Explore

Mermaids Can Be Black And International Folklore Proves It

By Danielle Dorsey

Share

The internet has been divided over the announcement of Halle Bailey of Chloe x Halle’s casting in Disney’s The Little Mermaid live-action remake. Half are ecstatic that the brand is making strides to represent diversity in their princesses, and the other half are incensed that Disney would dare to depart from Ariel’s origins as a red-haired, pale-skinned mermaid. Some even argued that it’s “unrealistic” for this mythical being to be played by a Black actor.

What Disney’s detractors don’t know is that mermaid lore had a long and rich history before Hans Christian Andersen penned The Little Mermaid fairy tale.

Here are five examples of ancient mermaid folklore that prove these fabled sirens can be Black (or any other ethnicity):

Yemaya

Yemaya is a powerful Yoruba Orisha (or goddess) who rules over the oceans and is the mother to all living beings. It is believed that she gave birth to the sun, moon, stars, as well as many orishas. She is known for her protective and nurturing qualities and represents both change and consistency. She was synchronized with the Mother Mary by enslaved West Africans who were brought to the Caribbean and sought to protect their beliefs from Spanish colonizers. Often pictured with dark brown skin, cowrie shells around her neck, and a flowing blue dress that morphs into ocean water, Yemaya is still worshipped in West African Yoruba religions as well as Brazilian Candomble, Cuban Lucumi, and Haitian Vodou.

La Sirene

La Sirene is a lwa, or powerful, spiritual being, from Haitian Vodou, which draws upon African traditions, but was highly influenced by the traumas of the transatlantic slave trade. La Sirene rules over wealth and is thought to bring love, romance, and success to her faithful worshippers. However, this lwa shouldn’t be approached casually and is known for luring those who offend her into the depths of her oceans, never to be seen again. She is considered one of the most important lwa and translates the secret wisdoms of the sea into songs that she sings for her children.

Mami Wata

Mami Wata, or Mother Water, is a pantheon of water spirits that belong to the old, matriarchal religious systems that dominated Africa for thousands of years. They are often depicted as mermaids, snake charmers, or both and thought to bring wealth and healing to those who follow them. These water spirits are highly respected and feared, representing mystery, sacred knowledge, and protection. They are worshipped throughout Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas. 

Iara

Translating to “Lady of the Lake,” Iara is a Brazilian water nymph that draws from ancient Tupi and Guaraní mythology. She is often depicted as a beautiful young woman with green hair, light brown or copper-colored skin, and brown eyes with the body of a freshwater dolphin, manatee, or fish. She spends her time lounging on river rocks and waiting for men to seduce with her songs. Legend has it that no man can resist her charms and that they would gladly abandon their lives to live in her underwater lair for eternity. 

Marakihau

Marakihau is a guardian, or taniwha, from New Zealand’s Maori folklore. Pictured with human heads, long fish bodies, and tube-like tongues capable of slurping down schools of fish or toppling wayward canoes, marakihau are more like sea monsters than a siren, but their ancient origins likely influenced how mermaid folklore developed. These protective beings were believed to harass and prey upon sailors and those who live upon their shores. 

Share
Travel Noire

Danielle Dorsey

Want more?

Get exclusive, unpublished tips from Travel Noire's CEO to help you get off the beaten path, into the hearts of locals and onto a better, more cultured life.

Afrochella Raises Awareness For Hunger, Literacy, Healthcare, & Aid For Youth Through New Charitable Initiatives

Afrochella Raises Awareness For Hunger, Literacy, Healthcare, & Aid For Youth Through New Charitable Initiatives

Afrochella is Ghana’s premier festival of the year, highlighting Africa’s thriving community of creatives and entrepreneurs while celebrating the continent’s art, food, music, culture, and history.  The festival will be hosted by MC/entertainment journalist Lolade Olayokun, actor Charles Okocha, and comedian Young Prince and attended by over 10,000 music lovers who saved for months and […]

Rachel George

The Audacious Beauty of Nassau’s History of Emancipation

The Audacious Beauty of Nassau’s History of Emancipation

Written by: Arielle Gray You don’t tame the sea. You learn how to ride it the way birds take to wind.  This concept is a way of life in the Caribbean. The Bahamas is a place where ships wrecked on the rocks and reefs, an inevitable, lush green stop on the Trans Atlantic slave trade.  […]

Travel Noire

Here’s How Hip-Hop’s Biggest Stars Have Been Supporting African Communities

Here’s How Hip-Hop’s Biggest Stars Have Been Supporting African Communities

Hip-hop music and the artists behind the hits influence what we know as today’s pop culture. From fashion and slang to what’s trending on Twitter, hip-hop artists and black culture, in general, dictate what’s cool. Hip-hop artists are well aware of their influence and some of the biggest names in the industry are using their […]

Kelsey Marie / africa