Mermaids in the Karoo? Not likely. And yet legend has it that there are indeed mermaids, or at least there were, in the midst of one of the driest areas in the country.
Two journalists, Wendy Hardie and Maya Morgan, headed into the Karoo on a road trip to track down the legend by asking the locals, a few years ago. From their first-hand account, the Little Mermaid Route evolved.
It seems the people of the Karoo all have a story about the mermaid to tell. From very young they’re told stories of a ‘watermeid’ (mermaid) who lives in places where there is deep water. The stories evoke fear, and are usually told to children in hushed tones, for if she is angered the mermaid will pull you down with her and you will drown.
They speak about her ‘pragtige lang hare’ (her beautiful long hair) and how she causes rain, floods and droughts. It’s no surprise given the extreme temperatures and the arid conditions of the Karoo. People’s relationship with water here is quite different from those who live in the city where water is constantly on tap.
Children of the Karoo today speak of a mermaid in a local waterfall. If you swim there, she steals your clothes. Is it legend, or is it real? They believe it. Why shouldn’t we. There are rock paintings up in the hills, of mermaids. It’s the only place in the country where you’ll find these drawings. Those who study them are forced to agree that if the paintings exist then there must have been mermaids back then.
250 million years ago the Karoo was under the sea.
Helen Martins made countless statues of mermaids in her Owl House. Fourteen statues of mermaids sit interspersed amongst the other mythical, religious and archetypal figures. They reinforce the re-occurring theme of mermaids in the desert.
The adventure resulted in a book – Searching for Mermaids in the Karoo – that comes with a DVD, guidebook and a map. You can follow the trail yourself and go searching for mermaids in the Karoo. Enjoy the back routes, dusty roads, tea on stoeps, stops at waterfalls and the little villages that make up the Karoo.