Now, you might have read that title and said to yourself, ummmm, who that woman be?
Bear with me. Ok.
So yesterday, Cathleen helped us usher in Women’s History Month with her post Mother is culture, and today I am here to usher out Black History Month by honoring the Orisha Mother of us all Mama Yemaya.
So first disclaimer, I am NOT an Orisha or Yoruba expert, priest or follower. My own journey to Yemaya has been complicated…I’ll tell you all about it if you ask me in person. I just want to make it clear that I am a novice, but my ego is so big I have to share my novice knowings with you all.
Anywhoo, I’m not here proselytizing or trying to convince you to join this belief system. My hope with this post is to pique your interest enough that you discover more about Yemaya, Orishas and Yoruban culture, so that you infuse it into your curriculum.
If the terms Yemaya, Orisha and Yoruba have left you confused or feeling like I am speaking another language….then good. You’re gonna eat good food today.
The Yoruba people are from West Africa, specifically Nigeria and Benin and we can get more specific than that, but we won’t. Now if we journey back in time to the Maafa, we would more than likely be able to trace ourselves and our ancestors back to Yorubaland and therefore back to Mama Watta. Unfortunately, for many a generation we have been disconnected from our ancestry. However, if you are from Cuba, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Brazil, St. Lucia and Grenada chances are you and your people are Yoruban or highly influenced by Yoruban culture.
And with that culture comes a belief system. Now, this is where I might lose some of you but stay with me. When we think about religions and what is taught in our schools we know we center Christianity, and will pepper in lessons on Islam and Judaism. In high schools, in our belief systems, we’ll briefly discuss Hinduism, Buddhism, Animism and maybe even Taoism.
And so, where does that leave African spirituality in the discussion of belief systems? I’ll tell you; it relegates it to animism in a really superficial way. But what of Rastafarianism, Kemeticism, Santeria, Candomble, Vodun, Lucumi….you want me to stop? You’re feeling uncomfortable? I’m going to stop. But before I do, when you hear the word Santeria, what do you think of? Probably evil, satanic images and ideas. However, if you took a minute to look up the etymology of the term, you would know it is Spanish for Holiness. And that should lead you to question, why would you think it was anything other than holy?
Let me give you a hint: COLONIZATION.
Ok, now I will stop.
So, if you’re teaching in New York City, right now in your classroom there are students who practice these belief systems or whose families practice these belief systems, knowingly or unknowingly. One of your students knows that any time alcohol is opened, that one must, “poor a little liquor” out for their “dead homie” or translated, pour libations for those who have transitioned and watch over us. Another one of your students, instructs their friends not to touch any of the food or put anything on the the table in the corner, translation; the ancestral alter. Yet another one of your students knows when they come home and the blue candle is lit, or the white candle it lit, or the orange candle is lit, it’s not because the light bill hasn’t been paid, translation; Baba is calling on the spirits to guide him.
When we make rules in our schools, like no gang paraphernalia can be worn including beads and we accost our students and tell them they must take them off, we neglect to reflect on the fact that those beads are spiritual guidance and protection and represent something far greater, deeper and stronger than our misguided belief that this is a gang thing.
(Yeah, I used Usher to represent. Don’t judge me. I’ve been listening to him for 2 days now.)
Now, part of why these belief systems aren’t more incorporated into our culture is because they do not have a holy book, or the written word to guide the followers. Of course practices, stories and parables have been written down but you can’t just go to amazon and buy the holy text of Vodun. These belief systems are based on practice and guidance from the ancestors and spirit, which is totally different from the three monotheistic religions that are based in law and the written word and mostly devoid of any real spirit based influence. Now, don’t hit me with the ‘holy ghost” factor. I get it.
Now that all of that is done, let’s get to Mama Yemaya, Mama Watta, Yemoja. Her name is a contraction of Yey Omo Eja, which means Mother whose children are fish. It has been said that Yemaya followed her children when they were abducted on slave ships and recovered each and every one of them that were thrown over board. She stayed with her children as they found themselves in this New World. That is why, in the above mentioned countries, African Spirituality is infused into Catholicism and Christianity because Yemaya would not depart from her children. Yemaya is known as the Goddess of the Ocean. It is said that all of life began in the sea, and therefore all of life began with her.
Yemaya is the ultimate Mother. You know how much reverence is given to the Virgin Mary. That and more is given to Yemaya. Yemaya is strongly protective and cares for all her children. She is known for curing infertility and is slow to anger, but like the ocean, can destroy everything in her path. She is life, as she represents water and nothing can live without water.
When you want to honor or connect with Mother Yemaya, you go to the ocean. In Brazil on New Years Eve and February 2nd, The Festival of Yemaya, millions, you heard me, MILLIONS of people journey to the sea to honor the Great Mother Yemaya and deliver their offerings unto her. Think of Yemaya as one aspect of Mother Nature. She is the great provider for us all.
So as today is our last day to celebrate the accomplishments and triumphs of Black people here in America and tomorrow marks the beginning of celebrating the accomplishments and triumphs of women of the African Diaspora, we thought that there would be no better way to honor this transition than to intersect these two celebrations through Mama Yemaya. She personifies the strength of diasporic women throughout the world. She is full of love and expansive power and wisdom but will flip the script when she has to.
…talking about flipping the script.
Side bar: Now Remy, to me, is more Oya than Yemaya but I couldn’t let today pass without honoring her, again, because I know Cathleen did yesterday. You know, because it’s been 48 hours and Nicki still quiet but maybe she’s waiting for Women’s History Month to start in order to officially strike back.
Anyway, back to our task at hand. We want to invite you to journey with us this month as we revel in all that is the Black Woman and we challenge you to bring the beauty, fierceness, loving kindness, innovation, creativity, ratchedness, motherly, womanly, revolutionary spirit of the African Diasporic woman into your classroom. And go beyond our most well known and highly celebrated. No Shade. Love up those we always honor and let’s push ourselves to discover and honor others.
And most of all say #norespectabilitypolitics
What a time to be alive!
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