural perspectives on mermaids.I would really value your input and ideas and to hear your perspective, and the traditional beliefs in your culture about Mermaids - you can me email direct, if you know the address, or you can send the email to email@example.com
Had an interesting conversation with a group of Grade 4 children, this Monday on the topic of Mermaids. I had found a piece of paper where a child had been playing a game where they have to list things in different categories for each of the letters of the alphabet. Under M this girl had written for "animal" - Mermaid. So I asked, "Is a Mermaid an animal?" To my surprise there was quite a lot of debate about this question. One child sagely said, "It's half an animal, its half a person." Well that sort sums up our mental pictures, but I was intrigued by the reaction, the mention of Mermaid provoked amongst these African boys and girls so I asked them to tell me more about mermaids.
"Do you believe mermaids are real?"
"Oh yes they said, and they are very dangerous."
"Dangerous? How?" I asked.
They told me that if you are swimming in water where there are mermaids, they will take you down and you will never be seen again. By now I am beginning to realise that their perception of mermaids does not have its roots in the the Hollywood concept of a mermaid. So I decided to speak to my colleagues about the belief in mermaids. To my utter surprise, these educated adults also believed in the existence of Mermaids too and they were greatly fearful of these creatures. I asked them what they called them. They said, "Ijuzu".
So, what do you make of mermaids? I was told that according to African belief, that if one is lost to the Ijuzu then nobody must cry or let out any form of lament or regret, because the Ijuzu will send the person back as a Muroyi - a witch. I was told if you don't cry the person will die but they will not become a witch.
Now as a Westener, I am more familiar with the more sympathetic perception of a mermaid by children - not one of fear, but the mermaid is usually, if I am right, a very beautiful maiden (and mermen similarly are depicted as "gorgeous hunks") who are on the side of right. Think of the Disney animation movie, "My little Mermaid." But From our perspective merpeople belong in fairy tales. They are make believe, not real.
I was one of those who felt that they were the stuff of legend. From the world of make-believe. In the same category as flower fairies and goblins etc. - fairy tales.
I cannot say that my beliefs have changed about mermaids, but I am curious about the reasons behind the Africans' belief in Mermaids/Ijuzu.
From a purely materialistic perspective that rules out any supernatural, one might say that the African has explained a very normal and unspiritual event, such as the disappearance of an individual who had gone to the river and blamed the evil Ijuzu, when in fact there may be a perfectly logical explanation for what happned, like the person being taken by a crocodile at the water's edge. In an effort to warn people about the dangers of the river, this concept of the dangerous mermaid, is useful. Secondly, the African, who is a very "spiritual person" will always interpret the unnatural death of person as having a supernatural cause. Thus instead of a crocodile, the Ijuzu is to blame.
However I am one who does believe in the existence of the supernatural, and spiritual beings. As a Christian, I believe that such spiritual beings belong to one of two groups. They are either of God, and therefore angelic beings, or they are of the devil and are therefore demonic. My feeling is that what the Shona man refers to as "Ijuzu" is in fact of the second category, i.e. a demonic manifestation that associates itself with water. So while I do not believe that there are beings who have a human torso, head and arms, but instead of legs has a fish's tail, I do believe that a demon can manifest as such a creature.
It's interesting that this concept of the evil mermaid is also mirrored I think in the legend of the Sirens on the Rhine who sing with the beautiful voices, which lure sailors to close the rocky places and their ships are wrecked and the lives of the sailors lost. Are Sirens mermaids? I don't know.
What conclusions can we draw from this? Are there any lessons that we can learn. Well you may come up with a different list but here are a few of my ideas:
- Just because something looks (or sounds) good does not mean that it is good for you. Whether or not you believe in Mermaid or Ijuzu, I am sure you will agree that this is truism. There exists something called "fools' gold". It looks like its gold, and even feels like it, but it's not. you may have been duped by fool's gold. However, more harmful that fools' gold are poisoned sweets (candy). As I mentioned in my blog of last week, a friend of mine mentioned that there have been some cases of people distributing poisoned candy to trick-or-treaters during halloween. These pieces of Candy may look nice but they contain a very harmful substance. Another apllication of this is in guarding our children against the danger of abduction by people who use attactive lures to lure children into their cars or homes from where they can more easily abduct them. We tell our children never to accept anything from any person unless we (their parents) say its ok. This is really important advice. Every year, millions of children all over the world are duped by fine looking things and lured into dangerous situations. However it is not only children who need to beware. I have been hearing stories on BBC and Radio Netherlands of women who have been persuaded to leave their home countries in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe to go to "jobs" in Europe, that turn out to be be slavery situations. These women often land up being forced into prostitution. They had been promised prosperity. Fortunately some women have managed to get away and expose the evil practice. And their message to people back home is stay where you are! DON'T BE DUPED! Finally (for this point anyway) there are many activities which on the surface may seem good and even beneficicial but are "laced with poison" a spiritual poison which damages the soul. I have in mind such things as horoscope, tarot cards, fortune telling, yoga, free masons, oija boards, heavy-metal rock music, hypnosis.
- One cannot assume that your understanding or picture of a concept is going to be the same as another person's. Until recently I only thought of a mermaid as a lovable make-believe creature. Now I realise that there is a very different perspective to that. The lesson i draw from this is to ensure when communicating that I take care to ensure that the intended meaning of what is being said is understood. That is if I am speaking I must make sure that those listening understand what I mean, and do not "put another spin" on my words. IF I'm listening, I should try to clarify with the speaker what is meant if i'm in any doubt.
Well so much for mermaids: Now onto my news.
- Exams are finished. (For this year, anyway.) This is the best news.
- Musical only ten days away and there's a lot to be done between now and then. Oh - Our Music teacher left again this week. This time he ain't coming back. We have found another keyboard player (no mean task in Harare) but it is all rather nerve wracking - still the show must go on. I said in my introduction of myself back in September, that I'll try my hand at anything - well this week was a typical example of that. I was music teacher and even a dance coach (Now that's a hoot!). Thank goodness, next week we will have a real dance teacher to come in and give the children some guidance, courtesy of a pupils' mother who has kindly taken care of the financial side of things.
- I forgot to mention last week that I was called up by people from Radio Japan International for their "Hello from Tokyo" Programme. Unfortunately I missed the broadcast on Saturday, so I did not get to hear myself.
Thanks again for reading. Please let me know what you think. I welcome comments provided they are specifically about the content and not merely "nice blog and now I want to sell you something." My response is the same I give to the street venders in town: "Very nice, I'm sure, but NOT TODAY, thank you." However if you want to discuss anthing I've talked about on this blog, you are most welcome. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or my home email address.