Most people today believe that mermaids are pure mythology, because as scientists tell us, a woman with a fish tail is a biological impossibility. A human being is a totally different species of animal from a fish and so it is out of the question that a fish could mate with a woman. Yet we have so many stories of mermaids throughout the world.
Also, there seems to be some intellectual and class snobbery attached to this theory. They seem to assume that uneducated working class sailors and fishermen must be ignorant and stupid, to mistake a sea cow or seal for a mermaid. This is in spite of the fact that educated men like; Christopher Columbus, Henry Hudson, and John Smith, all claim to have seen mermaids. So are we to suppose they were also drunk or stupid as well?
Christopher Columbus sighting mermaids
So is this the explanation for mermaids that they are, simply ordinary women swimming in the sea? This is certainly true of mermaid myths from ancient Greece where mermaids are called sea nymphs or sirens and there are very few reports of them having fish tails. This might also explain why we have so many reports of mermaids with two tails. The tails may simply be the legs of an ordinary woman who is swimming. Here’s the next question? Why were these women swimming in the sea? To understand this we need to look at the story of Dutch sailor, Hendrik Hamel.
Haenyo divers are female breath-holding divers who have been foraging on the sea floor for thousands of years for marine food like shellfish, seaweed, sea urchins, sea cucumber, crabs, squid and octopus. Nowadays they wear wet-suits, but before that, they hardly wore anything.
They are not the only female breath-holding divers in the area, because in Japan the Ama divers who like the Haenyo divers have also been foraging the sea floor for thousands of years. Nowadays some Ama divers do use wet-suits, but most of them don’t, and instead wear a cotton costume. The reason for this is that the Japanese have banned all modern equipment like scuba gear because they fear they will overfish the waters with modern equipment. For this reason they stick to traditional methods.
So it this the explanation for mermaids? That they are simply breath-holding divers like the Ama and Haenyo of Japan and Korea, once existed in Europe and other parts of the world. If that is true, then why don’t we read about this in our history books? This can be explained by what happened to female breath-holding divers in China and Korea.
Haenyo Divers (early 20th century)
In China and Korea female divers were called ‘dragon wives’. This is because while they were foraging the sea-floor for food, their husbands stayed at home looking after the house and children. When Confucianism was adopted by the Chinese and Korean governments, the lifestyle of women divers clashed with the Confucian doctrine of the Five Bonds of Filial piety, where wives should be at all times, be submissive to their husbands. It seems that being the breadwinners of the family, made these women too feisty for Confucian sensibilities, resulting in female breath-holding divers being banned throughout China and Korea. They only managed to survive on the remote island of Cheju. It seems they didn’t go down without a fight.
There is the story of Lady Ch’ing whom Chinese scholars called a female pirate. She led a force of 50,000 sea- people which successfully destroyed the Chinese Imperial Navy fleets sent to destroy them. The Chinese the Imperial government solicited assistance from British and Portuguese warships. This forced Lady Ch’ing, in 1810, to negotiate a settlement with the Chinese government.
Most references to these female breadwinners were written out of history, for instance Chinese scholars preferred to call Lady Ch’ing, Cheng I Sao, which means wife of Cheng I, to conceal the fact that female leadership among the sea people, was commonplace.
Chinese Mermaid Statue. (note the pearl she is holding)
As in Europe the Chinese have mermaid myths, in which the mermaids are called pearl queens, because in the past you could only get pearls from breath-holding divers. We would have known very little about their lifestyle if they hadn’t managed to survive on Cheju, until the present day.
It seems that not only did Confucianism dislike female breath-holding divers but Christianity did as well, probably for the same reasons. Christian wives had to swear to obey their husbands when they married, which caused trouble when mermaids were also the breadwinners of their families. There are stories of priests who, encountering mermaids on the seashore would curse them as devils and threaten them with eternal damnation. It also seems that mermaids were caught up in the witch hunts of the Middle Ages, but we will talk about this more, in a later video.
An interesting point about mermaid stories, is that they are mostly about mermaids and not mermen. We do hear occasional stories of mermen, but they are far outnumbered by mermaid stories. So why is this? The answer may lie in the fact that most Haenyo and Ama divers are female. We will explain more of this, in the next video. (The Text of this video is available at. - Mermaids are Real: Part Two also a the video of of it. http://wabond.hubpages.com/video/Mermaids-are-Divers-Part-Two