The Rite to Yemaya- Some Thoughts on Appropriation

The Rite to Yemaya- Some Thoughts on Appropriation April 22, 2015


Yemaya offering photo by Lilith Dorsey. All rights reserved.
Yemaya offering photo by Lilith Dorsey. All rights reserved.

“So the Orisha are giving product endorsements now?”


This was the response of a dear friend, who also happens to be a Babalawo, when I told him about the Yemaya psychedelic music festival in Australia. People are up in arms about the festival, which will take place this year on May 1-3 2015. The event has nothing to do with the  Orisha religion , or even African Traditional Religion in any way. The mission statement on the home page reads as follows:


“We invite you on this journey with us to explore the depths of her unknown waters… from the wonders of the day to the playful mysteries of the night we welcome you to submerge yourself within the underwater world we have created for your pleasure. Through a plethora of aural and visual delights we hope you can find your light amongst like-minded souls who wish to have a nurturing space in which to explore, create, connect, and dance. “ – Yemaya Festival


Yemaya photo by Neftali courtesy of Shutterstock.
Yemaya photo by Neftali courtesy of Shutterstock.

This is problematic for many reasons, consider the phrase “explore the depths…. ” What exactly are they hoping to find, these Australians at play in the fields of the Goddess. Unfortunately, cultural appropriation is nothing new. This isn’t even the first year for this festival. People like to take what isn’t theirs, and names are just the beginning. I’m not sure if most appropriation happens out of ignorance, or as an act of calculated cultural rape, but the end result is the same. Meaning and memory are twisted and distorted and the world is left with a little bit less. There are Yemaya stamps, Oshun cosmetic companies, restaurants, and more.

I guess some people are wondering what is the problem. The problems center around the fact that these are ancient Orisha (similar to goddesses,) embodying the primal forces of the Universe. Their very names are an invocation and an invitation, and people clearly don’t know what they are getting into. It makes me sad because the doors to these ancient traditions are open wider than they have ever been before. I have dedicated my life and work to making accurate information about these forces more available, and yet most of the time what I see is ignorant disrespect. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with a psychedelic music fest, personally I’m an old Deadhead and still miss the days of spinners and Jerry, but both Yemaya and the traditions she graces have nothing to do with  psychedelics. I don’t know if there is an easy solution to appropriation like this, people will keep taking, and hopefully people will keep learning too… I’d really love to hear what you think. Who does have the rite or the right to Yemaya? Please share this post on social media and leave me your thoughts in the comments section below.



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