A Rising Tide – Bath Spa University

A rising tide - tales of black mermaids, water spirits and protectors that were there all along

Thursday, 18 November, 2021

When you think of a mermaid, what image comes to mind? A woman with long, flowing hair, and fair, milky-white, almost iridescent skin - not to mention a shimmering, beautiful tail, perhaps?

In her first book, ‘Skin of the Sea’, author and Bath Spa alum, Natasha Bowen was inspired by her passion for mermaids - and African history.

Given her interest in all things magic and the sea, she began to follow her Nigerian roots, and wanted to find out more about the history of mermaid-like creatures from other places around the world, with a particular focus on those originating from Africa.

To her surprise, she found stories from practically across the globe.

“Mermaids, like other mythological creatures, have roots in many cultures, including the Ningyo of Japan, the Yawkyawk of Australia, La Sirene of Haiti, Iara of Brazil, and Sedna of North America,” she said.

“Their existence is woven throughout the world, but not nearly enough of their stories have been widely told.”

In her book, Natasha is beginning to change this. Through her research, she learned that mermaid-like beings in Africa can be traced back through ancient history.

“Take the Dogon people of Mali,” she said. “In their creation story, over 4,000 years ago, they speak of the Nommo, amphibious beings who came from the sky and created the first waters on earth.

They made their home in these bodies of water, and according to the Dogon, the Nommo became their guardians, teaching them about stars and planets.”

Other mermaids with African origins include the Mondao in Zimbabwe, who have sharp teeth and pull people into deep water, and the Karoo mermaid in South Africa, who is said to live in a rare waterfall in the desert, creating storms and floods if she’s angered, according to Natasha’s research.

Then there is Yemoja, who is described as half-woman, half-fish.

“The name Yemoja means ‘mother whose children are the fish.’ Due to the transatlantic slave trade, beliefs and stories of Yemoja have spread across the diaspora, and she’s known by a variety of names, including Yemaya, Yemanja, Iemajá, and more.

“It is believed that Yemoja left her home in the river Ogun and followed the first enslaved. Some say she accompanied them to offer comfort on their journey, others claim she wrecked the slave ships, and some say that she returned the souls of those who passed in the water, returning them home.”

All this research helped Natasha create a plot for her book, which follows the story of Simidele, a Mami Wata (mermaid), who defies the laws of the gods.

More information about the author, and her debut book, can be found on her website.

Top marks for Bath Spa University

Thursday, 12 May, 2022

Edit section | Website feedback to web@bathspa.ac.uk