Meet Mami Wata: The River Goddess That Inspired Karma Cola
Mami Wata is the Krio name for the river spirit. The Museum of Sierra Leone explains, “she is half human, half fish and is found in the sea and rivers. If she likes a person she can make them fortunate while those she hates she will give misfortune”, just like the river.
The Moa River runs beside the village of Boma. It flows south from the highlands describing a line between Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone where it travels past Boma all the way to the sea.
The river is the background for life. The villagers draw water from it, catch fish, bathe and travel along it in dugout canoes. In the hot season, when the river is low, there are sandy beaches along its banks to sunbath and swim. In the wet season the river runs angrily, sometimes bursting its levee. The river is as tempestuous as the spirit who lives beneath her waters – Mami Wata.
She is known to come in dreams, make pacts and have relationships with humans.
The mythology of Mami Wata is told all over West Africa and, following the journey of the African diaspora, the Caribbean and America. She is the goddess of water, a mermaid who is beautiful, powerful, mysterious, dangerous, protective, and sensual.
There is a local legend about Mami Wata. Generations ago the Chief of Boma was visited by her in his sleep. She spoke to him saying that Boma would prosper on the condition that, after him, all future Chiefs would be women. Since then her instructions have been followed to the letter and the chiefs of Boma have all been women.
The current Chief of Boma village is Kadie Bao. It’s her job to see that the people of Boma are fairly represented amongst the people of all the other surrounding villages in the Barri Chiefdom, to mediate disputes and lead the village.
Kadie is the sixth female chief of Boma and she womaned the barricades during the recent ebola crisis, leading by example to prevent her community being infected. She makes sure everyone in the village has a voice.
It isn’t uncommon for women like Kadie to be in charge. In many Sierra Leonean communities including the Mende who are indigenous to Boma, women have always played leadership roles. In the pre-colonial era in this area there were Mende female chiefs and war leaders and the pattern continues today. Women paramount chiefs are equally prominent in Sierra Leone, and their political influence extends from Sierra Leone to international arenas.
Our friend and artist Beck Wheeler drew the angel and devil that fly around the Karma Cola label inspired by the mythology, masks and carvings of Mami Wata and the women that rule in Sierra Leone.