Yemoja: Tracing Diaspora in the Water

Water Carry Me Go, the fashion-art exhibit curated by SUPAFRIK Creative Director Chinedu Ukabam, is right around the corner. The exhibit will feature seven afro-diasporic artists from around the world who have created exclusive pieces for the show centred on the theme of-you guessed it-water. Throughout history water has been a site of transience and of displacement. But it has also transported the stories and shared culture of the Diaspora so it is only right that water be personified and brought to life by Yemoja. 

Yemoja, whose name is a contraction of the Yoruba words “Yey omo eja”: Mother whose children are the fish, originates from the Yoruba constellation of orishas. She is the orisha of fertility, and offers women protection. Yemoja birthed the fourteen Yoruba orishas and when her water broke, out flowed the seven seas.  Yemoja rules the dreamspace, and is the keeper of deep secrets.  Yemoja is known to be both compassionate and merciful. But her rage is like the storms of sea: swift and deadly. Often seen as a mermaid (sometimes two-tailed), or a woman emerging from the water. Her colours reflect the sea and the moon. 

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As Africans were taken from the west coast of the continent and scattered throughout the Caribbean, and the Americas, Yemoja persisted in the oral tradition of the diaspora. Versions of West African myths of Mami Wata can be found wherever Africans went, and as language and space commingled Yemoja became Yemaya, Yemajá, Iamanje and others.

She appears as the Mother of all Orishas again in the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé and the Afro-Cuban religion Santería. But as the religious practices of Afro-Brazilians and Afro-Cubans was often identified as voodoo, they began to syncretize elements of their practices with those of the Catholic church. As a result Yemonja in Brazil became Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes: Our lady of  Seafaring,  and Yemaya in Cuba was associated with La Virgen de Regla: The Virgin Regla. Today, you can find images of Yemoja scattered throughout  popular culture (take a closer look at your Starbucks coffee logo the next time you grab a coffee).

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Tributes to her have been made in the music of Celia Cruz and Hector Lavoe and more recently the Ghanian hip hop artist and visual artist Blitz the Ambassador who released the third installment of his Diasporadical Trilogia on January 15th. The video pays homage to the Bahian celebrations of the Mother of the Sea that happen every year in the first week of February. Check it out below!

 Water Carry Me Go is launching at the Royal Ontario Museum on February 5 as part of Friday Night Live and then running as a permanent installation at the Harbourfront Centre from February 6-12. 

Tickets to Friday Night Live at the Royal Ontario Museum are available here. Entry into the Harbourfront is free.

By: Oyin Olalekan

 

 

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