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Mami Wada. The image of Mami Wada (mother water) is found throughout West & Central Africa. Snake, divination, female deity. Ken Brown Postcard.

Mami Wada. The image of Mami Wada (mother water) is found throughout West

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The image of Mami Wada (mother water) is found throughout West & Central Africa. In some areas she is also a religious cult. In African popular culture she represents power & wealth. Ken Brown Collection Postcard, 1993.

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Mami Wata is a pantheon of water spirits or deities, venerated in West, Central, and Southern Africa, and in the African diaspora in the Caribbean and parts of North and South America. Mami Wata spirits are usually female, but are sometimes male.

Some initiates and devotees have reported to anthropologists that Mami Wata is usually described in excesses. She possesses an inhuman beauty, unnaturally long hair, and a lighter-than-normal complexion. Some report that her hair texture ranges from straight, curly to kinky, and either black or blonde, and combed straight back. Her lustrous eyes gaze enticingly, which only enhances her ethereal beauty.

In more ancient text Mami Wata is often described as a mermaid-like figure, with a woman's upper body (often nude), and the hindquarters of a fish or serpent. In other tales, Mami Wata is fully humanoid (though never human). During anthropologist, Misty Bastian, (1987-88) field research in Nigeria on the Onitsha Market System, it was reported to her that Mami Wata is female, and that she flaunts her unimaginable wealth with jewelry that blinds those who view it. Bastian also believes that in both mermaid and humanoid form, Mami Wata often carries enormously expensive baubles such as combs, mirrors, and watches. A large snake (symbol of divination and divinity in many African cultures) frequently accompanies her, wrapping itself around her and laying its head between her breasts.

The Mami Wata deities are closely associated with water. Traditions on both sides of the Atlantic tell of the spirit abducting her followers or random people whilst they are swimming or boating. She brings them to her paradisiacal realm, which may be underwater, in the spirit world, or both. The captives' release often hinges on some sort of demand, ranging from sexual fidelity to the spirit to something as simple as a promise that they do not eat fish. Should she allow them to leave, the travellers usually return in dry clothing and with a new spiritual understanding reflected in their gaze. These returnees often grow wealthier, more attractive, and more easygoing after the encounter.

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