Mami Wata is a legend that resonates widely throughout African folklore. It is significant not only in major costal African regions but also to the African diaspora. Loosely translated, Mami Wata means ‘mother water’. Though Mami Wata is the most common name of this legendary symbol, she is also referred to as Maame Wata, Mamba Muntu, and Mboze. Traces of the Mami Wata legend can be found in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leon, The Republic of Congo, South Africa, and Zambia. In parts of the African diaspora such as the Caribbean and South America she is known as Watermama, River Mama, Madre de Agua, and La Sirene. Aside from being a symbol of legends, Mami Wata is also a deity worshiped in the ancient African Voudun religion that promotes prosperity and spiritual health.

In folklore, Mami Wata is a water spirit who usually appears as half woman and half fish or serpent. In some legends however; she appears fully human and functions in society as an average person. She is characterized by unusually striking and almost supernatural beautiful, with excessively long hair and a love for materialistic possessions. She has the ability to charm and entice humans. Mami Wata is often pictured grooming or admiring herself while surrounded by expensive objects in the company of her pet (usually a large python) and has an aura of sexuality and luxury about her. Because of this and her influence on African pop culture, attractive and fashionable women in West Africa are frequently referred to as Mami Wata. She represents fulfillment of desires, prosperity, spiritual and physical health, and affluence, which is the common thread in legends about her.

In African legends, Mami Wata is usually associated with health and fertility but like many other African deities her actions transcend the humanistic beliefs of ‘good and bad’ and she is the personifications of polar opposites. She has healing ability but demands loyalty and can contrarily cause affliction on those she heals. Though Mami Wata is Barren she provides infertile women with children. These children however, possess a spiritual nature and the women that call on her become afflicted with other problems. She can bring great prosperity and equally great misfortune. In most legends, people are lured to her by her beauty or song. She then transports them into her spiritual realm (which is usually underwater). If she finds them worthy of her attention they are returned to the surface with a renewed understanding of life, spirituality and wisdom. According to legend, people who have had encounters with Mami Wata gain prosperity, good looks, affluence, and charisma (qualities that are associated with Mami Wata). In other instances, she purposely tempts sailors and fishermen with luxury items. After the men take her possessions she then visits them in dreams demanding the return of her possessions in exchange for secret sexual relationships. These men gain fortune but are not able to maintain healthy romantic relationships afterwards.

Some regard the Mami Wata legend as just that, a legend, while others regard her as a loved and feared deity. Regardless of how she is viewed, she has greatly influenced African cultures as well as cultures that resulted from the diaspora. For an example, in Trinidad & Tobago, she is thought of as a guardian of nature who punishes over-zealous hunters and fishermen and in Jamaica she is the seductive siren who lures men into the depths of waters never to be seen again. Either way she symbolizes an interesting aspect of African culture and feminism.

-Joy Otibu

  • little Mama

    Mami Wata changed my life –