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Mami Wata


>>> Item number 961, dated 95/12/10 19:46:07 -- ALL

Date:         Sun, 10 Dec 1995 19:46:07 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      QUERY: Mami Wata

Date sent:      Sun, 10 Dec 1995
From:           Tom Edwin
                <TomEdwin@aol.com>

The Mami Wata/Mammy Water is a common theme in West African culture. See the painting "Mami Wata" (1994) by Ouattara, detail reproduced in *New York Times*, 20 May 95, p. 14 (reporting on Ouattara's show at Gagosian gallery). Also the video "Mammy Water" by Sabine Jell-Bahlsen, disributed by Ogbuide Films, New York, and by University of California Extension.

In Zaire, a popular theme in popular paintings (sorry!) is "Mama Muntu," see *Africa Explores* (New York, 1991), p. 132.

I would like some help on the connections (plural) among these representations. How are the Zairian phenonema connected to the West African ones? If anyone still doesn't know what I am talking about, the "Mama Muntu" painting by Tshibumba, may make it clear. (If you have the capacity to download it, I can send a graphic file to anyone who requests it directly from me.)

>>> Item number 978, dated 95/12/16 19:15:26 -- ALL

Date:         Sat, 16 Dec 1995 19:15:26 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY/QUERY: Mami Wata

Date Sent:      13 December, 1995
From:           Brian Siegel, Furman University
                <siegel_brian/furman@furman.edu>

More than the connections between the Mami Wata of West Africa and the Mama Muntu of Zaire, I would like to know more about the distribution and contents of such beliefs. The Lamba and neighboring peoples of the Zaire-Zambian Copperbelt have at least two such water creatures, both of which can be called Solomoni. (Why or what Solomoni means I cannot say.

Nsolo, however, is ciBemba for the honeyguide bird and, by extension, a clever person; and -Solomona is to cause to slip or slide.)

The first of these two creatures is the Funkwe or (N)Sanguni (though the latter seems to be just another name for a were-snake witchcraft familiar). The Funkwe is a human-headed water monster who lives at the source of a river, and occasionally spews out torrents of water. Just such a creature--then called Sanguni--was held for the high mortality rate during the development of Luanshya's Roan Antelope mine, and John E. "Chirupula" Stephenson arranged its "exorcism" in 1928.

The second creature is presumably closer to the Mami Wata or Mama Muntu. This is the water spirit called Chitapo/Kitapo (which, in ciBemba, means a place to draw water). When portrayed on bar and tavern walls, she is a blonde-headed mermaid. Along the Copperbelt/Shaba Pedicle, she seems to be associated with the scattered "sunken lakes," many of which are said to be interconnected by underground tunnels. This Chitapo lures solitary vistors down to the water's edge and pulls them in; they are never return.

Any data on the Solomoni or either of these two types of creatures would be much appreciated, either on H-AFRICA or at my email address.

>>> Item number 1047, dated 96/01/17 09:39:35 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 17 Jan 1996 09:39:35 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply, FYI, CFP: Mami , Wata ctd. (fwd)

Date:           Tue, 16 Jan 1996
From:           TomEdwin@aol.com

My earlier postings indicate how little I knew about the Mami Wata and her Central African counterparts. A friend has sent me the following:

DEPARTMENT OF ART HISTORY UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN MADISON

MAMIWATAMAMIWATAMAMIWATAMAIWATAMAMIWATAMAIWATAMAIWATAMAMIWATAMAMI

CALL FOR CONTRIBUTIONS

In preparation for a comprehensive travelling exhibition on the Arts Histories of Mami Wata in Africa and her Sisters in the Americas, I am editing a major publication and invite contributions from all those who have encountered or studied such arts honoring female water spirits as part of their work in Africa or the African diaspora. These offerings can be in any form and length: critical essays, ethnographies, field ancedotes, vignettes, legends, myths, songs, performances, histories, photo essays, etc. Since Mami Wata is a pan-African (and beyond) phenomenon, I need the expertise and knowledge of colleagues who have data on her (her followers and artists) from specific historical eras and cultural contexts. I am also compiling an archive of Mami Wata images and objects for consideration in the exhibition and would appreciate copies (slides, photos) and information on the whereabouts, conditions, and availability of such materials. Please send your proposed contributions (hardcopy, disk in Wordperfect or asqii file, illustrations) to me at the address below. Deadline for submissions is October 1996. Thanks in advance and, by way of encouragement, remember the song, "If you see Mami Wata oh, never, never run away!"

Professor Henry Drewal
Department of Art History
ElvehJem Museum of Art
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI 53706

Elvehjem Museum of Art 800 University Avenue Madison. Wl 53706 608/263-2340/ 2341

I (Tom Turner again) still want information on Central African beliefs and practices regarding Mami Wata/Mamba Muntu. Thanks.

>>> Item number 1067, dated 96/01/21 09:50:39 -- ALL

Date:         Sun, 21 Jan 1996 09:50:39 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: Still more on Mami Wata (fwd)

Date:           Sat, 20 Jan 1996
From:           TomEdwin@aol.com

According to Zairian popular culture as reflected in songs, one can conclude a pact with the devil or an intermediary (snake or Mama Ewata) in order to obtain something, to succeed in life, or become rich. (Tshonga-Onyumbi, "Nkisi, Nganga et Ngangankisi dans la musique zairoise moderne de 1960 a 1981," Zaire-Afrique no. 169, novembre 1982 p. 555). Mobutu supposedly has his own Mami Wata, who protects him and gives him strength. (B. Jewsiewicki, personal communication)

>>> Item number 1074, dated 96/01/22 15:52:06 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 22 Jan 1996 15:52:06 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Reply: Still more on Mami Wata

Date:           Mon, 22 Jan 1996
From:           Misty Bastian
                <M_Bastian@ACAD.FANDM.EDU>

To add one more part to this discussion about the devil and Mami Wata, people on the list might want to look at Birgit Meyer's recently published piece in *Africa* on witchcraft and evangelical Christianity in Ghana. Mami Wata appears there as a "devil" for the evangelicals as well.

Best,
Misty Bastian


Date: Fri, 11 Oct 1996 19:25:22 GMT-5
From: H-AFRICA---Mel Page 
Reply-To: H-NET List for African History 
To: Multiple recipients of list H-AFRICA 
Subject: Mami Wata (Mermaid Images ) in SoAfr: Query

                *******************************
                Editor's Note:
                The following query reinvigorates
                the very useful discussion of this
                topic from a few months ago. While
                some of that previous discussion
                is available on the H-Africa web
                page , many
                notes on the subject are not yet
                included there.

                We are now endeavoring to have
                fuller inclusion of the discussion as
                soon as possible at that URL.  We
                hope also to include the postings
                from our sister lists, H-AfrLitCine
                and H-SAfrica.
                                                mep
                *******************************


crossposted from H-SAfrica 

From:           Brian Siegel, Furman University
                


Have anyone ever run into European-like mermaid images in South
or Southern Africa?

I'm doing a paper on the Zaire-Zambian Copperbelt's local
antecedant of the mermaid image (*Mami Wata*, *mamba muntu*)
which came to Zaire from West Africa.   While the Zaire mermaid
figures seem limited to very popular painted canvases, the ones
I saw in Zambia were one of the several stock figures that
appear on the landscape murals on the inside walls of beer bars
and Chibuku taverns.

I can place other mermaid canvases among immigrant Zairean
and/or Shona painters around Lusaka in the mid to late 1970s.
And I suspect that the Shona's ancestral snakes now often take
the form of mermaids.  (Those in the Lusaka paintings, for
example, are identified as *mambo muntu*, rather than the
original kiSwahili *mamba muntu*.)  But I wonder just how far
south these figures go, and how they are understood.


>>>
Date: Fri, 11 Oct 1996 19:29:46 GMT-5
From: H-AFRICA---Mel Page 
Reply-To: H-NET List for African History 
To: Multiple recipients of list H-AFRICA 
Subject: Mami Wata images in SoAfr: Reply

Date:           Thu, 10 Oct 1996
From:           Pippa Skotnes, University of Cape Town
                


In South Africa, there are images in the San rock art inventry
which combine fish and human characteristics -- one in
particular in which the images are strikingly "mermaid-like". (I
just can't recall off- hand a good reference to this). These
images should, I think, be seen in the context of other
human/animal conflations (human/buck, human/elephant,
human/bird, buck/snake etc) which probably relate to a complex
of metaphors associated with, among other things, trance
performance, death and altered states of consciousness.

Pippa Skotnes
Fine Art, University of Cape Town

>>>
Date: Fri, 11 Oct 1996 19:36:58 GMT-5
From: H-AFRICA---Mel Page 
Reply-To: H-NET List for African History 
To: Multiple recipients of list H-AFRICA 
Subject: Mami Wata images in SoAfr: Replies [2]

[1]

Date:           Fri, 11 Oct 1996
From:           Sean Morrow, University of Fort Hare
                

"Mermaids" of a sort, "mamlambo", exist in Xhosa-speaking
areas.

They have a number of functions and attributes, but in
appearance they are said to be like snakes, living in rivers,
which however have the ability to change into irresistably and
dangerously beautiful women.

I am doing a study of a clay-modelling tradition in the village
of Auckland, below the resort of Hogsback in the Amatola
Mountains.  These models are now sold to tourists, but seem to
have their origin in models of cattle done by herd-boys.  The
repertoire is varied and not at all static, and a fairly recent
addition is what the modellers themselves call "mamlambo".  In
the conception of these figures there would appear to have been
a cross-fertilisation of Xhosa and broadly "Western" images,
since these figures are human female above the waist and fish
below in a mermaid-like way.


[2]

Date:           Fri, 11 Oct 1996
From:           Brian Siegel, Furman University
                


The Mami Wata (mermaid) image seems to have begun in West
Africa.  (There's some fascinating data about the widespread
influence of a late 19th century German chromolithograph of
"The Snake Charmer".)  Johannes Fabian's Lubumbashi informants
claim it was brought to Zaire by "Senegalais" traders.  A colony
of Zairean painters were producing Mami Wata canvases in Lusaka
in the mid to late 70s.

But just how far south does this go?  A John Maranke Vapastori
immigrant to the Zambian Copperbelt told me how the mermaids in
a well had seduced a young woman inside.  Such mermaids, he
said, inhabit wells, pools and deep rivers throughout Zimbabwe.
Perhaps its just the Vapastori, but it seems as though the old
ancestral shades (snakes) have been transformed into mermaids.

Do such images, then, ever appear anywhere in Zimbabwe?
Botswana or Malawi?  Those in Lubumbashi and Lusaka appear on
unframed canvases which hang in shops, bars, and private sitting
rooms. Those in the Copperbelt appear on the landscape murals on
the inside walls of bars and Chibuku taverns.  Just what is the
geographical distribution of these images?  Surely someone has
noticed them.



>>>
Date: Sat, 12 Oct 1996 21:46:20 GMT-5
From: H-AFRICA---Mel Page 
Reply-To: H-NET List for African History 
To: Multiple recipients of list H-AFRICA 
Subject: Mami Wata images in SoAfr: Reply

Date:           Sat, 12 Oct 1996
From:           Derick Fay, Boston University
                

To follow up Sean Morrow's comment on mermaids in
Xhosa-speaking areas, I briefly visited the hut of a diviner in
Pondoland (~4 hrs. walk NE of Port St. John's, & about 300 km
N-NE of Auckland, where Sean is working) who had a large
mermaid-like figure painted on the altar behind which he stored
his medicines, regalia etc.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to
speak to him about the meaning or origins of the painting.
From jonathan@h-net.msu.edu Mon Jan 20 15:12:56 1997
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 1997 13:36:59 -0500 (EST)
From: Jonathan Miran 
To: H-Africa Gopherspace 
Subject: Mami Wata/Mermaids: Reply (fwd)




>>>
Date: Wed, 16 Oct 1996 18:33:45 GMT-5
From: H-AFRICA---Mel Page 
Reply-To: H-NET List for African History 
To: Multiple recipients of list H-AFRICA 
Subject: Mami Wata/Mermaids: Reply

From:           Brian Siegel, Furman University
                
Date:           Mon, 14 Oct 96


This is what I've come up with in piecing together Pippa
Skotnes', Sean Morrow's, and Derrick Fay's accounts of mermaid
images in South Africa. I invite other readers' comments and/or
interpretations.

Sean Morrow's account of clay, mermaid-like figurines of the
Xhosa *umamlambo* spirit is very interesting.  According to B.
A. Pauw's *Christianity and Xhosa Tradition*, the *umamlambo*,
depending upon whom you ask, is either a snake or a wealth
charm popular with labor migrants--one which can transform
itself, among other things, into a very beautiful and jealous
woman who will likely ruin your marriage.  As a beautiful and
jealous wealth charm, the *umamlambo* closely resembles Zaire's
*mami wata* mermaid.

It is not clear how long the *umamlambo* has been envisioned as
a mermaid, though I'd like to think this is a mid- to late 20th
century development.  Pipa Skotnes' account of mermaid-like
images in San rock art and Derrick Fay's account of a Pondo
diviner's altar mural allows for the possibility of an older,
non-*mami wata* mermaid tradition in Southern Africa.


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