Thursday, June 11, 2015

Not Your Average Mermaid ~ by Blaire Edens

Not all mermaids are European with blonde hair and blue eyes. While many mermaid stories come from Celtic and Scandinavian traditions, mermaids are part of many cultures all around the world. India, Greece, and Japan all have mermaids. So did the Arabs.

When I began my research for An Officer and A Mermaid, I didn’t want my story to be a retelling of perhaps the most famous mermaid story, The Little Mermaid, by Hans Christian Andersen and published in 1837. While I love that story, I wanted something new and different.

I stumbled upon the story of Mami Wata quite by accident but I was hooked immediately.

Because Mami Wata isn’t your average mermaid.  

As the provider of riches, a spiritual and physical healer, her dual nature allows her to be both a nurturing mother and a sexy siren, the keeper of dangers and desires, dreams, hopes and risks. She’s an immortal spirit that personifies polar opposites.

She’s also a snake charmer. Not a bad resume.

She’s the total package. In many ways, Mami Wata is what many modern women strive to be. 

The persona of Mami Wata is an ancient one which began in Africa. Revered and worshiped by the peoples of southeastern Nigeria, she traveled to the Caribbean and the Americas with slaves and traders.  Her name is Pidgin English for Mammy Waters.

She’s usually depicted with a woman’s upper body and the hindquarters of a fish or aquatic snake. Her hair is black, usually curly, and she carries baubles like combs and mirrors. Unlike most African deities, her skin is usually light or medium. A large snake, a symbol of divinity, usually accompanies her, often wrapping itself around her breasts.

The best part? Unlike most European mermaids, she’s isn’t trapped or under a spell. She doesn’t need a man to make her complete. She’s the boss lady. She can appear as a beautiful woman at will, a woman who loves beautiful jewelry and loves to admire herself in the mirror. Mami Wata doesn’t have any self-esteem issues. Isn’t that refreshing? In addition, she’s not shy about her sex drive. In fact, she’s often seen in African markets, walking among the humans, looking for a man to take back into the ocean with her.

A man from whom she might demand fidelity. Very interesting that it wasn’t the other way round, huh?

See why I like her so much?

Even though her spirit is ancient and immortal, she’s one progressive lady. Mermaid. Both.

She’s comfortable. Powerful. Beautiful. In the driver’s seat. Or at the helm. Depends on the day.

It’s so interesting that Mami Wata came to the Americas by way of many people who were enslaved, yet she’s a symbol of power, duality and riches. In many myths, we write our hopes and dreams, as a culture, into our characters.

It can’t be an accident that Mami Wata symbolized material wealth, healing and divinity.

When you think about the history of the Caribbean and the American South in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it’s easy to see how Africans needed a powerful lady, one who looked like them and understood their cultural values to travel alongside them. To protect them, heal them, bless them.

Of course, Mami Wata has complexities that are too intricate to go into in a blog post, but you get the idea.

The main thing I discovered is that my perception of mermaids was pretty shallow.

Pun totally intended.

An Officer and a Mermaid opens on a sugar plantation in Haiti in the late eighteenth century. Syrenna, the daughter of a wealthy planter, has no idea how she will come to depend on Mami Wata when she’s transformed into a mermaid in order to save her life.  When a Coast Guard Officer falls into her ocean two centuries later, Syrenna will use the lessons of Mami Wata to find her way out of the sea and into love. On her own terms.


An Officer and A Mermaid
An Officer and a Mermaid will be out July 21. I really hope you like it.
But while you’re waiting for all these fabulous mermaid stories featured in the Falling In Deep Collection, you might want to dig into some of the mermaid legends from the far reaches. There are some wonderful stories that will leave you wondering why you didn’t know about them sooner.
Blaire Edens lives in mountains of North Carolina on a farm that’s been in her family since 1790. When she’s not plotting, she’s busy knitting, running, or listening to the Blues. Blaire loves iced tea with mint, hand-stitched quilts, and yarn stores. She refuses to eat anything that mixes chocolate and peanut butter or apple and cinnamon. She’s generally nice to her mother, tries to remember not to smack her bubble gum, and only speeds when no one’s looking. An Officer and A Mermaid, part of the Falling In Deep Collection, will be available July 21. Her book, Wild About Rachel, is available now.


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