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Palden Lhamo of Buddhism Kakia of Greece
Mami Wata of Africa - Strange Deities
1992    Dibyendu Banerjee    23/12/2020

Resembling many other old mermaid deities, the half-fish half-human female Mami Wata, the water spirit, capable of transferring her form at any time, and representing a balance between dark, divine, mysterious, and angelic existence, was highly respected, feared, and worshipped in Africa from time unknown. Her name is referred to in the Dogon’s creation myth and traces records of her existence more than 400 years ago. In the Mesopotamian mythical story of creation, the great water goddess Mami Aruru is named as the creator of life. Found in many African folk and mythical stories, the legend of Mami Wata ultimately made its way to the Americas, especially in the Caribbean and South American countries like Brazil, during the Atlantic slave trade.

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Although it is often argued that the name Mami Wata is derived from the English term Mother Water, reflecting the title of the goddess as the mother of water, the name can be found in many early African languages. The word ‘mama’ was used in the Ethiopian Coptic language as a description of truth and wisdom, while the term ‘uat-ur’ stands for ocean water. Among the Swahili speaking groups in some parts of Eastern Africa, she is called Mamba Munti. Apart from that, in the early Sudanese society the word ‘wata’ was used to mean a woman.

mami wata of africa

Mami Wata was attributed with diverse qualities, such as wealth and destruction, disease and healing, good and evil. She is the goddess of fertility, and has a soft spot for abused women. She heals the sick and brings good luck to the people who badly need it, and is also said to be a provider of wealth and riches to her worshippers. However, it is also said that sometimes she lures people underwater to their death, though some of them come back as her medium with special powers. She is immensely powerful and deadly dangerous, pleasant but sexual, and able to destroy any hindrance on her path that tries to obstruct her on the way to success.

It is said that she captures men to satisfy her sexual urge. According to Nigerian traditional tales, often after sexual intimacy, she reveals her identity and forces the man to swear faithfulness to her or to die after sufferings from poverty, disease, or loss of family members. She is also known for her bad temper and jealousy. As she is the protector of the water bodies, even today, many traditional groups in Africa do not go to the beach or venture to catch fish on certain specific days to provide peace to the home of the water deity.

mami wata of africa

Although most Africans have kinky hair, Mami Wata is portrayed as a long-haired beautiful mermaid, with exposed human-female breasts in the upper part of her body, adorned with shining jewelry, with coiled snakes around her waist, between her exposed breasts, and head. Sometimes she is seen carrying a small mirror to admire her beauty or combing her long hair while looking at her reflection in the golden mirror.

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During her worship, her devotees across Africa and some parts of the Western worlds, especially in the Caribbean and South America, dress in her traditional colours of red and white, offer her expensive items and food and celebrate the rituals of dancing, accompanied by musical instruments such as African guitars or harmonicas, which take them in a state of trance. It is believed that during that time, sometimes Mami Wata can possess any of the participants and speaks through him or her, blessing them healthy, wealthy, and fertile life.

Even today, an entire hierarchy of the Mami Wata priesthood exists in the coastal region of Benin, Ghana, and Togo, to officiate the ceremonies, maintain the shrines, conduct healing rituals, and initiate new priests and priestesses into the service of the deity.

mami wata of africa
Palden Lhamo of Buddhism Kakia of Greece
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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