Brazil: Iara

Informant: The myth of Iara is known throughout most of Brazil. I have been hearing it since I was a child because they used to teach it at school. I think it originated from Tupi mythology. The word Iara literally means “lady of the lake” and the myth tells the story of a beautiful mermaid with green hair and brown skin. According to the story, she would sit on a rock and brush her hair. When any men came by, she would start singing as a way to lure them into the water. The man would instantly fall in love with her and leave his life behind to go live with her underwater, where she would take care of him. The reason why she’s able to have so many lovers is because she’s supposedly immortal, so every time one of the men would die she would replace him with another. It was very common to hear this myth in school. All of my friends were familiar with it so I grew up listening to this myth. 


This myth is very similar to most mermaid mythology. It reminded me a lot about the sirens from Greek mythology with the exception that Iara does not kill her lovers but instead takes care of them. Tupi mythology is part of the Guaraní people, who live in the south-central part of South America. Therefore, this myth is definitely regional which would explain why the informant heard and learned it through school.

The fact that Iara does not kill her lovers but instead takes care of them until they die is extremely interesting. This might be Iara’s way to deal with loneliness. She finds someone to love and once they are gone she replaces them. At the end of the day, this myth is one about love and its approach to love is unique despite the common trope it contains, such as the image of the mermaid. It basically states that companionship is an inherent part of love and life. Iara keeps on luring the men because it makes her happy to have someone and provides respite from her immortality and lonely life. This brings another interesting point; it showcases immortality as a curse rather than a blessing. It is because Iara is immortal that she feels the need to keep on luring men. Hence, immortality is equated with loneliness. Such undercurrents to the myth are an important aspect of Brazilian culture, which explains why Iara is such a popular piece of folklore in this region.