Wednesday, 27 April 2016

merkmal, mermail

The dried and liberally taxidermied carcass of a manta ray or a small shark, though pareidolia played a bigger role for these grotesque souvenirs than it did with the Fiji mermaid, carries the interesting name of Jenny Haniver.
Supposedly British marines first became acquainted with these nasty chimera when calling in Antwerp in the sixteenth century, where sailors had been crafting the keep-sakes for tourists for generations. The name stuck as a cockney-version of the French term jeune d’Anvers (the youth of Antwerp). People knew, for the most part, that this business was humbug but enjoyed letting their imaginations run wild, liking the idea of having a vanquished monster for their mantle. The antique mermaids (Meerjungfrauen) of Fiji probably themselves were the product of Japanese folklore and the legendary creature, the ningyo—which does share some correspondence with Western traditions, albeit that the ningyo was considered a delicacy that would impart great longevity to those who ate it.