Yemaya (also spelled Yemoja, Iemoja, or Yemayá) is one of the most powerful orishas in Santeria. She is the mother of all living things, rules over motherhood and owns all the waters of the Earth. She gave birth to the stars, the moon, the sun and most of the orishas. Yemaya makes her residence in life-giving portion of the ocean (although some of her roads can be found in lagoons or lakes in the forest). Yemaya’s aché is nurturing, protective and fruitful. Yemaya is just as much a loving mother orisha as she is a fierce warrior that kills anyone who threatens her children.
Yemaya can be found in all the waters of the world, and because of this she has many aspects of “caminos” (roads), each reflecting the nature of different bodies of water. She, like Oshún, carries all of the experiences of womanhood within her caminos. Contrary to popular belief she is not just a loving mother. Some of Yemaya’s caminos are fierce warriors who fight with sabers or machetes and bathe in the blood of fallen enemies. Other roads are masterful diviners that have been through marriage, divorce and back again. Some roads of Yemaya have been rape survivors, while other roads betrayed her sisters out of jealousy and spite. No matter what camino of Yemaya, all are powerful female orishas and fiercely protective mothers.
Yemaya has a very special relationship with two orishas in particular: Oshún and Chango. Oshún is often depicted as Yemaya’s sister, and Yemaya allows Oshún to take residence in her rivers. Yemaya and Oshun relate to one another like typical sisters; they love each other and also have a bit of sibling rivalry. Chango and Yemaya are inseparable. Some followers of Santeria say Yemaya is Chango’s mother. The two of them eat together and Chango shares his wealth with Yemaya. Yemaya helped mold Chango into the wise leader he was meant to be from birth (although he initially lacked the skill to rule with grace).
Different roads of Yemaya have had relationships with many of the male orishas including: Orunmila, Ogun, Inle, Orisha Oko, Obatala and Aggayu. She is one of the four pillars of the Santeria religion along with Obatala, Oshun and Chango. Therefore every initiated olorisha will receive her pot with her mysteries at his kariocha initiation.
Symbols, Numbers, Colors and Attributes of Yemayá
An eleke for Yemaya Agana, distinguished by the use of royal blue, clear, green and coral beads.
Sacred Place in Nature: the ocean, lagoons and lakes
Colors: blue and clear
Tools: oars, boat steering wheel, anchor, life preserver, machete (for Ibú Ogunte), a scimitar (for Ibú Okoto)
Temperament: Nurturing, loving, direct, frank
Syncretized Catholic Saint: The Virgin of Regla
Yemaya’s Caminos (Avatars or “Roads”)
Yemaya has many caminos or “roads”. Each road has a slightly different temperament and is found in a different place in nature. All roads of Yemaya are called “Ibú” and each takes a slightly different shade of blue in her eleke. Here is but a sampling of her caminos.
Ibú Asesú – this road of Yemaya is born in the odu Odí Meji (7-7). She lives in the sea foam where the waves crash on the shore. She is said to be forgetful and slow to answer her children’s prayers. Her color is sky blue.
Ibú Achabá – this road of Yemaya was the wife of Orunmila. She is a mighty diviner that learned how to read the composite odu by watching her husband when he divined. Her color is turquoise or medium blue.
Ibú Ogunte (Okuti) – this road of Yemaya was married to Ogún. She lives in the lakes and springs in the forest. She is a mighty warrior that fights with a machete, and enjoys rum and cigars. Her color is cobalt blue.
Ibú Agana – this road of Yemaya is Olokun’s favorite but deformed daughter. She betrayed her sisters and is forced to carry a mask and serpent, and act as Olokun’s slave and messenger as her punishment. She was also married to Orisha Oko. She brings rain. Her color is royal blue.
Ibú Mayelewo – this road of Yemaya lives in the middle of the sea and controls the currents of the seven seas. She wears seven different colors and owns the colors of the world which she keeps in a calabash around her waist. She lives in a basket surrounded by plates and her color is aqua.
Ibú Okoto – this road of Yemaya is a powerful warrior, almost like a pirate. She wears pants and kills her enemies with a scimitar or daggers. She lives in the red tide that is dyed with the blood of her enemies she has murdered. Her color is navy blue.
Yembo – this road of Yemaya is an orisha funfún (white orisha) that many consider in the court of Odudua. She gave birth to all of the orishas and in many ways is the cosmic mother of all things. She is the calm sea at the seashore. Her color is pale blue and white.
Offerings for Yemaya
Yemaya enjoys rich and delicious foods, many of which she shares with Changó. Yemaya enjoys rooster, ram, and guinea hen.
Sweet Mashed Ñame With Coconut for Yemaya
A delicious cooked addimú you can make for Yemaya is Candied Ñame with Coconut for Yemayá. You’ll need a large ñame, sweetened coconut flakes, a can of coconut cream, and sugar cane syrup. Ñame is a root vegetable from the tropics related to the yam that’s white on the inside, rough and brownish gray on the outside. Remove the peel from the ñame and cut it into 1 inch cubes. Boil the ñame until it is fork tender. Toast half a cup of sweetened coconut flakes in a pan to get them slightly golden and set aside to cool. Remove the ñame from the water and roughly mash it up with a fork. Stir in a can of coconut cream and mix well. Serve the mashed ñame in a bowl and drizzle cane syrup over it (you can substitute molasses if you can’t find cane syrup). Garnish by placing the toasted coconut on top of the molasses drizzle. To serve, place a grass mat (estera) on the ground and place Yemaya’s pot on the mat. Place the bowl of the Sweet Mashed Ñame with Coconut beside Yemayá and light a seven day blue candle before her. Remove the addimú after the proper amount of time and dispose of the offering in nature as marked through divination.
Watermelon for Yemayá
A great addimú for Yemaya is a whole watermelon. Buy a large watermelon with seeds, and wash it clean. Place a grass mat (estera) on the floor, place Yemaya’s pot on the grass mat, and place the watermelon on a white plate beside her. Leave the watermelon there for the appropriate amount of time as determined through divination. Once the time has come remove the watermelon and take it to the ocean or a large lake if the ocean is not near your home. Present the watermelon to Yemaya in the waters before you. Then out of respect for the environment, dispose of the melon in a trash can near by (to prevent litter) and leave seven pennies with it.