J is for Jengu.
Mermaids have been part of our storytelling traditions since forever. As part of a series of African Fae I’d like to introduce to you all, let’s look at the Jengu. (The African version of mermaids.)
A jengu (plural miengu) is a water spirit and deity in the traditional beliefs of the Sawa ethnic groups of Cameroon, particularly the Duala, Bakweri, and related Sawa peoples. Among the Bakweri, the name is liengu (plural maengu). They are similar to West African Mami Wata figures, though belief in miengu likely predates most Mami Wata traditions.
The miengu’s appearance differs from people to people, but they are typically said to be beautiful, mermaid-like figures with long, wooly hair and gap-toothed smiles. They live in rivers and the sea and bring good fortune to those who worship them. They can also cure disease and act as intermediaries between worshippers and the world of spirits. For this reason, a jengu cult has long enjoyed popularity among the Duala peoples. Among the Bakweri, this cult is also an important part of a young girl’s rite of passage into adulthood.
Jengu as a single spirit
Jengu may refer to a single spirit, as well. In some traditions, this spirit replaces the class of miengu spirits, while in others, it acts as their leader. Among the Isubu, for example, this spirit is called Jengu.
Bakweri belief talks of a female spirit named Mojili or Mojele. Mojili became the progenitor of the miengu when she lost a bet with Moto, the ancestor of mankind, over who could build the longer-lasting fire. Moto won the right to stay in the village, but Mojili was forced to flee to the sea. The Bakweri still worship Mojili as the ruler of the miengu. In fact, her name is so powerful, that many believe that children under seven may die if they hear it uttered. By extension of this tale, the miengu are said to be the wives of the rats, as the ancestor of the rats also lost the bet and fled to the forest.
Another Bakweri tradition names this spirit Liengu la Mwanja and makes her the consort of Efasa-Moto, spirit of Mount Fako (Mount Cameroon). Long ago, the two formed an understanding that Efasa-Moto would live on the mountain, while Liengu la Mwanja would inhabit the sea. When lava from Mount Fako’s 1992 eruption made it all the way to the ocean, many hailed it as a sign that the spirit was visiting his wife.
The Jengu is a creature with origins in African mythology, legend and folklore. In particular, accounts of their existence are first recorded within the mythology, legend and folklore of the Duala, Bakweri, and other Sawa ethnic groups in Cameroon.
They are said to possess some link or association with an African water spirit, Mami Wata.
The Jengu looks like a mermaid or merman of African descent. From the waist up, its skin is Black, its hair color and texture is full and wooly, and its face is very close in resemblance to surface dwellers from the surrounding lands.
Below the waist, its fish tail is similar to that of the various fish that live within its waters, although longer and more serpentine, as fitting proportions to the Jengu’s body.
The physical build of a Jengu tends to range from sleek and lithe to hearty and athletic. And those which wear accessories tend toward jewelry and other baubles common to their surface dwelling counter parts, according to gender and social status. That is, as long as said accessories do not hinder much from swimming.
I have my own version of the Jengu as they appear in my stories. (This can also be found on the page Origin of the Fae.)
Water Fae who are extremely loyal to Mami Wata.
They have a strong influence on African Folklore and are usually associated with Mami Wata.
They resemble mermaids, with yellow and green hair. Their fish tails are mostly silver, reflecting the colours found in the water they swim in.
They smile a lot. They have gaps between their front teeth. They also like to giggle.
Mostly they talk in their own language that involves a lot of clicking noises, like the noise made by crab claws or insects.
They have power over water. They can make it move in whatever way they wish.
They will ally themselves with anyone who protects Nature – and especially those who go up against the Obayifo.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
I hope you’ve found this informative. Anything about mermaids you’d like to add?