Accepted Paper:

Mermaids in Brazil: The (ongoing) creolization of the water goddesses Oxum and Iemanjá  

Author:

Bettina Schmidt (University of Wales Trinity St David)

Paper short abstract:

The paper focuses on the mermaid as representation of the water goddesses Iemanjá and Oxum in the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé. It addresses the question whether we can observe in Brazil the beginning of a new creolization process that can lead to an emergent pan-Brazilian deity.

Paper long abstract:

Half human and half fish mermaids are 'out of place' in both worlds, of humans and of animals. They symbolise the ultimate Other (Kramer 1986, 213). During the colonial time in Africa mermaids became associated with Europeans due to their light skin, long straight hair, their wealth and their Otherness. Soon later they were used to represent local water goddesses in West Africa who developed into a pan-African deity, named Mami Wata.

My paper focuses on the mermaid as representation of the water goddesses in Brazil, usually referred to under their local names Iemanjá and Oxum, two deities in the pantheon of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé. The representation as mermaid not only for one but two water deities in Brazil opens the door to an interesting development, corresponding to the decline of ethnic differences between the various 'Candombles' within an urban context. I will discuss whether we can observe here the beginning of a new creolization process that can lead - similar to the African Mami Wata - to an emergent pan-Brazilian deity. My focus will be on the implication of this transformation from local goddesses into an urban, supra-local deity, a symbol of modernity and globalization, for Brazil and the Afro-Brazilian religions. And I will look at the potential connected to the transformation of the (local) Afro-Brazilian religions into a unified belief system located within the Brazilian metropolises.

Panel P09
Cryptozoology: animals out of place or time