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Myths and Legends

The Legend of Mami Wata

Poster of Mami Wata printed in the 1880’s by the Adolf Friedlander Company in Hamburg

June 25th is the feast day of a powerful water goddess in African mythology. Her name is Mami Wata or Mamba Muntu in Swahili. Mami Wata means Mother Water. She is a water deity or mermaid. She is deeply rooted in the ancient traditions and culture of the coastal Southeastern Nigerians.

According to Nigerian tradition, Mami Wata is a fertility goddess and is associated with sex and seduction.

Like most mermaids, Mami Wata can seduce, bewitch, and intrigue humans. She is a beautiful creature, shrouded in mystery, yet beware, for Mami Wata is a vengeful mermaid and not one to be messed with.

There is a lot of symbolism of the items associated with Mami Wata and her followers would perform various ceremonies in her honor. The mirror represented the movement from the present to the future; her followers would create their own reality imagining themselves in the world of Mami Wata.

Mami Wata has many priests, priestesses, and mediums in Africa, America, and the Caribbean who worship her and praise her.

In Nigeria, her followers wear red and white clothing to represent Mami Wata’s dual nature. They wear regalia of a cloth snake wrapped around the waist. The shrines devoted to Mami Wata are finely decorated in various colors. They have bells, Christian or Indian symbols, dolls, incense, and remnants of past sacrifices made to Mami Wata.

Her followers use music to praise the goddess, using African guitars and other instruments, while dancing heavily. Mami Wata’s followers dance so intense, that they appear to be in almost like a trance-like state.

 

Sculpture of the African water deity Mami Wata. Nigeria (Igbo). 1950s

According to one legend, Mami Wata was very beautiful black woman with a voluptuous figure. She had long black hair, an entrancing gaze, a beautiful singing voice, and the lower half of her body was a tail or serpent. Like many other mermaids, Mami Wata enjoyed mirrors, jewelry, and intricate combs. Mami Wata is often depicted with by a large snake wrapped around her torso and it’s head on her breasts.

Mami Wata is known for abducting her followers or random people, while they are swimming or fishing. She takes them to her spiritual world and/or underwater. If her followers return back to the human world, their clothes are dry with a newfound understanding of the spiritual world.

In other legends, men or river travelers, discover Mami Wata by chance. She is grooming herself, by staring at herself in the mirror and combing her long hair. Once she notices the intruder in her territory, she flees, leaving her precious items behind. The traveler takes the items. She later returns in the travelers dreams, demanding that they return her things. If he returns her items, he must promise to fulfill her sexual faithful to her and will receive riches. If he doesn’t, than he will be plagued with bad luck and misfortune.

While the stories of Mami Wata vary, based on region vary, one thing is for certain, that the symbolism, meaning, and powers of Mami Wata have remained the same. She’s a powerful water goddess associated with fertility,  wealth, the water, all while yielding sexual prowess and strength. She’s a water goddess that should be respected and feared.

 

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