The beginnings of life lie in the water. Just as the first living beings emerged from the oceans millions of years ago, until today our human lives start surrounded and protected by water—or rather amniotic fluid. Both motifs are united in Yemaja, also known as Yemonja, a deity associated with rivers and oceans as well as motherhood and childbirth. Her origins lie in Nigeria where she is worshiped by the Yoruba as the goddess of the Ogun River and is the metaphysical mother of all orishas. In Yoruba mythology, she was charged with the formation of humans when Earth was created. The literal meaning of her name in the Yoruba language is “mother whose children are the fish”. She represents water and fertility and protects fishers, sailors, and others whose life is connected to the water. Yemaja crossed the Atlantic ocean, traveling with thousands of displaced Africans in transatlantic slave trade. She then became part of the new Yoruba diaspora religions Candomblé and Santería that formed in Brazil and Cuba. Her nature is as fluid as the water itself: she is venerated for being protective, healing, and life-giving but also feared for being fierce and destructive. In the current discourse of cultural studies, she is also placed in the context of hybridity and fluidity of the diaspora cultures; gender studies on the other hand explore motifs in Yemaja traditions that are associated with sexuality and gender as transformative and fluid modes of being and doing.The drawing was originally created as an illustration for the short story “The Fisherman”, written by Brazilian author Veronica Stigger.
Sources: Canson, Patricia E., “Yemonja”, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2022, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Yemonja. Accessed 24 October 2022.
Otero, Solimar and Toyin Falola, Yemoja: Gender, Sexuality, and Creativity in the Latina/o and Afro-Atlantic Diasporas, New York 2013.