The power of the manatee

by Edem Archibong Eniang

Heroes (Issue II/2018)

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A manatee. Illustration: racto/iStockphoto


The African manatee or manatee is one of the most misunderstood mammals in Nigeria. Creepy stories and songs circulate about what are actually the gentle giants of the waters. Creepy stories and songs circulate about what are actually the gentle giants of the waters. Among the rumours, people attribute mystical powers to them. "Mama Wasser", or mermaids with voluminous breasts, are said to tickle swimmers' armpits with their nipples until they drown with laughter. In some villages, women are forbidden to look into the face of a manatee and the animals' heads are even covered during slaughter. These stories mean that strong powers are attributed to the manatee's body parts, which are coveted hunting booty.

Medicine men grind the bones into powder to care for wounds. They also buy the contents of the animals intestines from hunters and use it to create healing potions or enemas. Dried and burned, the manure is said to help ward off nightmares. The penis, a supposed aphrodisiac, commands a high price, while the skin is eaten to cure pneumonia or asthma. The ear and jaw bones (which are each sold for 20,000 naira, or 45 euros) are used to make magic amulets. Fortunately, there are also areas, such as the Niger Delta, where manatees are considered sacred. If you hunt an animal there, you have to smuggle it elsewhere before you sell it. 



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