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Part of the Mythic Creatures exhibition.
When people from different cultures interact, their myths, legends, and artwork often blend, leading to new interpretations. This cultural interaction can explain why cultures in different regions sometimes have mythic creatures that appear similar and may mean similar things.
The borrowing of the mermaid image is a good example of cultural interaction. Stories about half-human/half-fish creatures exist in many countries and cultures. In Africa, many existing water spirits only took on the form of a mermaid after European ships with mermaids on their prows began arriving in the 1500’s. As slave ships brought Africans to the Caribbean, the people took the modified mermaid legends with them. These legends evolved further there.
Students will examine the migration of the mermaid image as an example of cultural interaction.
Have students describe what a mermaid looks like. Are their descriptions consistent with mermaids commonly depicted in popular culture, such as Disney’s Little Mermaid? Are students familiar with other mermaid stories such as Mami Wata (Africa) or Lasirèn (Haiti)? Compare all descriptions and stories. What are the similarities? Differences?
Ask students to share their map and research with the rest of the class.
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