Mene Mamma

Fish-tailed Merbeing of South America.

Etymology: Quechuan or possibly Creole, "mother of waters."

Variant names: Femme poisson (in Martinique), Mae do rio, Mayuj-mamma, Orehu (Arawakan).

Physical description: Half woman, half fish. Behavior: Sometimes drags canoes underwater. Distribution: Guyana; the Caribbean; Brazil; Argentina.

Significant sighting: In 1793, Gov. A. I. van Imbyse van Battenburg of Berbice (now Guyana) told the British doctor Colin Chisholm of the half-women, half-fish seen in the rivers of his country. The creatures were generally observed in a sitting posture in the water; when disturbed, they swam away, creating a disturbance with their tails.

Possible explanation: Van Battenberg's animals are almost certainly the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), often seen at the mouths of Guyanese rivers.

Sources: Colin Chisholm, An Essay on the Malignant Pestilential Fever, Introduced into the West Indian Islands from Boullam, on the Coast of Guinea (London: Mawman, 1801); Everard F. Im Thurn, Among the Indians ofGuiana (London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, 1883); Gertrude Shaw, West Indian Fairy Tales (London: Francis Griffiths, 1914); Elsie Clews Parsons, Folk-Lore ofthe Antilles, French and English (New York: American Folk-Lore Society, 1933); Tobías Rosemberg, El alma de la montaña (Buenos Aires: Editorial Raigal, 1953), pp. 44-48.

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