Study the Teachings of Ifa

Yemaja is an orisha, originally of the Yoruba religion, who has become prominent in many Afro-American religion. Africans from what is now called Yorubaland brought Yemaya and a host of other deities/energy forces in nature with them when they were brought to the shores of the Americas as captives. She is the ocean, the essence of motherhood, and a protector of children.

Yemaya is a mother goddess; patron deity of women, especially pregnant women; and the Ogun river. Her parents are Oduduwa and Obatala. There are many stories as to how she became the mother of all saints. She was married to Agayu and had one son, Orungan, and fifteen Orishas came forth from her. They include Ogun, Olokun, Shopona and Shango. Other stories would say that Yemaya was always there in the beginning and all life came from her, including all of the orishas.

Her name is a contraction of Yoruba words: “Yeye emo eja” that mean “Mother whose children are like fishes”. This represents the vastness of her motherhood, her fecundity and her reign over all living things.

Yemaya is celebrated in Ifá tradition As Iemanja Nana Borocum, or Nana Burku, she is pictured as a very old woman, dressed in black and mauve, connected to mud, swamps, earth. Nana Buluku is an ancient god in Dahomey mythology.
Before her amour with the hunter, Odudua bore to her husband, Obatala, a boy and a girl, named respectively Aganju. and Yemaya. The name Aganju means uninhabited tract of country, wilderness, plain, or forest, and Yemaya, “Mother of fish” (yeye, mother; eja, fish). The offspring of the union of Heaven and Earth, that is, of Obatala and Odudua, may thus be said to represent Land and Water. Yemaya is the goddess of brooks and streams, and presides over ordeals by water. She is represented by a female figure, yellow in colour, wearing blue beads and a white cloth. The worship of Aganju seems to have fallen into disuse, or to have become merged in that of his mother; but there is said to be an open space in front of the king’s residence in Oyo where the god was formerly worshipped, which is still called Oju-Aganju-”Front of Aga-nju.”

Yemaya married her brother Aganju, and bore a son named Orungan. This name is compounded of orun, sky, and gan, from ga, to be high; and appears to mean “In the height of the sky.” It seems to answer to the khekheme, or “Free-air Region” of the Ewe peoples; and, like it, to mean the apparent space between the sky and the earth. The offspring of Land and Water would thus be what we call Air.

Orungan fell in love with his mother, and as she refused to listen to his guilty passion, he one day took advantage of his father’s absence, and ravished her. Immediately after the act, Yemaya sprang to her feet and fled from the place wringing her hands and lamenting; and was pursued by Orungan, who strove to console her by saying that no one should know of what had occurred, and declared that he could not live without her. He held out to her the alluring prospect of living with two husbands, one acknowledged, and the other in secret; but she rejected all his proposals with loathing, and continued to run away. Orungan, however, rapidly gained upon her, and was just stretching out his hand to seize her, when she fell backward to the ground. Then her body immediately began to swell in a fearful manner, two streams of water gushed from her breasts, and her abdomen burst open. The streams from Yemaya’s breasts joined and formed a lagoon, and from her gaping body came the following:– Dada (god of vegetables), Chango (god of lightning), Ogun (god of iron and war), Olokun (god of the sea), Olosa (goddess of the lagoon), Oya (goddess of the river Niger), Oshun (goddess of the river Oshun), Oba (goddess of the river Oba), Orisha Oko (god of agriculture), Oshosi (god of hunters), Oke (god of mountains), Aje Shaluga (god of wealth), Shankpanna (god of small-pox), Orun (the sun), and Oshu (the moon). To commemorate this event, a town which was given the name of Ife (distention, enlargement, or swelling up), was built on the spot where Yemaya’s body burst open, and became the holy city of the Yoruba-speaking tribes. The place where her body fell used to be shown, and probably still is; but the town was destroyed in 1882, in the war between the Ifes on the one hand and the Ibadans and Modakekes on the other.

The myth of Yemaya thus accounts for the origin of several of the gods, by making them the grandchildren of Obatala and Odudua; but there are other gods, who do not belong to this family group, and whose genesis is not accounted for in any way. Two, at least, of the principal gods are in this category, and we therefore leave for the moment the minor deities who sprung from Yemaya, and proceed with the chief gods, irrespective of their origin.

In Brazil
The goddess is known as Yemanjá, Iemanjá or Janaína in Brazilian Candomblé and Umbanda religions.

The Umbanda religion worships Iemanjá as one of the seven orixás of the African Pantheon. She is the Queen of the Ocean, the patron deity of the fishermen and the survivors of shipwrecks, the feminine principle of creation and the spirit of moonlight. A syncretism happens between the catholic Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes (Our Lady of the Seafaring) and the orixá Iemanjá of the African Mithology. Sometimes, a feast can honor both.

In Salvador, Bahia, Iemanjá is celebrated by Candomblé in the very day consecrated by the Catholic church to Our Lady of Seafaring (Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes). Every February 2 thousands of people line up at dawn to leave their offerings at her shrine in Rio Vermelho.
Offering to IemanjáSmall boat with Iemanjá image, flowers and gifts
Offering to Iemanjá
Small boat with Iemanjá image, flowers and gifts

Gifts for Iemanjá usually include flowers and objects of female vanity (perfume, jewelry, combs, lipsticks, mirrors). These are gathered in large baskets and taken out to the sea by local fishermen. Afterwards a massive street party ensues.

Iemanjá is also celebrated every December 8 in Salvador, Bahia. The Festa da Conceição da Praia (Feast to Our Lady of Conception of the church at the beach) is a city holiday dedicated to the catholic saint and also to Iemanjá. Another feast occur this day in the Pedra Furada, Monte Serrat in Salvador, Bahia, called the Gift to Iemanjá, when fishermen celebrate their devotion to the Queen of the Ocean.

Outside Bahia State, Iemanjá is elebrated mainly by Umbanda religion.

On New Year’s Eve in Rio de Janeiro, millions of cariocas dressed in white gather on Copacabana beach to greet the New Year, watch fireworks, and throw flowers and other offerings into the sea for the goddess in the hopes that she will grant them their requests for the coming year. Some send their gifts to Iemanjá in wood toy boats. Paintings of Iemanjá are for sale in Rio shops, next to painting of Jesus and other catholica saints. They portray her as a woman rising out of the sea. Small offerings of flowers and floating candles are left in the sea on many nights at Copacabana.

In São Paulo State, Iemanjá is celebrated in the two first weekends of December in the shores of Praia Grande city. During these days many vehicles garnished with Iemanjá icons and colors roam from the São Paulo mountains to the sea littoral, some of them traveling hundreds of miles. Thousands of people rally near iemanjá statue in Praia Grande beach.

In Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul State, at February 2, the image of Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes is carried to the port of Pelotas. Before the closing of the catholic feast, the boats stop and host the Umbanda followers that carry the image of Iemanjá, in a syncretic meeting that is watched by thousand of people in the shores.


She is venerated in Vodou as LaSiren.

In Santería, Yemayá is seen as the mother of all living things as well as the owner of all waters. Her number is 7 (a tie into the 7 seas), her colors are blue and white (representing water), and her favorite offerings include melons, molasses (”melaço” – sugar cane syrup), whole fried fishes and pork rinds. She has been syncretized with Our Lady of Regla.

Yemaja has several caminos (paths). At the initiation ceremony known as kariocha, or simply ocha, the exact path is determined through divination. Her paths include:

* Ogunte: In this path, she is a warrior, with a belt of iron weapons like Ogun. This path lives by the rocky coastliness. Her colors are crystal, dark blue and some red.
* Asesu: This path is very old. She is said to be deaf and answers her patrons slowly. She is associated with ducks and still or stagnant waters. Her colors are pale blue and coral.
* Okoto: This path is known as the underwater assassin. Her colors are indigo and blood red and her symbolism includes that of pirates.
* Majalewo: This path lives in the forest with the herbalist orisha, Osanyin. She is associated with the marketplace and her shrines are decorated with 21 plates. Her colors are teals and turquoises.
* Ibu Aro: This path is similar to Majalewo in that she is associated with markets, commerce and her shrines are decorated with plates. Her colors are darker; indigo, crystal and red coral. Her crown (and husband) is the orisha Oshumare, the rainbow.
* Ashaba: This path is said to be so beautiful that no human can look at her directly.

In the Kongo religions, such as Palo Mayombe, Palo Monte, Kimbisa and Briumba, she is known as Mà Lango, or Madré D’Agua—Mother of Waters.