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Term of The Week: Yemaya (+)

Author: Tafari, Wednesday, April 4th, 2007 at 4:31 AM Mindspill

Angeliqué Kidjo (one of my favorite Diasporic singers) has a wonderful tribute song to “Iemanja”, which is a very calming but powerful song.

Because I do not speak or understand Portuguese, I really have no clue what the Angeliqué is saying but I always sing along blindly. Thanks to the internet, I now know that “Iemanja” is about the goddess of the sea (Iemanja), asking her to join her African children in Brazil for a party & also asking her to bring wisdom, love & peace.

Again thanks to the internet, I was able to find out that Iemanja was a riverine Orixá in Africa, but became associated with the Sea after the "Middle Passage". Iemanja is also the ultimate mother figure and the "national" Orixa of Brazil.

According to the legends, Iemanja is the mother of most of the Orixá. Her best known son is Xango, The King, and there are many stories about how the children came to be, and Xango's relationship with his father, Aganju (The Old King).

Bring this home: Last year at a conference I had the chance to hear Dr. Joyce E. King speak (she is a HOT speaker; catch her if you can). Doing her address, she talked of Yemaya who through the years from Africa to America became Jemima.

She told us that Jemima is not just a name, it’s a title & slaves looked to Jemima with respect as she was somewhat of a community leader & a go to person.

Before Dr. Kings Address, I had never heard of this Diva Yemaya & I only thought about Jemima when it was time to eat pancakes (a little ghetto, yes I know). Mindspill

So today while surfing Wikipedia, I discovered that Yamaya & Iemanja are one in the same. According to Wikipedia – Yemaya (Yemoja) is a mother goddess; patron deity of women, especially pregnant women; and the Ogun river (the waters of which are said to cure infertility).

Her parents are Oduduwa and Obatala. She had one son, Orungan, who raped her successfully one time and attempted a second time; she exploded instead, and fifteen Orishas came forth from her. They include Ogun, Olokun, Shopona and Shango.
Diaspora Tales:

When the Yorubans were transported on slave ships to the Americas from West Africa, they first encountered the great expanse of the unfathomable ocean. Away from their homeland rivers, lakes, lagoons and beaches where they called upon their Mother Yemanja, the Yoruban slaves recognised the ocean as their Mother as far as the eye could see. With the prospect of a life of slavery and with no chance to ever escape back to their homeland again, many of the Yorubans chose to throw themselves overboard to surrender to their Mothers' embrace. One of Yemanja's many aspects is Afodo who rescues slaves.

In the Yoruban tales, she is forever pleading with Ogun and Shango not to make slaves of the enemy in their war with neighbouring Dahomey. She also deals with the safe passage of ships and boats at sea. It could be that Yemanja Afodo was so dismayed at the miserable plight of her children aboard the slave ships that she claimed them back. It was natural that Yoruban slaves should want to surrender themselves to their Mother Yemanja by hurling themselves off the slave ships, as surrender is instinctive in all of her children. In this way they show her their trust in her, in the surety that their Mother will carry them to a safe harbour. (Source | Ted Diprose)

In Haitian Vodou She is worshipped as a Moon-goddess, and is believed to protect mothers and their children. She is associated with the mermaid-spirits of Lasirenn (Herself a form of Erzulie) who brings seduction and wealth, and Labalenn, Her sister the whale. (Source | Blue Roe Buck)

Who says there are no African tales?
Name Variations:

Imanja, Imanjá
Jemanja, Yemanja
Yemalla, Yemana
Yemaya, Yemayah, Iemanya
Yemoja, Ymoja
La Sirène, LaSiren (in Voodoo)
Mami Wata
Nana Buluku
Iemanja Nana Borocum, Iemanja Bomi, Iemanja Boci, Nanã

18 Responses to “Term of The Week: Yemaya (+)”

  1. African American Political Pundit Says:

    Check out the decision by the owners of Uncle Ben’s Rice to make him Chairman of the Board. Whatever! Check out the post on AA

  2. Bygbaby Says:

    You know I already did, I try not to miss a day without my AA(B)O. The whole thing is a hot mess! Next Jemima will be a WNBA all star or the next Condi Rice.

    Talk about the iconic Magic Negro (I am running this term in the ground LOL).


  3. Keith Says:

    Really enjoyed this post, man. Very, very educational. Thanks.

  4. Stephen Bess Says:

    Great post! Interesting, I know a woman named Jemima from Ghana. By the way, I did a related post on Uncle Ben:

  5. my left wisdom is smarting Says:

    wow! you know, I had this idea for a series of goddes related art a while back (let’s just say i’m still working on it) and i drew a my interpretation of her on
    deviant art

    lol, a mermaid with a fro.

  6. my left wisdom is smarting Says:

    anywhoo, i was touched.

  7. Lester Says:

    Lorenz Tate refers to yemaya in one of the poems he performs in Love Jones.

    I’ve often thought that given the way that European myths are used to fuel a whole bunch of contemporary stories, that it wouldn’t take much for us to do the same.

  8. Bygbaby Says:

    Keith – Thanks, makes me feel like my time spent was worth it. It is important that we learn from one another!

    Stephen – Your Uncle Ben’s piece is a good tidbit also. You know one funny thing about Europeans is that they are & were quick to say that we are/were uncivilized & had no skill but knew exactly how to profit on skills that we practiced in Africa throughout time.

    As a side note, I have never had Uncle Ben’s Rice.

    My Left Wisdom is Smarting – Just looked at your piece & it is BEAUTIFUL!!! You are a true artist. Keep me posted when you start/complete more in intriguing your series. BTW Your drawing is more than a mermaid with a fro. It’s Yemaya as a empowered diva soul star.

    Lester – My thoughts exactly! Starting with Yemaya, the little mermaid can be totally redone. LOL

    I need to revisit Love Jones, I Have not seen it in years, sounds like a good Easter weekend flick.


  9. Cluizel Says:

    Really? Never had Uncle Ben’s? Wow

    Good Post…wow…looks like I have more blogs I need to start reading.

  10. Darius T. Williams Says:

    Just proves the reason why I love coming to your blog. You’re my blog mentor! I learn so much from you. Also, I didn’t realize that you’re on my friends list on myspace (dariustwilliams)

  11. Lola Gets Says:

    Wow! This post was very informative! I had no idea that goddess even existed, OR had a connection to a Black American icon(?). Great blog.

  12. Bygbaby Says:

    Cluziel – Shit I read so many blogs, it’s ridiculous! I am up to reading 15 steadily a day plus my every now & then haunts. Blogging is a great escape for me.

    Darius – Brotha I try. I was on myspace & ran across your name & became “your friend”.

    Thx Lola & I appreciate you checking out the Mindspill.

    One reason I love blogging is because you can learn so much & from many perspectives with a specific focus on the Afrosphere.


  13. brunsli Says:

    The Afrosphere?? I love it!!

  14. Bygbaby Says:

    Afrospehere was coined by my blog buddy Asabagna. I think I may cover it next week, I have topics in queue now, what a 1st.

  15. Ensayn1 Says:

    This is true fire. I am so glad to see you put this know-ledge out my brotha! We need this to be out now we are not in the time for our deep healing. We have to teach our children that they are YeMaya, Erzulie Dantor (since we are at war) BTW, I have that Angelique Kidjo CD Black Ivory Soul along with others. Check out Manu Dibango’s WakAfrika if you don’t have it already.

  16. Bygbaby Says:

    Wazz Up Ensayn! OK, I just looked up Erzulie Dantor & thanks; another good tidbit.

    Also thanks for putting my up on Manu Dibango I am on the way to check this out now.


  17. Ensayn1 Says:

    For Real homey!

    Check me out at and you can catch me on internet radio on Thursdays 7-10pm Est or fa sho Cpt…

  18. Funmike Says:

    Iyemanja is not Portugese…it is Yoruba. Angelique Kidjo is not from Brazil but from the Benin Republic where there are still a large number of Yoruba/Orisha worshiping people who reside there.

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