“Maame Water” (Mermaid)
In February 2012, there were rumours that a mermaid (Manatee or Sea Cow) which is known as “Maame Water” in the Ghanaian local parlance had been trapped and caught alive at Bui, where the Bui Hydro Electric Dam is currently under construction.
An eyewitness accounts claimed the strange mammal had a human head and very long whitish hair with two crawling forelimbs like a lizard and snakelike lower body as shown in the picture below.
However, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of Bui Power Authority, Gabriel Apatu, described the rumours as a fabrication since nothing of that nature had occurred in the river.
The CSIR Water Research Institute has an embalmed “Maame Water” (scientifically known as the Manatee) at its premises and wishes to clear the minds of Ghanaians as to what really is the “Maame Water” which was likely to have been seen in the Volta arm of the Bui Dam.
The Manatee or Sea Cow
The African manatee – Trichechus senegalensis belongs to a group of mammals known as the Sirenia, and it is represented by only one other genus, the dugong ( Halicore), which is a marine mammal occurring only in the Indo-Pacific region. There is only one other species of manatee, namely T. inunguis which occurs in Brazilian rivers.
In Ghana, they have been found in the Volta and Abbey-Tano rivers. In West Africa, the manatee occurs in rivers and estuaries, from 16°N to 10°S, as far inland as Lake Chad and up rivers for indefinite or unknown distances. It is more commonly found in the rivers themselves than in their estuaries, never in the open sea.
The manatee grows to a length of 1.8 m (6.0 ft) or more. The skin is thick, dark and grayish in colour with sparsely distributed hairs, especially in the young. It has only two limbs which are at the front and consist of paddle-like flippers, with a variable number of nails, usually three, but never more than four and occurring on digits II-V. The hind limbs are absent externally, but are represented within by pelvic bones and femoral vestiges. At the rear of its body there is a large horizontal and paddle-shaped tail. The female has a single pair of teats placed on its breast.
Photos of embalmed “Maame Water” (Manatee) at the premises of CSIR Water Research Institute (2012)
Manatees mature from 2 years of age and have gestation period of about 12 months. Typically a single calf is born with a calving interval of about 2.5-3 years. Manatees, when feeding their young, actually raise the upper part of their bodies out of water to suckle the young one in quite a human manner. For this reason the manatee is certainly the ‘mermaid’ referred to in the West African fishermen’s stories. They may live more than 70 years.
Manatees consume a wide variety of submerged, floating, emergent, shoreline and overhanging vegetation but also noted for eating benthic invertebrates and even fish. They can eat about 10% of their body weight in vegetation per day.
Economic and ecological importance
Manatees are edible; the flesh is light in colour and its flavor is compared to that of pork. They are hunted in various parts of the world because of the value of the oil they contain and also for their hides and bones. Ecologically, manatees recycle nutrients in the aquatic ecosystem and keep plants in a continual state of growth.