Mermaid Monday returns this Memorial Day and our topic is Mermaids of Guyana. Jeremy Wade’s River Monsters season finale tonight is going in search of this elusive underwater monster. What do we cryptozoology lovers know, if anything, of these watery wonders?
Tonight’s season finale episode of River Monsters (on Animal Planet) is about a Guyanese Mermaid. I can’t wait to see what Jeremy Wade finds during his investigation, but I’m thinking it’ll probably be some kind of fish that could be mistaken for a mermaid. Still, it got me thinking, what do we know of the Guyanese legends about mermaids?
What Christopher Columbus Saw
Well, there actually isn’t a lot written about them, and what there is, is reported in stories and folklore. One historical piece of “evidence” comes from Christopher Columbus! Believe it or not, during his legendary voyage to the New World in 1493, he recorded seeing mermaids frolicking in the waters off his ship. This occurred near Guyana.
He wrote, “[they were] not so faire as they are painted.” Hmm. Does that mean they were mistaking a manatee or other ocean dweller for a curvaceous woman with long flowing hair? We’ll probably never know.
I found a brief account given by a young woman who was born and raised in Guyana. She simply said, “I once knew of this poor man who claimed that he found a mermaid comb and he placed it in salt water hence becoming rich.” She further adds that the “watermumma” were spoken of more in the old days; not so much these days.
Dr. Hanif’s Tale
A more scholarly account comes from Dr. Hanif Gulmahamad in his book, Guyana Memories. He explains that in Guyana they call mermaids “Watamamma.” They are creatures that like to lure men to their doom. He recounts this strange tale about a man named Aubrey who had an encounter with a Watamamma. The whole village seems to have gotten involved, including what I believe is his dog named Margaret. Here’s the tale:
“Aubrey’s “Watamamma” jumbie story was a different case altogether. “Watamamma” was what the local called a mermaid. On several occasions, sometimes in the middle of the night, Aubrey would become possessed by the “Watamamma.” When that occurred, he would take off running towards the No. 73 Koker [sluice gate – see photo right]. Supposedly, he was going to rendezvous with the mermaid who would swim up to the koker at high tide. She was purportedly going to snatch and whisk him away to her underwater lair.
When Aubrey took off running towards the koker, Margaret would create one hell of a raucous and caterwauling which would wake up all the neighbors. Some of us would grab flashlights, if they were available, and start running after Aubrey ostensibly to try to prevent him from being snatched by the “Watamamma.” It was a treacherous run through the black sage and wild jamoon bushes in bare feet on a pitch dark night. Aubrey was as fast as the wind on his feet and he was rarely, if ever, caught before he reached the koker. Despite this, he was never carried off by the mermaid.
A speedy villager who claimed to have reached the koker in time on one occasion while chasing Aubrey reported that there was a big splash and commotion in the water but he never saw a mermaid. This report may have been an exaggeration because it could have been Aubrey himself who created the turbulence by jumping in the water as he was a good swimmer but the report did add some credibility to the ‘Watamama’ story.”
In 1980, Sister Rose Magdalene compiled 8 Guyanese stories into a small book which is listed on Amazon, but doesn’t seem to be available anymore. However, she did touch upon two mermaid related stories that go like this:
Legend of the Maracca: Somehow the people were suffering a curse that caused dementia and “crushing pain.” Somone named Yauhau cast the spell on the people. It was said that at some point the village Chief, Aranawilli, encountered the “Mother of the Sea”, named Orehu. She is described in this story this way, “…a form of ‘surpassing loveliness’ with ‘a figure of a woman, her long tresses flowing free, and sparkling with dewdrops, or were they ocean pearls? The skin on the upper part of her body was rich and glowing; her eyes were deep sea green and filled with compassion. The lower half of her body, shaped like the tail of some exotic fish covered with iridescent scales of blues and greens, scintillated as they caught the fiery rays of the dying sun.”
The Chief told her of the curse and she promised to make Aranawilli a charm to protect him and the village from this evil. The charm called a “maracca” was given to the Chief and from that day forward he and the village were free of the evil curse.
Arawidi, the Glorious Sun: Someone, perhaps a “god” named Arawidi often visited Earth in human form. He loved to watch the fish in the beautiful streams and lakes in the area. He thought the fish were lovely. One day he caught an alligator trying to eat the fish and he threatened to kill him. Begging for his life, he promised to find Arawidi a beautiful bride.
Turned out that the alligator couldn’t find a bride, so he turned to the Mother of the Sea who took pity on him. It was said, “[she] touched a spirit maiden with her gold comb, resulting in the most beautiful creature Arawidi had ever seen, and she became his forevermore.”
What Is Going On?
It’s hard to deduce anything from these stories and accounts other than, it seems like people are mistaking some natural fish or aquatic animal for a lovely legend that seems to have captured the imagination of every culture around the world. Will Jeremy find a living mermaid? Well, I think based on his track record and scholarship, if anyone can find them, he can. So we’ll just have to wait and see!
See you next Monday for another fish tale of the Cryptozoological sort!
Happy Memorial Day & a big THANK YOU to all of our veterans!