Yemayá: The Mother of the Seas
Today is September 7th, a significant day emerges for many Cubans and followers of the Yoruba religion worldwide: The Day of Yemayá. This revered orisha, known as the goddess of salty waters and motherhood, is celebrated with deep respect and fervor.
The Ritual of the Sea
The sea becomes the heart of these commemorations. Cubans, regardless of geographic locations or financial standing, make their way to the coastline, if possible, carrying beautiful and fresh offerings like flowers and fruits. These are cast into the waters, letting the waves sweep them away, all in the hopes that Yemayá will bestow blessings and fulfill their desires for happiness and protection. Yemayá is not only the guardian of riches but also a protector to those who seek her blessing.
Yemayá stands as ancient and mighty as Obbatalá, another significant orisha. Though she once held dominion over the world, her realm now spans the surfaces of the seas. This dominion is profound, symbolizing the movement of the waves and, by extension, the very essence of her personality. Her name, stemming from the Yorùbá word "Yemòjá," translates to "mother of the fish." It is believed that we are all her children, as we swim like fish in our mother's womb for nine months.
Yemayá's dance mirrors the motion of the waves. When she is invoked, her body sways gently like the ocean tides, then becomes tumultuous like a stormy sea. The dance can depict her swimming or diving into the ocean's depths, bringing forth treasures for her children. Surrounding dancers often encircle her, their movements growing in speed, mimicking the accelerating waves.
Syncretism and Transformation
A fascinating aspect of Yemayá's worship is its syncretism. Due to historical events, where enslaved Africans feared losing their roots, each orisha adopted the name of a Catholic saint. This blending ensures the survival of these ancient traditions, even amidst cultural shifts and oppressive environments.
Traits of Yemayá's Human Children
Those who are considered children of Yemayá exhibit distinct characteristics. They are determined, strong, and sometimes impulsive or proud. Their nature is akin to the sea: sometimes calm, sometimes turbulent. Their love for luxury, combined with their sense of justice and high self-esteem, often sets them apart.
The Divine Parentage in Santería
In the deeply rooted traditions of La Regla de Ocha, often known as Santería, the determining of one's orishas, or divine parents, is a profound rite of passage.
For example, when I was born, babalawos – high priests within the tradition – divined and revealed that I was a child of Yemayá, with the ever-venerable Obbatalá as my father. This determination was not random but determined by the intricate divinatory methods used by the babalawos.
To observant santeros, knowing and honoring one's orishas is not only a sign of respect but a guidepost for life. Every orisha embodies specific virtues, lessons, and energies; they serve as spiritual archetypes, providing insight into our destinies and personalities.
The practice of identifying children's orisha parents is deeply ingrained within the Regla de Ocha community, and it's an affirmation of our connection to the divine. This tradition traces its roots to the Yoruba people of West Africa, enduring and evolving as it was carried to Cuba in the 19th century by enslaved Africans. They crafted the Santería faith as an emblematic defiance against their oppressors, melding their ancestral beliefs with the iconography of Catholic saints. Today, as I honor Yemayá on her special day, I'm not just partaking in a ritual; I'm affirming my lineage, acknowledging the wisdom of my ancestors, and embracing the protective energies of my divine mother.
The Day of Yemayá serves as a beautiful reminder of the deep-rooted traditions and beliefs held by many Cubans and followers of the Yoruba religion. As the waves carry away the offerings on this day, hope and reverence remain, echoing the eternal blessings of the Mother of the Seas.