In today’s blog I want to talk to you about the role that our cultural histories can play in our mermaid persona.
With so much buzz about “cultural appropriation” in the media, I have been working hard to understand it and know what I should be changing about myself. It is tricky, because some things are fairly obvious, for instances… I am not an aboriginal or native person. Thus, I don’t have the right to wear a war bonnet. Wearing an “indian” costume at Halloween? Blarg!
Other things are trickier. If I put rhinestones all over my face, am I appropriating bindis? At what point does cultural exchange cross the line to appropriation?
This blog isn’t going to be me preaching about what is right and wrong. Honestly, I have made mistakes out of ignorance along the way and been working hard to learn from my peers and educate myself. If you want to learn about cultural appropriation, here are a few helpful articles that break it down:
So what is this blog about today? I have been digging into my own cultural history, to find ways to incorporate my OWN culture into my mermaid persona, my accessory and costume choices, and my makeup! I found some amazing things!
I have a mixed background of Scottish, Irish, Acadian, and more. At first thought, I am reminded of Kilts and bagpipes which really aren’t my thing. Most of my family came over from Scotland or Ireland to Canada, fairly recently actually. I was taught Irish dancing; I have family members with thick accents, and heard stories from all over. I mean, I do live in Nova Scotia, aka New Scotland. ;)
I do a series of workshops on mermaids across cultures. My aim is to show kids that all of their cultures are represented in mermaid lore, and that oral story telling is valuable. When I started researching for mermaid folklore I was blown away how literally every cultural group on Earth has a mermaid. Each mermaid is very unique.
Mermaids look different in these different cultures. But they are all women with an affinity for water. Some have fish tails, legs, or snake tails. But they are all regarded by their culture typically as a form of mermaid.
A few examples,
Here in Canada there are a few mermaid stories, here are three that I find the most interesting:
Sedna of the Inuit
Selkies of the Maritime Provinces
Sabawaelnu of the Mi’Kmaq
Then there are the more international mermaid mythologies such as:
Merrow of Ireland (and also in Canada too)
Sovann Macha The Hindu mermaid (She appears in many places)
Siren- Greek Myth from Greece
Atargatis Often thought to be the first mermaid, Aramaic found in Syria, Ian, Turkey- many places
Ningyo of Japan
Yemeya from various African countries
Jiaolong A Chinese legend that sometimes took the form of half man half fish
Rusalka a Slavic mermaid who stole children sometimes in Russia
Melusine a European Mermaid Myth
Yawkyawk An aboriginal mermaid myth from Central Arnhem Land in Australia
Tahoratakarar A Polynesian mermaid
Check out some of these really cool art depictions of mermaids from various cultures!
You get the idea. Basically if you google a culture, place, or a group of people with “mermaid” you’ll find unique myths. I think it is amazing that mermaids transcend all of these places and peoples. For so long especially!
So for me personally, in looking at my cultural history I can draw inspiration from legendary stories like the Merrow, The Selkie, The Finfolk, Grindylows, Scylla, I could even take a little inspiration from Banshees. There were even mermaid myths involved in the medieval church about a mermaid performing miracles and being baptized.
There are many interesting Celtic (Irish) items and Scottish items that could be used as accessories for a mermaid. The Celts can inspire beautiful makeup and face paint along with hair styles. From stunning circlets easy to be worn by a mermaid (I already have one in fact) to long braided plaits, sea glass jewelry, brooches, engraved bracelets and rings, and even beautiful embroidery that could be added to tops or head pieces.
These are just a few examples I have found from google that better represent my cultural history. Great ideas for working them into my mermaid persona!
Of course, I am a big fan of what mermaids already do. That is- incorporate natural items a mermaid would use! Whether it’s reusing fishing net, sea glass, shells, and pearls, to broken bone pieces from a beach, sea weed, stones, and drift wood. I have seen mermaids use these items to create amazing accessories that add to their costume without appropriating someone else’s culture.
Here are a few of my photos, along with some of the mermazing accessories my tail maker and friend Raven has made!
In conclusion, I think it’s good for us as a community to look into our personas and find out how we can infuse them with our own culture, without appropriating someone else’s. The lines between appropriation and appreciation will always be blurred and hard to figure out. But I find it’s best to simply ask someone whether they find your portrayal to be hurtful to their cultural self-image. You’d be surprised when you sit down and have a conversation with another human being (or mermaid) at how much you can learn about them… and yourself.
I’m going to put some thought into creating a Raina legend that merges my cultural background with the life I have here in Canada. I think it’ll be a great “tail” for the kids!
The Halifax Mermaid
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