Mami Wata, The Mother Of Water

This past week, we were tortured with a poweful heatwave, with temperatures ranging from 38 – 45 Degrees Celcius. I found myself wishing I was a mermaid, who lived in the deep, cold waters of the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean. During my mermaid daydream, I found myself thinking about Mami Wata, one of the most popular mermaids in African Mythology.



Mami Wata is the Goddess of water, beauty, wealth and healing, who presides over the oceans and seas of the African continent. She is the ultimate water spirit, that’s why she’s called Mother Water. She is beautiful, powerful, mysterious, dangerous, protective, nurturing and sensual. She is the embodiment of danger and desires, risks and challenges, dreams and aspirations, fears and forebodings. She is worshipped and venerated in almost every African country, especially West African countries. She is often depicted as a mermaid, or a snake charmer. I prefer her as a mermaid, because snakes scare me. In her hands, she carries mirrors, combs and jewelry. Her colours are red and white, and some of her devotees can be found wearing these colours. Red symbolizes death, destruction, heat, masculinity and power. White symbolizes beauty, creation, femininiity, new life and spirituality. She represents endless possibilities, which might explain why I thought it was possible for me to become a mermaid during the heatwave. 🙂

Mermaid with an Afro.

Mermaid with an Afro.

According to some renowned scholars, the name “Mami Wata” was originally formulated in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and is derived from a composite of two African words, “Mami,” and “Wata.” Both words are rooted in the ancient Egyptian and Ethiopian (Coptic), Galla and Demotic languages. “Mami” is derived from “Ma” or ”Mama,” meaning “truth/wisdom,” and “Wata” is a corruption of the ancient Egyptian word “Uati,” (or “Uat-ur” meaning ocean water), and the Khoisan “Ouata” meaning “water.” Further, we discover from Mesopotamian myths that the first great water goddess in the story of the Creation Flood was known as “Mami,” (Mami Aruru) as she was known in ancient Babylonian prayers as being the creator of human life (Dalley 2000, p. 51-16, Stone 1976, p. 7,219).

Emerald Mermaid by Pamelina's Studio

Emerald Mermaid by Pamelina’s Studio

Mermaids are not a recent phenomena in African history. For example, according to the Dogon’s creation myth, they attribute the creation of the world to mermaid/mermen like creatures whom they call Nommos. They claimed to have known about the existence of these mermaid-like divinities for more than 4000 years. Also according to Dogon mythology, the ancient home of these reptilian (half-woman/half-men/fish) pantheon of water spirits is believed to be Sirius (or Sopdet, Sothis), more popularly known as the “Dog Star” of Isis. When asked where their ancestors obtained these stories of mermaids and mermen, they quickly point to ancient Egypt (Griaule, 1997, Winters 1985, p. 50-64, Temple 1999, p.303-304).

African Dreadlocked Mermaid Sculpture by Holger Zscheyge

African Dreadlocked Mermaid Sculpture by Holger Zscheyge

Mermaid/mermen “nymphs” worshiped as goddesses and gods born from the sea are numerous in ancient African cultures, history and spiritual mythology. Most were honored and respected as being “bringers of divine law” and for establishing the theological, moral, social, political, economic and, cultural foundation, to regulating the overflow of the Nile, and regulating the ecology i.e., establishing days for success at sailing and fishing, hunting, planting etc., to punishment by devastating floods when laws and taboos were violated. However, not all mermaids/mermen were considered “good.” In one story, the famed London, Naturalists Henry Lee (1883) recounts that “in the sea of Angola, mermaids are frequently caught which resemble the human species. They are taken in nets, and killed . . . and are heard to shriek and cry like women. (p. 22).”

I love these mermaid myths. They are very intriguing.

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