Mermaid Monday: Africa’s Oshun and Chitapo

blackwhitesketchMermaid Monday returns with two cryptozoology tales that reflect the light and dark sides of life. From Africa come the tales of two water creatures, one beautiful and sensual, the other a dark, sinister monster.  Hang on while we dive into these merfolk legends!

Much to my surprise, I’ve recently learned that Africa is a hotbed of legends and tales about merfolk, good and bad. So let’s look at a couple of these creatures, one quite captivating, the other, not so much.

Oshun02Oshun

Oshun is the beautiful, sensuous daughter of a sea goddess called Yemaya, however Oshun lives in fresh water rivers and lakes. Her name means “Sweet Water.”

To the Africans she represents all the blessings you’d want to associate with your home: fertility, prosperity, nourishment, healing.  Her devotees describe her as kind and compassionate, saying she enjoys bestowing abundant blessings on her followers.

They do acknowledge that she can be a bit vain and self-indulgent, but considering her sensual and seductive nature, that’s probably not a surprise.

In some accounts she is depicted as a typical  mermaid  with a long fish tail and the torso of a beautiful, sexy woman. Other times she is shown simply as a gorgeous young woman.  In either case she will usually be covered in beautiful gems because she loves them so, and may be holding a golden fan. There is usually a comb and mirror in sight too.

Oshun01Sometimes you’ll see her with a honey pot tied to her waist as she is known to love honey, as well as other sweets and treats.

Her devotees say she loves to help people, especially by casting love spells. But first, you have to get her attention. She is said to live in the Ogun River in Nigeria, but can be “reached” by any freshwater spot.

She requires a generous offering of any of the following:

  • Gold and amber jewelry (but bronze will suffice if you can’t afford the gold)
  • Sensuous perfumes containing fragrances like amber, patchouli, and frankincense.
  • Sweet foods
  • Cinnamon, yams, pumpkins
  • Flowers of all kinds, but especially yellow roses.

The one thing that makes Oshun mad and ill tempered is when someone harms children. In fact, she is considered the patroness of children.

So if you’re going to encounter any type of sea creature, it seems this benevolent cryptid should be at or near the top of your list.  Now let’s look at the flip side of the African water world.

EvilMermaidChitapo

Rumors say that evil water spirits lurk in the waters of Africa, particularly in Lakes Kashiba and Mweru in southwest Zambia, in Victoria Falls, and even in the Atlantic Ocean. The people say these creatures, the Chitapo, lure people to the water then swallow them up, never to be seen again. And they don’t discriminate  – they snatch men, women, and children.

The Chitapo lure people to the lake by floating abandoned household items such as baskets, sleeping mats and things like that. People go to the water to investigate the abandoned goods and that’s where they encounter the creature face-to-face. The Chitapo captures their “shadow” and then they disappear, gone forever.

It is also said that one should never eat any fish caught in waters where the Chitapo live, nor drink of that water.

Nowadays the legend of the Chitapo is being incorporated into the larger African mythology of the Mama Wata (I’ll do a separate post about her sometime soon). But in days of old, the legend of the Chitapo stood on its own. I was unable to find a depiction of the Chitapo, so the photo above left is just a generic evil water spirit.

Oshun03Awash in Legends

Considering how dry and arid most of Africa is, it’s surprising to see how many legends they have of water creatures, or as we’d call them, merfolk, isn’t it?  I’ll keep my eye out for more and share them with you here, on an upcoming Mermaid Monday!

See you next week!

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