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CEASG - what's in a name..

Date:16 December 2014
Author:Tjalling Halbertsma

Launched in september 2013, the Centre for East Asian Studies Groningen abbreviates as CEASG. The G, for "Groningen" of course, was added to distinguish the centre from the many CEAS's already established at universities around the world.

But then, online searches for CEASG may result in some unexpected finds. A ceasg, according to the much consulted but less referenced wikipedia, also is:

"a mermaid in Scottish mythology, a supernatural half-woman and half-grilse (salmon). It is also known in Scottish Gaelic as maighdean na tuinne ("maid of the wave") or maighdean mhara ("maid of the sea").The ceasg is said to be able to grant three wishes to anyone that captures her."

I like the "half woman, half salmon" description best, but search results for imagery are even better. Among the many rather tacky airbrushed images one finds a fascinating image of a creature, presented as the taxonomic 'type specimen' for ceasg-mermaid:

"In the summer of 1842, news broke in New York City of what many believed was conclusive proof of the existence of mermaids. Doubters and believers alike crowded to Broadway’s Concert Hall to view a curiosity brought from the Fiji Islands by one Dr. J. Griffin, a member of the British Lyceum of Natural History. Griffin’s dried specimen appeared to have the tail of a fish and the shriveled head and torso of a monkey—which, it turns out, was exactly what it was. There has never been a British Lyceum of Natural History, and “Dr. Griffin” was in league the whole time with showman P.T. Barnum, whose American Museum of oddities housed the Fiji Mermaid for nearly 20 years of ticket sales after its run on Broadway. A media frenzy in the newspapers of the time included images of voluptuous, bare-breasted sirens that remained in the popular imagination even after Barnum’s hoax was discovered. The whereabouts of the original critter (probably made by a Japanese fisherman around 1810) are unknown, but a similar stitched-together creation rests in Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology."

Good stuff of course, and touching upon the wonderful territory of cryptozoology ("the study of hidden creatures") and the ongoing search for creatures rumored to exist but never really found.

I have enjoyed writing about some of these searches and creatures, including the so called Almas, Wild man (or rather woman) of Mongolia, and look forward to an exhibition on this subject matter (though I remember interviewing a biologist who did not want to be associated with cryptozoology -or in this case yeti's- due to its liability for his academic career).

In any case, in Groningen our East Asian studies institute remains CEASG. For now. But it does mean that among the many images of wondrous mermaids selected by your search engine, you now also find CEASG's posters and headshots of speakers at the Centre.

Tjalling Halbertsma is Director International of CEASG and author of a book, various travelogues and documentaries on cryptozoology in Mongolia, including:

  • Mongolia’s "Homo sapiens Almas": a tale of two skulls, two hairs and two reconstructions, Kraken, 2, 2009, p. 41-57;
  • Yeti Jagers: Het verborgen onderzoek naar de Wilde Mens , Hollandia, Haarlem, 2008. As featured in DWDD;
  • Homo Sapiens Almas, een kleine zoektocht met Redmond O'Hanlon naar de Wilde mens van West Mongolië , Boudewijn Buch en geen einde, 2012. Based on the VPRO documentary "O'Hanlons Heroes".