Mami Wata #folklore

Just as with other African fae, there’s not a lot of folklore texts available about this queen of the water fae.


Drums and Shadows, by Georgia Writer’s Project, [1940], APPENDIX

Cardinall says of the Gold Coast: “Spirits of rivers and waterholes are greatly respected. They are most powerful spirits, too. They can slay men and they can bring much good fortune. To them are brought many sacrifices of fowls and goats, etc. It is said that these spirits live below the river-bed.”
The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, p. 34.

Melville and Frances Herskovits say of the Paramaribo Negro: “A fourth group of winti are those which are associated with the river. This group, as all others, overlap the Snake gods, since the constrictor lives in the water as well as on land. However, there are other gods, among them the kaimą, which are peculiar to the rivers alone. The river-gods are headed by the Liba-Mama, or Watra-Mama, respectively Mother of the River, or Mother of the Water, who, again, is not referred to by name. Among the Saramacca tribe of Bush-Negroes, the river-gods go under the generic name of Tone, and this name, like the name from the interior for the gods in general, is also sometimes employed in Paramaribo.”
Suriname Folk-Lore, pp. 64-65.


Mr. Banbury further speaks of the Jamaica “Rubba Mumma” or River Mother which is known in Haiti as Mère de l’eau, and in Surinam as Water Mama. Thus he says: “This superstition most likely took its rise from the story of the mermaid or water nymph of England; she is believed to inhabit every fountain-head of an inexhaustible and considerable stream of water in Jamaica. For this reason the sources of such streams were worshipped, and sacrifices offered to the ‘Rubba Missis.’ It is a well-known fact that the slaves on water-works used to persuade their overseers or masters, to sacrifice an ox at the fountain-head of the water turning the mill in times of much drought, in order to propitiate the mistress of the river, that she may cause rain and give an adequate supply of water to turn the mill. It is said a bullock was yearly killed on some of the sugar estates at such places for this purpose.”

Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper

A water spirit from Jamaican folk tradition who lives in the depths of rivers. The fish are her children. She emerges from the waters from time to time and sits on a rock to comb her long, black hair, but do not meet her eyes or even glance at her, for it is said that misfortune will befall all those who make contact with the River Mumma.

*Read more in the book.

The Mythical Creatures Bible: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Mythical Creatures by Brenda Rosen

In the oldest versions of her mythology, Mami Wata is a Mermaid with the upper body of a woman and the lower body of a fish or reptile. When she appears as a human woman, she is elegant and exceptionally beautiful, with brilliant eyes, a lighter than normal complexion, attractive clothes in the latest fashion, and abundance of shiny jewelry, and excessively long hair that she is fond of brushing back with a golden comb

She is often accompanied by a large snake which is a symbol of psychic power and divinity in many African cultures.

Legends about Mami Wata tell of how she may kidnap swimmers and take them to her underwater realm, releasing them when they promise fidelity to her cult. She is also believed to gift her followers with material wealth and spiritual accomplishments.

*Read more in the book.

Further Reading:

Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel

Mami Wata or La Sirene is a water spirit venerated in West, Central, and Southern Africa, as well as all the places African slaves were sent to in the Atlantic islands and southern North America (known as the African Diaspora).

Mami Wata has been depicted as a classical mermaid, combing her hair while sitting on the rocks of a river, waiting for her prey, and as a beautiful snake charmer. In either incarnation, she seeks one thing: devotion. She is usually seen with long, healthy hair, enviable beauty and a dark, appealing mysteriousness. She also appears to be the same ethnicity as the women in the area she is in.

She can even turn into a tornado – though that seems to be an aspect of another water spirit amalgamated, as so many others, under the umbrella of “Mami Wata”. Which seems to be confirmed by one of her high priests in West Africa when he says that “the Mami Wata tradition consists of a huge pantheon of deities and spirits, not just the often portrayed mermaid”. Not that anyone outside the priesthood is supposed to know anything more…

Mami Wata can grant her devotees wealth, wisdom, healing, divinatory powers, fame, and beauty. She can also just as easily take it away. She’s been known to cause disease and natural disasters when displeased. Her followers dance in her honour, usually going into a trance state where they commune with her. They also leave her offerings of jewellery and sweet smelling soaps at the many shrines devoted to her. More often than not, Mami Wata prefers to interact with her followers in a one-on-one situation, sometimes taking them to her underwater palace – this is especially true of her male devotees. She usually demands sexual fidelity from her male devotees in exchange for the riches they seek – failure to comply results in ruin.

The mirror, one of her symbols, is how she communicates with her followers. It also represents movement between the present and the future: her devotees can see themselves not as they are, but as they will be in the future Mami Wata will create for them.

The snake, another one of her symbols, represents both divinity and the art of divination.

Mami Wata has a very special role: to protect the bodies of water. Many traditional groups will not go to the beach or fish on special days to honour her home.

No matter what you think she looks like, she is a water goddess to be loved and feared in equal measure.

Mami Wata in Modern Culture

I found a couple of feature films.

I found a couple of books.

I’ve added this book to my TBR:

Mami Wata in My Writing

Origin of the Fae: Mami Wata

She’s the Queen of the Water Fae. She can appear as a mermaid or a human – she can breathe air or water in either form.
She’s a renowned figure of African Folklore, and stories of her went with African slaves to their new homes in the Atlantic islands and southern North America. Mortals cry out to her for justice and guidance – which she supplies at a price: devotion. The power of mortal belief fuels her glamour (magical powers).
Mami Wata is a beautiful Black woman who is usually associated with snakes, mirrors and jewellery. If one wanted to contact her, thinking about her while staring at any of these objects will usually call her to you.
The Jengu do whatever she wishes. They are extremely loyal to her. All water fae show fealty to her, but she is only their ruler through might.
As with all mermaids, she is shrouded in mysticism, attractiveness and, of course, vengeance. Her magical powers rival (and can surpass) that of any High Fae.
She is the biggest opposition to the Obayifo (as they destroy all life and the basis of her powers lie within human life).
She has an underwater palace, though none who have gone there have any recollection of its location or what it looks like, just a feeling of opulence.

See this faery in action:

Water Fae (Origin of the Fae #4)

Where did you hear about Mami Wata for the first time? Any stories about her you’d like to share? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to this African water faery.

You can listen to this post on my podcast:

You can now support my time in producing folklore posts (researching, writing and everything else involved) by buying me a coffee. This can be a once-off thing, or you can buy me coffee again in the future at your discretion.

Want a taste of my writing? Sign up to my newsletter and get your free copy of Unseen, Faery Tales #2.

Success! You're on the list.
image credit

No-one writes about the fae like Ronel Janse van Vuuren.

1 thought on “Mami Wata #folklore”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *