South Africa: New Mermaid Sighting!

Posted by: Loren Coleman on January 16th, 2008

Coleman Merbeing

From Curious Encounters, Faber and Faber, 1985.

In recent years, Merbeings have taken on the appearance of Lizardpeople, as above, and the Merman and Mermaid roots in the sightings seemed to have been fading.

Most reports of Merbeings generally seem to be from over a hundred years ago or are lost in the fog of folktales and legends.

But that can all change in an instant. Coming to us from South Africa, from the weekend of January 12-13, 2008, is a new sighting of a more traditional Merwoman, indeed, a nearly classic Mermaid.

Herald reporter Aldo Pekeur details the breaking new incident:

It may have been a case of too many magic mushrooms in the potjie, but a group of friends enjoying a braai on the banks of the Buffelsjags River at Suurbraak, a village close to Swellendam in the Western Cape, have reported spotting a legendary mermaid-like creature, known locally as the Kaaiman.

And the town’s tourism bureau is taking the claims seriously.

According to legend, the last sighting of the Kaaiman was about 15 years ago, with it previously being spotted more than 20 years before that.

Suurbraak resident Daniel Cupido said he and a group of friends were relaxing next to the river last weekend when, at about 11.30pm, he heard something which sounded like someone “bashing on a wall.”

Cupido walked toward the sound. At a nearby low water bridge, he said he saw a figure, “like that of a white woman with long black hair thrashing about in the water.”

Thinking to save her, he waded toward her, but said he stopped in his tracks when he noticed a reddish shine in her eyes. The sight sent “shivers” down his spine, yet he was pulled forward as if hypnotised.

He called for his child, Deidrian, 13, and his nephew, Werner Plaatjies, 11, to help him, breaking his trance. He then shouted to his friends to take a look as well. Martin Olckers said he saw a female figure swimming, first on one side of the low water bridge, then on the other, and then standing on the bridge before diving back into the black water.

He said the figure made “the strangest sound”, like a woman crying. His mother, Dina, said the figure sounded so sorrowful “my heart could take it no more”. Her husband Martinus said their parents had warned them about the Kaaiman, but they never believed it existed.

The Kaaiman is described as a half human, half fish creature which lives in deep pools. It is white and has long black hair and red eyes.

Some people hold the Kaaiman responsible for drownings.

Suurbraak tourism officer Maggy Jantjies said she knew the people who saw the Kaaiman well, and that they did not misuse alcohol. by Aldo Pekeur, “Sighting of legendary river mermaid in Western Cape,” Herald, West Cape News, South Africa, January 15, 2008.

For completeness, it must be noted that “Kaaiman” happens to be a German word for caiman, a crocodilian.

This is what the tourist bureau locally has to say about this location:

Suurbraak, “A Place called Paradise” is a quaint village, nestled amongst streams of running water and sheltered by giant oaks, situated 19 km east of Swellendam, 10 km off the N2. The traveler encounters the town unexpectedly along the Tradouws River at the foot of the Langeberg Mountains. It lies about 5 km west of the majestic Tradouws Pass, on route between Swellendam, Barrydale and Heidelberg. The village is well worth a visit for tourists who wish to explore.

This traditional settlement drew the interests of the missionaries. It was established as a mission station in 1812 by the London Mission Society and later in 1875, taken over by the Algemeende Sending Kerk. In 1880 the Anglican church and school was built as a result of a split in the congregation. Community involvement in the church remains strong. The buildings of the village tell the story of its history. The first church, the parsonage and school, together with the old houses and buildings around the village square have been restored and are in use, as well as the Anglican church building. All are situated on the main road through the town.

The isolation of Suurbraak is one of its charms and limits the financial resources of the people. Many still cook on wood stoves, using an abundance of alien vegetation that grows in this area. The people live close to the land using farming methods that belong to the past. The smaller farms are still ploughed using horse drawn ploughs. Agricultural work is often done manually. Many households own at least one cow and some horses. Horse and donkey drawn carts are often seen here on the streets.

The village is well worth visiting on day trips. The mountains are rich in fynbos and bird life and cattle paths act as mountain trails for hikers and mountain bikers alike.

Community guides are available for village walks and mountain hikes. There are basic braai facilities alongside the river with spectacular pools. The riverine areas offer great bird-watching opportunities.

tiny village

A photograph from the tiny mission village of Suurbraak.

(Thanks to T. Peter Park for forwarding this news item.)

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

27 Responses to “South Africa: New Mermaid Sighting!”

  1. pcs800 responds:

    Uh huh, yeah ok.
    Sooooooo, you watched this thing swim all over the place, get out and walk up on a bridge, jump back in, but nobody had so much as a camera phone right? Uh huh, yeah ok.

  2. Loren Coleman responds:

    Could it be that just perhaps the villagers don’t own cellphones with internal cameras? It is not an overly developed area, afterall.

  3. shumway10973 responds:

    I don’t own a cell phone and I don’t carry a camera with me everywhere I go. Let’s get a navy seal (or 2) over there to swim down and see what is really there.

  4. gkingdano responds:

    My crystal ball says tourist $ start increasing. Also in 15-20 years it will be sited again.

  5. SOCALcryptid responds:

    Someone goes into the river late at night or for that matter any time and is not worried about crocodiles. Seems strange to me. Hey, I see something splashing about in the water around 11:30 at night and I just go in the water to try to save what I think is human. Rescuing someone is one thing only if you know what that someone is. This seems like another FISH tale to me.

  6. Lestat3407 responds:

    Actually, I find the consitency of these stories is what makes this report somewhat believeable. As for the camera issue, not only is it unlikely that someone in that part of the world would have a camera phone, but at 11:30 PM how good could a picture have been. Not only that, but we would have all said, “Look , a picture of a white woman.”. This report, like any other cryptid report is going face skepticism as long as it is lacking a body to present to science. I think the key is to have an open mind to extreme possibilities. Not that we believe everthing people report but allow for the possibility. For all we know this “woman” came from a USO base that she visits every 15 or 20 years. In any case, let us just watch , listen and enjoy.

  7. Alligator responds:

    Aye, Nile Crocodiles aren’t all that common outside preserves in South Africa anymore, but one never knows where one might show up. Males especially are known to wander extensively especially in times of low water or looking to establish new territories.

    Agreed. Wading into the river at night to determine the source of an unidentified splashing sound – – – really stupid. Walking into the jaws of a twelve Nile croc – – – priceless. Makes the story sound fishy to me (pun intended).

  8. gavinfundyk responds:

    Sorry, can’t buy it.

    However, I wonder if some of the stories of mermaids were not the result of birth defects. Specifically, sirenomelia.

    The condition, which results in the legs being fused together, causing the feet to look like a tail, was in the news last year when a little girl from Peru had her legs successfully separated.

    If persons in the past had seen such a child, or, even an older child or adult, it would definitely appear like a mermaid/merman.

  9. Lestat3407 responds:

    I wonder how likely it would be that a white woman with black hair and an unbelievably uncommon birth defect would be swimming at 11:30 PM in a rural part of South Africa. Also , remember that this same type of report is made every 15 or 20 years. Do people with sirenomelia have a special travel agent? My USO suggestion is more believable than that, and I made that one in jest. There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of …….etc.

  10. silvereagle responds:

    Until you have personally experienced something that you have been led to believe does not exist, you will be highly skeptical of every strange report of undocumented species. After that experience, then you will not be so skeptical.

  11. gavinfundyk responds:

    I wasn’t actually referring to this sighting, but the possible origins of some mermaid accounts or beliefs.

  12. Saint Vitus responds:

    I had not even heard of merbeings (other than the traditional mermaids which turned out to be manatees) until quite recently. I’m not usually prone to believing in that sort of thing, but you won’t see me hanging around by that river at night! It is interesting that the reports come from all over the world, and I have read other reports of the strange, humanlike crying sound these creatures supposedly make.

  13. pcs800 responds:

    This stuff is so funny, and great for a movie or book. When it comes to sightings like these, like bigfoot or nessie, etc. When you think about all aspects possible, like say reproduction, population, habitat area needed, food consumption, and others I cannot come up with on the spot, the possibility of something like this existing is at a percentage somewhere next to zero.

    I agree with the tourism $ thing mentioned above, and yes, as soon as it starts wearing thin, another sighting will occur.

    I don’t think the seals want to waste time, effort and money on this. Just like the whole nessie thing, it will turn out to be a hoax and get uncovered sometime in the future.

    But MAN is this web site fun to read 🙂

  14. Benjamin Radford responds:

    Loren wrote: >>Could it be that just perhaps the villagers don’t own cellphones with internal cameras? It is not an overly developed area, afterall.

    Actually, the area is fairly close to Cape Town; the area isn’t metropolitan, but it is hardly a rustic village. Plenty of Cape residents have cell phones these days.

  15. Loren Coleman responds:

    I look forward to South Africans writing in with any insights about Suurbraak. I find it is called a “tiny mission village” and “a deprived township” on the net.

  16. flame821 responds:

    Sirenomelia, or “mermaid syndrome,” occurs in one out of every 70,000 births. There are only three known cases of children with the condition alive in the world today.

    It is also (normally) a fatal defect so as interesting as the possibility is the fact that most humans suffering from this don’t make it to adulthood; not to mention the obvious difficulty of reproduction and delivery, really rules out the possibility of sirenomelia sufferers being the culprits.

    I’m not sure what it was they saw, I am curious though if there are any primates in that area of Africa? Or anything else that could either be mistaken for human (form) or make human-like sounds.

  17. Lestat3407 responds:

    Speaking of the possibilities of creatures like these being next to zero, I would have to say that the ocean is the least explored area of the world. Compare that to the areas of the pacific northwest that are unexplored and the relative existence of a north american ape. In the end, like I said before, anything is possible, even if unlikely.
    What kind of bait would one use if going fishing for a mermaid?

  18. kolobe responds:

    The area of sighting is very underdeveloped like most of the small coastal towns, some do not have cell (mobile) phone coverage available and most inhabitants are living in poverty and could definately not afford a nice digital camera to carry around in their pockets. Usage of marijuana (dagga) is also very prevalant in the rural areas where the above report was made.

    Most of the South African cultures have legends of strange animals like this, some even wierder such as the Tokoloshe,,, a small type of evil and very ugly changeling that enters houses and terrorises the people. A lot of murders (last one was 2 years ago that I know of) etc have been blamed on this little fellow, traditional cultures place thier beds on bricks or cans to lift their beds so that he cannot get hold of them while they are sleeping. They won’t even speak his name as this may invite him to visit them.

    Tales of large white snakes (30m+ in length) in most rivers, river dieties that entice people into water (similar to European legends) and beings that live behind waterfalls abound and are kept very much alive in rural areas by witch doctors (not Sangomas) to help keep people in line with thier beliefs and doctrines. Another one is hyenas that follow you and then turn into mist or lightning, depending on the area, when sighted (even white farmers have reported these animals). Some Venda believe in an enormous white crocodile that they need to sacrifice virgins to in a sacred lake. A lot of white farmers also talk about and believe in a werewolf-type creature today that their ancestors saw and hunted. Unicorns also have a large following and still get reported today.

    Ape (primate) like creatures have also been reported and as early as the late seventies a lot of white farmers in the north of South Africa near Zimabawe reported a large gorilla type primate. This report was well documented with photos of tracks and reports of many farmers, hunters and farm workers. It was eventually decided that the creature was a gorilla due to similar traits and footprints. (I have the article but it is in Afrikaans and will have to be translated to use on this site.)

    Africa and South Africa is alive with stories of strange creatures and beings; the Tokoloshe is still the best as far as South African crypto’s go. In traditional Zulu (and most black South African) cultural beliefs, there are many stories of extra-terrestrials that go back hundreds, if not thousands of years. The Bushman tribes believe in and have painted a lot of crypto-type animals and extra-terrestrials in Southern Africa.

  19. deepone responds:

    “Kaai” is Afrikaans (one of our languages) for “jetty”, from the same dutch word meaning “quay”.

    I live fairly close, am a keen diver, reckon I’ll give this a looky.

    Also, no crocs in the Suurbrak, and we do have cell phones, even in townships 🙂

    Anyone interested in S.A myths check out some of Credo Mutwa’s writings (though unfortunately Icke got his hooks into Credo), specifically his book “Indaba My Children”, chock full of weird creatures.

  20. johnsilver responds:

    Its most likely the family would not have celphones or digital cameras. Its also unlikely they would be smokin it up with the family present. Maybe some brandy and coke. As for publicly going on about the sighting, to a family who is most likely very connected to the suurbraak village and purposes to have ‘strong’ christian beliefs its not something they’d carry on about without misgivings of being called fools. However superstition is very strong in Suurbraak and the story could easily have become exaggerated.

    Its also possible the white woman with red eyes splashing around could have been one of the hippie chicks from cape town who was ‘gerook’. Hence the red eyes. Perhaps the wailing was her embarresed attempt to get away from the watching suurbraak family – calling the kids and all.

    As for the Kaaiman, there are plenty of secrets and only naivity or extreme cynisim would immediately dismiss at least a fragment of possibly that more exists than meets the ‘common knowledge’ of the first world.

    I also live close to Suurbraak and know the village relatively well. My friend can speak the local ‘taal’ and would fit in. It’s worthy of at least a small photo documentary. So deepone, if u going to take a splash (though diving gear is hardly needed in the river) let me know and we can meet there and have a look and chat to the family??

    Beats watching tv about guys being charming while they’re dodging bullets.

  21. cryptidsrus responds:

    I agree with SILVEREAGLE and LESTAT3407.

    I’m not saying this sighting PROVES anything, but it is still interesting to read about these things. We don’t know diddly-squat about our oceans or large portions of this world.

  22. maslo63 responds:

    Sasquash and Nessie are one thing; at least they can be linked to living or extinct animals. Something like a mermaid is just laughable. I’ll give you that the ocean is vast and holds a great deal of unknown creatures but an aquatic primate with a fish caudal fin? I don’t think so. IMO investigating cryptids like these is a waste of time. Fun story to read though, I’ll give you that.

  23. Kushtaka responds:

    One person’s “superstition” is another person’s “cryptid.” I trust that many of the beasts we are open to existing, some more mainstream scientists find quite laughable. That doesn’t mean we should laugh every report out of the water. We — being the open-minded ones we think we are — might also be open to the idea that some of these reports are not flesh-and-blood animals that will be proven real by scientists. Some encounters may well fall into the supernatural realm. Supernatural doesn’t necessarily mean “not true,” but rather BEYOND nature. A supernatural encounter for those experiencing it is as real as life — or death — for the witness.

    I’ve known many MODERN PEOPLE who believe in — and FEAR — what we call mermaids. I know they have names for these beings in their native tongues, but when we discuss them, they call them mermaids so that I might understand. I used to live near a body of water in Florida my foreign friends would never walk near because of the mermaids they believed lived there. I respected their fears of something I accepted to be of supernatural origin, but it didn’t prevent me from spending time by that waterway. I never thought their belief was some cryptid, but it did seem like a supernatural creature that could take on physical form, from their folklore. I know many crypto-fans hate that idea because they can never be proven “real” in the scientific sense. However, such fantastic creatures do have a place in our mysterious world. And, waterways are almost universally sacred and magical places, so it is of no surprise to hear about fantastical creatures calling these places home.

    About the cell phone issue: I’ve lived in all types of places — from New York City to bush Alaska on the Yukon River. And, I’ll tell you, when I’m in the market for a cell phone, one of the things I look for is that it NOT have a camera in it. Why? Because some of the camera technology interferes with cell phone reception. When I’m in need of rescue somewhere in the bush country, it’s unlikely I would be in cell phone range — but even less likely if I use a camera phone — so I choose NOT to have a camera phone. I’ve encountered THOUSANDS of animals in the wild — few of which I have photos of. I hope you believe me that bears, moose, caribou, and wolves are real, even though I can’t prove it with a camera phone. 🙂

    Keep the great stories coming! I love this stuff!

  24. mystery_man responds:

    Interesting account. I think one thing that people should remember before writing off the possibility of such a creature out of hand based on the biological feasibility of the creature is that it isn’t necessarily half fish and half human at all. This sort of description could easily derive from a witnesses interpretation of what they saw and a desire to find something that fits the appearance of the creature rather than an actual merging of fish and man, which is of course preposterous. I imagine it would be very much like an early witness of the gorilla describing it as half man, half animal. There are other things that could be behind the sightings other than an actual classical mermaid.

    I also find that many creatures that were ethnoknown by local peoples before being catalogued by science were often described in fantastic ways, often being attributed magical powers, exaggerated features, or said to be a chimera of other common animals. Yes, I am skeptical of this “Kaaiman”, however I am wary to write off the possibility of a new, undiscovered animal based on unlikely descriptions simply because it has been shown before that sometimes there is a real animal behind the stories or myths. (although maybe not as spectacular an animal as claimed).

    One last thing that I have to say here is that I find the scarcity of sightings to be curious. From what I can see in the article, this creature was seen 15 years ago, and 20 years before that. This is an extremely low amount of spaced out sightings for even a cryptid, and I don’t quite know what to make of this. Could this creature have wandered here from somewhere else on these occasions, and the area where the sightings occurred is not its normal range? Or maybe it is near extinction? Could this just mean that the few witnesses are seeing things or are having a laugh? Whatever the reason, the rarity of sightings is interesting to me.

  25. gavinfundyk responds:

    I agree that there are not families comprised of individuals suffering from sirenomelia. Even if someone lived to adulthood, and then COULD have a child, (a one in a billion shot) it wouldn’t be suffering from the same condition.

    I do believe however that over the centuries, individuals such as this could have been seen as added proof to ancient peoples that such a creature could exist.

  26. sketko responds:

    Am I the only person who noticed that this witness did NOT see a classical mermaid? Nowhere in his account does he describe a woman with a FISH TAIL. He only says that he saw a woman with black hair and reddish eyes swimming and wailing. He actually describes her getting out of the water, STANDING on top of the bridge, and jumping back into the water. Did she stand on her tail? The article goes on to equate his story with the half-woman, half-fish creature of folklore, but the witness himself never says that the woman had a tail. I think it’s odd to have such a grand fish story when there isn’t even a fish involved!

  27. sonofthedestroyer responds:

    There is a possibility it could be real.
    I see alot of cynical people in regards to cryptozoology and other mysteries. All over the net these days. If you are going to scream ‘fake’ at everything why bother even looking or reading about it?
    I have personal experience seeing alien big cats here in the UK. And it shook me. And it also makes a little irritable towards cynics.
    I trust the credibility of tribal people in the Congo and New Guinea who see dinosaurs. Because they dont like intruders and thus are not trying to promote tourism (an accusation levelled at locals living near Loch Ness). They also dont know what a ‘dinosaur’ is. They see animals and report it. It only sounds ridiculous because our ‘western education’ system says ‘dinosaurs’ are extinct.
    Coming back to the mermaid issue. I think its a real possibility they exist. Many cultures speak of them.
    This does not mean i believe in every report blindly.

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