Mermaids are one of humanity’s most fascinating mythological creatures. With sightings by sailors from Christopher Columbus to Blackbeard the Pirate, these half-human, half-fish creatures have captured imaginations in every corner of the globe. But how do these different folk tales compare to the sweet mermaids of Western popular culture?
Arguably the most popular interpretation of a mermaid is that of Melusine. Although this legend is found throughout Europe in countries such as Germany and Luxembourg, Melusine has a particular connection with France as the royal French house of Lusignan claimed to descend from her. Often pictured with a serpentine tail or two, and sometimes with wings, Melusine is thought to be the inspiration behind the globally recognisable Starbucks logo. The legend behind Melusine varies slightly between countries but a common story is that she sought revenge on her mother’s behalf but was punished by her mother with a serpent’s tail.
Another mermaid legend with the body of a human and the tail of a fish is the Native American tale of the Sabuwaelnu, from the Mi’kmaq tribe of Canada and the North-Eastern US. The name Sabuwaelnu literally translates to “water people” but these spirits are also known as Halfway People. The Mi’kmaq believe that the Halfway People control storms and that tribesmen who learn to interpret their songs will be able to predict the weather.
Yet another mermaid iteration is the Merrow of Ireland. Female Merrows are described as very beautiful half fish-women with long red or green hair, while the males are described as more fish like and quite ugly. All Merrows posess a red feather cap called Cohuleen Druith which enables them to live under the sea. The men are often portrayed as cruel and this led to the belief that many female Merrows would leave the sea and have relationships with human men. The children of these relationships might have scales or webbed hands and feet. However, the Merrows would often grow tired of the land, and these tales often ended in tragedy as the Merrow would return to the sea, with or without their human family.
One mermaid legend specific to the Pacific region is the Marakihau of New Zealand / Aoteoroa. This tale is unique as it was passed down by Māori people not only through oral folk stories, but also through carvings and images. The marakihau is also unique in its physical description. It is described as having a human head, with the body of a very long fish. It also has a long tubular tongue. The Marakihau is considered a Taniwha, or guardian, of the sea, but it is also often blamed for overturning or destroying canoes, as well as swallowing large volumes of fish.
Finally, a familar story in popular culture is the tale of Ariel, the Little Mermaid. Most people will be aware of this classic Hans Christian Anderson tale and its various adaptations, including the famous 1989 Disney film. In looks, Ariel is most similar to the Merrow, but while her relationship with a human man is similar, her ending is much happier.
Lladró’s Ariel figurine beautifully portrays this popular mermaid charcter in colourful glazed porcelain, and is official merchandise of the Disney brand. Lladró also creates a wide range of other beautiful mermaid figurines. With finishes ranging from matt to glazed to metallic lustres, this collection also includes a number of limited edition pieces. These pieces also highlight the delicate underwater vegitation, which is painstakingly handcrafted with the same techniques as Lladró’s famous flowers.
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