Writing Inspiration

The Iara Mermaid — Brazilian Mythology

Hello writerly friends and readers! Before I get to my regularly scheduled post, I’d like to give you a heads up about November’s post! I’m hosting a book giveaway with a fellow aspiring author, Kayla Guerrero! Rules and information about how to enter will be in my November post (scheduled for the 19th @ 5 P.M. CST), as well as a post by Kayla! Be on the lookout for that, and follow both my blog and Kayla’s blog to be notified!

ONE LAST THING! I’m giving away 4 different movie posters on my Twitter page! I have posters for The Hate U Give, The Meg, Little Women, and First Man up for grabs! Fun fact: all of these movies are adaptations from books! Head on over to my Twitter profile and view the pinned post for the giveaway thread! Now, onto my post!

After taking a World Mythology class in late 2017, my interest in mythology seemed to explode. I had previously been slightly obsessed with Greek and Roman mythology, but I had never branched into mythology from other cultures before. In this class, I examined mermaid and siren myths across different cultures, and ended up settling on Brazilian and Greek mythology. I was already familiar with the Greek mythology of the siren, but the Brazilian mythology of the mermaid was new and interesting.

History

After researching quite a bit on the Iara, I stumbled upon some bits of history that may have caused the emergence of this myth. Brazil is known as a Roman Catholic country, the largest Catholic country in the world, which started as far back as the 15th century (Unknown, 2017). Before the introduction of Catholicism by the white settlers, indigenous Brazilians seemed to be matriarchal. After the arrival of the settlers, Brazil reflected a more patriarchal society and is still shown this way today. After the settlers came to Brazil and introduced the culture to Catholicism, there was a shift in the belief system: “The mostly male Portuguese colonizers of Brazil brought with them the concept of machismo, which identifies men with authority and strength and women with weakness and subservience.” (Unknown, 2017). Before the arrival of the settlers, Brazilians heavily worshiped the females in their lives as well as the female goddesses, especially the worship of the “Divine Mother”: “indigenous Brazilian tribes worshiped all Mothers and believed they created life without the male presence.” (Faur, 2016).

Myth

Like most myths, The Iara mermaid, also called Uira or Yara, has a few different claims of origin, though each version always tells of her beauty in looks as well as her voice, both serving to lure men into her grasp (Real Mermaids, 2017). This myth is said to be a combination of other myths: “In the nineteenth century the water snake legend was combined with the European mermaid.” (Carlucci, 2014). A different version of the myth claims that writers in the 16th and 17th centuries “used to depict the character as a male who would devour the fishermen, named Ipupiara.” Another claim states the Iara mermaid came to be when myths of the water snake spirits was said to be combined with “African goddesses of Mami Wata and Yemaya (Real Mermaids, 2017). And finally, one version of the myth states that the Iara is a different combination of myths, a combination of the European mermaid and the Ipupiara. According to this version “in the XVIII Century, the legend changed, representing a seductive female.” (Jarvis, 2017).

The Iara mermaid was often described as “a beautiful woman with green eyes, shining hair and mesmerizing voice” much like common depictions of mermaids and sirens today (Real Mermaids, 2017). Also like these modern depictions, the Iara was also known to have a “dual nature” in which she would appear harmless, often singing in rivers and lakes in the Amazon regions, and would drag unsuspecting men into the water, where they would pledge to spend their lives with her (Real Mermaids, 2017). Some versions of the myth claim that she didn’t actually kill these men and would only take them as her suitors, but others say she pulls them underwater to drown them. The Iara Mermaid was also credited for many unexplained deaths and disappearances that happen near water in the Amazon region (Real Mermaids, 2017). She was said to be “responsible for the deaths of thousands of people (pretty much everyone who got lost in the deep tropical woods is believed to have been enchanted by her song) and hundreds of destroyed ships.” (Real Mermaids, 2017).

Significance

Before settlers brought Catholicism to Brazil and therefore a patriarchal view, the natives widely worshiped their female deities, as well as the females in society (like family members). This change affected the myth of the Iara Mermaid as well, as one origin story theorizes that the mermaid was once depicted as male, as the Ipupiara to be exact (Jarvis, 2017). Despite this change, the Iara Mermaid wasn’t shown as a complete monster, and was likely holding on to their traditional matriarchal ties. After this change from a matriarchy to a patriarchy, women took on a more submissive role, and weren’t seen in such high standards anymore. In demonizing the women in their mythology, they lessened the value of the real women in their society. In some versions of the Iara myth, she wasn’t always the monster in the story, but instead takes men as her lovers; she, like previous females in their mythology, is shown to still have caring qualities rather than just malicious ones.

The picture used to represent this post was originally created by miss-hena, an artist on Deviant Art. Please support her beautiful work!

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