Monday, June 15, 2009

Of river mummas and childhood memories...

I still remember some of the events surrounding the birth of my brother with amazing clarity and no, he wasn't my first sibling. We had been into Kingston to get my mother and the newly arrived from the hospital when on the way back home the car broke down around the Gorge. It was night time and there was a full moon - the three things (i.e. the river, a full moon and night) needed according to my Grandmother for the River Mumma (i.e. River Mother ) to make her appearance.

I remember sitting on the low concrete wall, my Mother hushing my baby brother while wondering aloud if he wouldn't catch cold by being out in the night air. My Father swearing at things under the bonnet of an old yellow VW that simply refused to respond. I sat clutching my pillow - a favorite companion of mine after my first sibling appeared - staring with both interest and trepidation at the river. Wondering if this beautiful mermaid would appear, golden comb in hand and offer me the combined pleasure of '' good hair" - yes, you would have long flowing hair if she actually combed yours - and riches untold that lay at the bottom of the river. Wondering about the complications of drowning, missing my family but ever so tempted on another level, I kept my eyes peeled for a River Mumma until my Father finally got us mobile again.

So here I am thirty years later (almost to the month), driving this time beside the beach and not a river and thinking of such thoughts of River Mummas again. Was having dinner with friends last night in Tema, and had to drive back via the Beach Road. The talk soon turned to some unusual happenings and apparitions that were rumored to be common after dark along that stretch, with people asking for rides, but not being there when the unsuspecting motorists stop, or even worse. I shared with them my Jamaican childhood story and you can imagine my surprise when they too mentioned Mami Water!

Interest piqued, a quick search on wikipedia revealed that this deity is actually well known not just in West, but also Central and Southern Africa. Like many other folklore, this too had crossed over to 'new world' with the slaves. In various African and African related culture, Mami Water has been long identified with with nature, fertility, divinity, healing, wholeness among other things. Portrayed in different cultures as generous, vengeful or both, Mami Water seemed to have played, and still play an important part in religious beliefs related to nature and water in particular.

Alas, alas never saw any on my way back home, but it was nevertheless plesant to have this reconnection to my childhood memories and home.

* For those of you who don't know Jamaica, the Bog Walk Gorge takes you through the most breath taking scenery with the road literally meandering alongside the river, guarded on either side by slabs of towering granite that seem to be barely defying gravity.


posekyere said...

Hi Denise,
I am keen to know more about the enduring ties that binds together Africans scattered across the Americas to those on the motherland: our stories, fears, aspirations, dreams etc.
You seem to have the knack for such classic narrations.
Please Denise, think about writing such a book! Scholarly or otherwise, I think it will be great.

Denise said...

Oh you flatter me Posekyere, just the kind of thing needed for this rainy, saturated Tuesday morning in Accra.
Will have a deeper delve in Jamaican folklore and see where else it aligns - directly or otherwise.

Jacqueline Smith said...

Wow, how delightful, that you should find out about water mami, round about the time your thinking about river mumma. That's the first time I am going to hear of water mami.

I had no idea mermaids could solve my pepper grain issues for me. Too late now, I no longer live near to a river so that I could chance upon one on some moonshine night.

Isn't the Gorge breathtaking? I wonder what it looks like from the top?