Brazilian Mythology October: Iara

Iara (from Old Tupi yîara, meaning “Water Lady”) is a beautiful mermaid-like creature living in a river in Amazonas. The legend comes from different beliefs, including the European mermaid, ancient local myths about water snake spirits and, possibly, African goddesses like Mami Wata and Yemanja.

Originally, Iara was the best warrior of her tribe, living somewhere in the Amazon rainforest. She was the daughter of the pajé (the spiritual leader or shaman of a tribe), and the constant compliments from her father regarding her incredible skill made her brothers so envious they planned to murder her during the night. Iara had a particularly good hearing, and was able to prevent their attempt, but ended up killing them to defend herself. The father, unaware of what truly happened, tried to catch her as she fled. Her body was trown in the meeting of the rivers Negro and Solimões, but the fish brought it back to the surface, and she turned into a mermaid.

Iara is described as having dark hair and skin, and her beauty is so irresistible she has the power to lure any men she intends to marry to the bottom of the river with her singing voice. Like in many legends, Iara has an ambiguous motivation: some say she seeks for victims, enchanting men to their death, either to eat them or to watch them kill themselves, while others see her as a lonely figure, keeping her lovers underwater until their mortal end.

People associate her to the deaths of many people, and it is said that even today natives of Amazonia avoid travelling near water at night.

Sources: Wikipedia | Brasil Escola | Arte e Educação | Purple Cottage

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