Water Spirits

This caught my eye, and I was wishing I could drop everything and head for the National Museum of African Art.

It’s as rousing as a drum roll, as piquant as a samba, as sexy as Césaria Évora’s voice. It’s about glitter and tears, bawdy jokes and baskets of flowers, miracles and mysteries, money in hand and affairs of the heart. It’s about standing at the edge of the sea at dawn and watching a world re-born. In that world no one walks; everyone dances and swims; everyone, that is, who has taken the plunge into Mami Wata’s realm.

Who is Mami Wata? She is Mother Water, Mother of Fishes, goddess of oceans, rivers and pools, with sources in West and Central Africa and tributaries throughout the African Americas, from Bahia to Brooklyn. Usually shown as a half-woman, half-fish, she slips with ease between incompatible elements: water and air, tradition and modernity, this life and the next.