Mami Wata(a): a forgotten story from Ghana

They say the spirits were once people, and gods, men. That is why Gyamfua kept appealing to them; whispering fervently, begging them to remember how brittle the skin was. How it broke and chipped. She wanted to reach out to the little boy beside her but she felt weak, she felt detached from her limbs. But the boy hadn’t moved for at least nine hours now and she couldn’t tell if he was breathing.

5th August, 1701– Gold Coast.

If the people knew that this very night, America would be their new village they would have come ready. But unaware, the people laughed and ate instead of stashing food, husbands ignored their wives; they would miss lovemaking. Children chased after lizards and shadows; they would forget what it meant to be young. In-laws battled with in-laws; they would wish for even the most distant family to comfort them, to remind them of blood.

 Gyamfua sat on her stool, her auntie roping threads around her hair, telling her the story of fire and water and how their love destroyed the first world. “Nsuo(Water) had just turned into a woman, the most beautiful woman in the world and all the other gods had come to ask for her hand in marriage. Water was wild, uncontained, she asked the gods to play a game to win her hand in married. That is how Asase, Mmframa, Owuo, and Ogya all became a part of the game. There was a creature who owned three of the most beautiful hearts. It was called Nkomaa it never gave its hearts out. It was a dangerous spirit that could weaken a god and Water wanted all three hearts. Asase, the god of earth, built the most beautiful place on earth to lure the creature. He paved it with diamonds from the core of the earth, centered at a most beautiful place where the sky, water and land meet but the creature was not pleased. God of air, Mmframa made the most glorious pair of wings for the creature, from the wings of angels and extinct birds but still Nkomaa held on to the hearts. Owuo, god of the dead offered her an army of souls that could not be killed but the creature, Nkomaa was not looking for an army. Finally, Ogya, god of fire spent days thinking and thinking of how to get the hearts. He thought ‘what do hearts want?’ ‘LOVE!’ So Ogya gave expensive gifts to Water. Nsuo was annoyed that Ogya was not playing the game because she wanted him to win. The fire in his eyes called for the rivers with her to boil. The orange-red lust of his flames set her ablaze. Soon, they spent nights together; water quenching fire, fire burning water. The other gods turned against Ogya, they captured Nsuo for allowing him cheat. Ogya’s plan was working. He rushed to Nkomaa, the sacred creature. He begged her for the hearts to win his lover back……and Nkomaa gave them to him. But the other gods would not allow the game to end. They held the lovers apart and caused chaos.They……”

Before she could finish, a scream rung out. Their neighbor came running. There were white men coming; they were taking us. Gyamfua was confused, with her half-braided her she run behind a growing bush. She didn’t see where her aunt passed. Everyone was running everywhere, there were shots from guns, there were blood curdling yelps from women. That is what she heard and saw before she blacked out.

25th November, 1701- On board a ship.

Yes, the boy was dead. Gyamfua did not know him but that did not ease the pain. The men came for his body in the afternoon and you all knew they threw him into the ocean.You were scared of the night, of the men when they come, to repeat the horrible horrible things they had done. You were about to cry till they opened the door and shoved her in. She came in singing, in a voice that was balm to the ear.

“We are a long way from home, old mama,

  We the shoeshine boys, we are in the water

   Listen, you can bury me on my knees in the west or in the east

   But I will stay the Gold Coast bird, my heart will always be in the land

   I will sing with my black voice of old papa with wounds in his side

   I am Gold Coast, take me home

   My brother is calling for me, Brother,

   We will meet again soon

    For this I know not where I go but my black blood is strong

    I will make it back home”

Everyone stared at her singing. She looked so beautiful. Her skin was so light, it hurt your eyes to look directly at her. Her hair was locked in brown dreads, they fell over her eyes and she led the whole ship singing and reminiscing about a yesterday, when you were in your land. Her first night, she looked at you, she wore three pearl necklaces around her neck. She smiled and stood up, she did not call you Gyamfua but you stood and followed her. She took a small comb from inside her dress and unlocked the door. You were afraid, you did not understand, should you wake the others? Gyamfua looked at her, she stepped forward. Gyamfua followed. She floated, gracefully dodging the guards and ship staff. She crept behind boxes almost as of she was non-existent, merely a ghost. Somehow you made it to the kitchen, there was no one around. You and her stuffed your torn dresses with the leftovers, you packed tins of water between your thighs. Gyamfua hated the merry songs some of the drunk crew sung, of easy wealth and easy women and an easy life somewhere. You wondered where your aunt was, you prayed that she and your family were safe.

Her first night she fed the whole ship. There were grunts of satisfaction, burps of gratitude and you all sang again. You repeated the first night for a week. Sometimes you would wake up and she wasn’t there. Now you know why.

2nd December 1701; Dead Seas     3:00am

Gyamfua’s mouth was wide open when she saw the boats. She wanted to ask how but there was no time. The girl was rushing everyone into the boats. She was worried, it was the first time you had seen her with that expression. Everyone shuffled into position but a man caught the movement from the corner of his eye. He shouted. The ship lights came on, there was screaming again, there were bullets chasing after the screams. The girl stood in front of all of you. She cut the ropes and the two boats fell into the water. Gyamfua looked up to see her body inhaling the bullets, still she did not fall at once. She looked back at you and she sung. She told the water to carry you south, she told you to smile, she said you are going home. Then she fell into the water. You told your grandchildren you saw a large fish tail after she fell and you saw her smile as the body dove downwards. Everyone on the boat swore they saw the same thing happen to the girl with the watery voice.

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