On-line version ISSN 2309-9585
Print version ISSN 0259-0190
COOK, Harold J.. 'Not unlike mermaids': A report about the human and natural history of Southeast Africa from 1690. Kronos [online]. 2015, vol.41, n.1, pp.61-84. ISSN 2309-9585.
In 1690, on the orders of Simon van der Stel, officials of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) interviewed one Nicolao Almede, a 'free black man of Mozambique' who had recently arrived at the Cape as a sailor aboard the English ship John and Mary. Almede informed his interlocutors about the country inland from the coast between Mozambique and Delagoa Bay (now Maputo Bay), into which he had previously ventured as a merchant. Although he does not mention the legendary name of Monomotapa, he does offer early descriptions of the Changamire dynasty, as well as the animals and people of the region, including its fabulous wealth. Some of the place names he mentioned are well known, while others cannot now be traced, perhaps because he was using indigenous rather than Portuguese names. The record of the interview concludes with Almede's description of mermaids, and the fact that their teeth could be had in the market at Mozambique. Together with producing a transcription and translation of the document this article explores it through a close reading to offer some speculations about the interweaving of legend and fact in the human and natural history of southern Africa in reports such as that of Almede.
Keywords : Southeast Africa; Zambezi; Changamire dynasty; trade; natural history; mermaids; VOC (Dutch East India Company).