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More on the Mamiwata Legend

As I explained earlier, Mamiwata is a general name for a spirit embodied by the manatee, that people in many West African countries believe in. In different regions there are different interpretations of what the spirit looks like and what acts it performs. Because she is female, it’s believed Mamiwata is looking for a husband, and tries to lure men into the water. I heard one story that she takes men below the water and chains them up so that she can keep them for herself. In Lambarene (and other parts of Gabon), I learned that people believe Mamiwata is a white woman with long blond hair. Since I was the only woman for probably 100 miles who fit that description, Nic joked that I was actually Mamiwata. While Nic and I were at Evaro we spoke to a man who was certain he had seen Mamiwata one night, when he was in his boat paddling across the lake back to his village. He said she rose completely out of the water until she was standing on top of the water alongside his boat. He was very serious about it and seemed a bit fearful of the event. It’s interesting to me how well this myth fits in with stories from all over the world of sirens (which mostly, but not always, refer to manatees), who lure sailors into the water.

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