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  • Mermaid Monday: Mermaids at Mombassa September 4, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    African mermaids from 1825.

    It is one of those bulletins from ‘foreign climes’ that provided British newspapers with so much of their copy in the 1700s and through much of the nineteenth century. Note how the mermaids are just slipped in, like the silly item at the end of the news.

    Aug. 1. The Espiegle, 18, Captain Wray, arrived here on the 24th ult from Zanzibar and our new settlement at Mombass (28 days from the latter place). Lieut. Emery, R. N. and the establishment at Mombass were in good health. Mr George Phillips, Collector of the Customs, had died of fever which he caught at Pemba, an island near Mombass. It is discovered that, besides the Hippopotamus, there are Mermaids on that coast, several of which have been taken: their teeth is the best of ivory, and are used for making handles of sword. (1825)

    Mombassa is in modern day Kenya, so we are on the east coast of Africa: Zanzibar is in modern Tanzania. As to what ivory-toothed mermaids live on the east African coast, Beach happily throws the question open to his readers and to the net more generally: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com. Sperm whales have large ivory teeth, but don’t normally comb their hair.   Dugongs, resident on the Kenyan coast, are a more credible candidate but don’t have large ivory teeth. They do though have small tusks that would work as sword handles (see image at head of post). Perhaps that is the mystery solved.

    Note that there is also folklore about Kenyan mermaids. Here is a short example: screen saved, just in case the site disappears.

    African mermaid folklore seems an interesting subject. Beach hopes to return to it.