Growing up everything I knew about mermaids, I had learnt from fairy-tales cartoons, The Little Mermaid
Nice young ladies just don’t – swim around rescuing people in the middle of the ocean and then – flutter off into oblivion
Later, I grew up to learn in my culture we also had mermaids and they were a little more mystic and scarier than the Disney animated version.
We used to have a housekeeper who claimed she was allergic to fish, she would have panic attacks when she saw fish in the house, she could not be in the room same room with a fish dead or alive. She also avoided being close to bodies of water and would freak out at even puddles. She closed her eyes when she drank water, I am not sure how she bathed if at all.
Her anxiety spells grew so out of hand that my mother finally confronted her asking her if she needed help or to see someone. Thats when she finally confessed her strange malady she was afflicted by what is termed as “Mumvuri weNjuzu” which translates to “shadow of a mermaid” which means she was ear-marked to be taken and spirited away to a watery retreat by a mermaid. Mermaids are known as Njuzu in Shona.
According to some Shona lore when young people die they leave behind their little shadows which settle as spirit of the pools at the bottom of deep where the spirit-world is believed to be found, a reflection of the living world as the water reflects the world around it.
When someone gets taken by a mermaid/njuzu its important that their kin not cry as that will result in the person being killed or never returning but instead consult with a traditional healer, who tells them on the necessary rituals that need to be carried out which may include offering of livestock sacrifice and snuff, playing of traditional instruments, singing and dancing.
Someone returned by a mermaid usually come back possessing mystic abilities such as divining things, or knowing cures of ailments and able to converse with ancestors for answers to problems in short they also become traditional healers, n’anga; this is believed to be one of the ways one becomes one.
Some people taken never return and its said they eventually become mermaids too. On quiet days at the sacred places where mermaids are said to be found, you can hear the sounds of the life, their laughter, their cows and singing. If you are lucky you may even spot them and their laundry hanging out to dry, flapping in the wind and in the blink of an eye a gust blows, taking away everything as if it was never there, leaving only silence and feeling that maybe the stories of old just might have some truth to them…
Day 18 Post of #WinterABC a post where I share something about the culture of where I come from