Mami-Wata & The Mermaids in African Mythology | Swali Africa

CHRIS CAMPO March 25th 2016


African culture has portrayed the idea of the mermaid in many ways across the continent. It has also been observed that certain features are similar across these variations; she has the same purpose to seduce, beguile and intrigue mankind. She shrouds herself in her mysticism, attractiveness and, above all, her vengeance.

Typical accounts of her appearance in African Mythology, describes a beautiful woman with flowing black hair and an angelic gaze used to entrap or bewilder her spectator (not forgetting fin-like tail with a torso and head of a human).
She goes by many names such as Mami Wata (translated to Mother Water) in West Africa to Mamba Muntu in Swahili (east). Nonetheless, they all transcend mankind’s metaphysical perceptions of reality. The history of how the mermaid developed in these cultures stemmed from a broader being in the belief of these mystical creatures. Most accounts of how Mami Wata or Mamba Muntu came to be the main symbol of aquatic deities originated from a belief in “water spirits”. These spirits are often referred to as minions or soldiers, often males, for the higher deities, such as Mami Wata or Mamba Muntu, where they would kidnap, trick or deceive fisherman and seafarers to sacrifice or tithe to them.
These male figures have been known to become “spirit husbands” for entranced women. This overarching belief in water spirits developed the specific deities of cultures through the framework of societal identity, spiritual direction and historical beliefs.


On all accounts there is a gender associated with the belief of mermaids. A maternal deity that has a sexual power over her captives and because of this she commands great sacrifice and obedience for the reward. In comparison to the mermaid of European cultures, the mermaid isn’t so much a powerful deity than just a seductive siren that hopes to entice and seduce mortal men. In the European version of the mermaid she has the same physical appearance, half fish and half human, but her intentions and actions are not as metaphysical as the African counterparts. She has a playful personality, boasts an alluring singing voice and beautiful complexion that she uses to entice seagoing explorers.
As the myth tell us, while at sea, a seafaring mortal catches a glimpse of a mermaid and to their bewilderment and amazement of this beautiful woman they attempt to make contact with the mermaid. Using her beauty and voice she sings a song to lure the seaman into the water where she then drowns them at the bottom of the sea. The legend varies whether this is intentional or not. Many claim it’s a circumstance of her playful nature, others say it’s killing tactic. This version of the mermaid is framed as sea creature only found in physical form who doesn’t appear in dreams or grant great wealth, but rather is an enigmatic entity whose purpose is to seduce man.

Nonetheless, Mami Wata or the European mermaid has great power over mortals. For centuries across the globe she has toiled with explorers, fisherman and natives that would all advise to stay away from her or suffer the same fate as many have before.

Read more: Mami-Wata & The Mermaids in African Mythology

About agogo22

Director of Manchester School of Samba at
This entry was posted in Culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.