Yemaja (sp. varies depending on region) is an Orishas or deity whose origins are traced backed to the Yoruba people of West Africa (residing in southwestern Nigeria, Benin, and Togo). Her name is a contraction of the Lucumi (the Yoruba’s dialect) phrase yey omo eja, which translates as “mother whose children are the fish”. According to this ancient African tradition, all life was believed to emerge from the sea and thus from Yemaja, who is conceptualized as the Mother of the ocean. She is characterized as being as deep and mysterious as the sea.
Culture, in general, and Yemaja, in particular, was one of the only possessions that the Yoruba were able to bring over to the New World during the slave trade. Over time she has emerged and evolved as a prominent character in various South American and Caribbean cultures including the Voodoos of Haiti, the Candomble of Brazil and Santeros (followers of Santeria) of Cuba. She is believed to be a caring and nurturing Goddess whose power increases fertility, protect children, and watch over those trave
ling at sea. It is, therefore, not surprising that her main devotees are sailors, fishermen, and women (especially ones who are pregnant or ones suffering from infertility).
Yemaja, the embodiment of fertility and motherhood, is usually represented as a beautiful, dark skinned, big breasted and full hipped woman. Generally, she depicted wearing blue and white/silver which is clearly reflective of her connection to the sea. Her lucky number is rumored to be seven representing the seven seas. Many portray her as half-women, half-fish winning her the title of mermaid Goddess.
The Yoruba have a myth analogous to the greek Oedipal story. Yermaja’s son, Orungan, like his greek counterpart kills his father and impregnates his mother with 15 Orishas. Her water breaking inundates the world and creates the Seven Seas.
According to legend, her first gift to human’s was the sea-shell which would enable everyone to hear her voice!