Who is Mami Wata? What is her story? How did she appear? Learn everything you wanted to know in this article!
Mami Wata (or Mammy Water) is honored in Central, West, and Southern Africa, also in some African diaspora in America. Different Mami Wata spirits are usually women, sometimes there are men.
Mami Wata. Appearance
The appearance of Mami hair ranges from straight or curly to kinky black and combed straight back. ‘Mami Wata’ is a phrase, where ‘Mami’ means the Pidgin English spelling of the word mammy (mother) and ‘Wata’ means the Pidgin English spelling of word water. So it is essentially some kind of a mermaid or humanistic water creature.
Mami Wata story. Mami Wata mythology
Mami Wata is often characterized as the mermaid-like creature, with the upper part of a woman's body (often naked) and tail of a fish or a snake. In other stories, Mami Wata looks completely like a human in appearance (but it’s not a human in deed). The existence and also the spiritual significance of Mami Wata have deep roots in ancient traditions and the coastal southeastern Nigerian mythology (Ibibio, Annang and Efik people). Mami Wata often has some expensive trinkets, such as mirrors, combs and watches. A huge snake (an ancient symbol of divinity and divination) often accompanies her. It’s wrapping itself around Mami and puts its head between the breasts. In other cases, it may appear as a complete human, wandering the busy markets or patronizing bars. It can also have a number of different forms, including a man. In the 20th century traders had some similar beliefs from Zambia, to as far as Senegal. As the tradition continues to resurface Mami Wata, native deities of water were attributed to it. For example Yoruba have their own Mami Wata, which is called Yemoja. Mami Wata in Ghana is Maame Water.
Mami Wata religion
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As there was the fluid and inclusive nature of different indigenous West Africa religious practices, Mami Wata has included the iconography and perspectives from Muslim, Hindu and European traditions, however, as well as modern urban lifestyle. The popularity of female water creature was increasing day-by-day, she got more and more followers
Mami Wata African water spirits
On both sides of the Atlantic some traditions tell stories about the spirits, which kidnap followers or simple people while they are boating or swimming. She brings these people to her paradisiacal kingdom, which is supposed to be under water, in some spiritual world, or even both. According to stories she let them go, the adventurers usually come back with dry clothes and a completely new spiritual understanding, which is reflected in their eyes. These people often become even richer, more engaging and more flexible after this ‘meeting’.
The other tales describe river travelers (usually men), who met the spirit by the accident. She keeps grooming her hair, combing it and looking at himself in the mirror. Noticing the uninvited guest, she dives into the water and leaves her property. Then the travelers usually take the priceless objects. Later Mami Wata often appears in thief’s dreams and demands to return her belongings. If he agrees, she also requires him to promise to be sexually faithful to her. This agreement provides the individual wealth. The refusal to return the property or to be a faithful man brings very bad fortune to a person.
Her adoration is as variant as her initiates, priesthood and worshippers, although some parallels may be drawn. Groups of tribe may congregate in her name, but the spirit is much more prostrate to interacting with followers on a one-on-one base. She thus has a lot of priests and also mediums in America, Africa and in the Caribbean. They are specifically born and initiated to them.
In Nigeria, devotees typically have on red and white as snow clothes, as these colors show that particular Mami’s dual phenomena. Igbo iconography, red means such things: the end of life, havoc, caloric, physicality, maleness and also faculty. In contrasting, white symbolizes end of life too, but also it can prefigure beauty, origination, femaleness, new life, immateriality, translucence, water and wealth. These ensigns of royalty may also include some clothing wrapped around the beautiful waste. The shrines of Mami Wata may also be well-decorated with these two colors and with some items such as: carvings, bells, Indian or Christian prints, dolls, incense, perfumes and also the remnants of the former victims are often decorate these places.
Close dancing, accompanied by dulcet instruments such as perfect African guitars or harmonicas, often creates the essence of Mami Wata adoration. The followers dance to the entry into a trance. At this point, Mami has Vata people and speaks to him or her. At this sharp end, Mami Wata possesses someone and they speak to him or her. The presents are very important for Mami Wata, so she prefers gifts the tasty dishes and drinks, for example, alcohol, aromatic objects (such as powder, incense, pomade and soap), and extremely expensive presents like jewelry. New followers usually leave her manufactured gifts, such as a Coca-Cola bottle or some designer jewels.
Nevertheless, Mami Wata wants her worshippers to be of good health and well off. However, usually people blame this spirit for all sorts of harm. In Cameroon, for example, every year Mami Wata is blamed to cause the big undertow that often kills many swimmers along the coast.
According to Bastian’s words, Mami Wata association, fidelity is somehow paradoxically related with sex and lust. According to old Nigerian tradition, the men- followers could face the spirit in the form of a sexually promiscuous, beautiful lady, such as a prostitute, for example. In Nigeria, there are very popular stories, when Mami Wata can tempt privileged male devotee and then she shows him the following coitus. After that Mami Wata demands his complete sexual fidelity and secrecy on the matter. The acceptance will bring wealth and good fortune; the rejection means the distraction of his family, finances and work.
Fertility and healing
Another important aspect of the deities of Mami Wata is their huge connection to healing. If someone has an incurable, languid disease, Mami Wata is often the one to take the blame. The disease is real evidence that Mami Wata took an interest in human suffering and that only she can cure him or her. Also there are several other diseases, which can be attributed to this water spirit. For example, in Nigeria she has to take the blame for almost everything: even from headaches and to fertility.
Also, the barren mothers often ask the spirit to cure their illness. Many traditions believe that she (Mami Wata) is barren herself, so if she gives the child to a woman, that woman is becoming increasingly distanced from the true nature of the spirit. Thus women will be less likely to become rich or attractive because of her devotion to Mami Wata. Different images of women with their children are often painted with shrines to spirit.
Other associations of Mami Wata
As some other deities are often absorbed into the character of Mami Wata, the spirit often has some unique characteristics according to a particular religion, territory or culture. For example, in Trinidad and Tobago Maman Dlo plays very important role. She guards the nature and punishes overzealous woodcutters or hunters. She has the lover; it is Papa Bois, one more nature spirit.
So let’s check up the names of Mami Wata, which people use in other regions:
Mawu-Lisu (sometimes Mami Wata)
Republic of the Congo
Mboze, Makanga, Kuitikuiti, Bunzi, Kambizi
Madre de agua (means ‘Mother of Water’) or Mohana
Democratic Republic of the Congo
La Sirène (means ‘The Mermaid’), Mamba Muntu, Madame Poisson (means ‘Mistress Fish’)
Maman Dlo, Maman de l'Eau (means ‘Mother of the Water’) and Mama Glo
Maman de l'Eau, Maman Dlo
NoMlambo Ndebele and Mamlambo Zulu
La Baleine, La Sirène
River Maiden, River Mama
Maman Dlo,Maman de l'Eau
Yemoja (in yoruba), Mmuommiri (in Igbo means Lady of the waters), Obanamen or Oba n'amen,
Trinidad and Tobago
Mama Dlo, Maman de l'Eau, Maman Dlo, Maman Dglo, Mama Glow
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