Jengu, a brief look at mythology from Cameroon

First order of business: I’ve got a cover to share with all of you! Take a look at the cover for Legendary!


I’m insanely proud of this. First of all, I took the original photograph of Intihuatana at Machu Picchu. Going on that trip was a great life decision. Put it on your bucket list. Second of all, I created the cover myself in Photoshop. Remember: Legendary is coming out on September 24th.

One character in the story is Jengu, a Cameroonian river goddess. She’s a young girl, thirteen or fourteen (or the immortal equivalent anyway), and she follows Inti, god of the sun, on his quest to find Killa, the kidnapped moon goddess. She’s very much a tag-a-long kid, but she’s still good company and very useful when it comes to coaxing information out of stuffy old mountain gods. She was a lot of fun to write, and one of my favorite characters. That is enough for the second of of my mythology essays to focus on her.

Cameroon mythology says jengu are beautiful mermaid like creatures, with long hair. They are worshipped by the Sawa ethnic groups, and live in rivers and the ocean. Girls who belong to the cult of jengu wear raffia fronds, among other religious observances, when they are being indoctrinated. It’s considered a rite of passage and an entryway to adulthood.

Worship of the jengu was led by a man given the title of ekale. Back in the day this guy would wear a mask, but that died out around the time missionaries showed up. In modern times, rituals inducting the girls into the religion vary from seizures and speaking in secret languages, to disappearing into the bush for several months. However, the process usually ends with the girls being bathed in the stream by a traditional healer.

A lot of the worship surrounding the jengu is focused on healing and medical treatment. The descriptions of the medical treatments practiced by the healers are questionable at best, and disturbing at worst. You can google it yourself. More appealing to delicate western sensitivities (such as mine) is the annual celebration in Douala, Cameroon’s largest city. Gifts are sacrificed to water spirits. The gift is handed to a congregation member (I think it’s a member of the congregation anyway. I couldn’t find anything that said the ekale or the girls being inducted as new members are responsible for this part of the ceremony) who dives down into the sea. He stays under the waves for as long as possible, only returning when he has a message from the jengu concerning the upcoming year.

Personally, I’ve always loved mermaids and after a lifetime of believing the stories of fish-human hybrids originated in Assyria before swimming (hah) to Europe, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the whole world had mermaid myths. How cool is it that we all decided that fish and humans should be merged together in one glorious creation that sometimes heals us, sometimes pulls us down to a soggy demise? Very cool. I’m on the lookout for other cultures’ depictions of sea-folk. Anybody who knows of any non-European mermaid depictions is welcome to share them in the comments!

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