The lake people?
Yes, the lake people. We live on the lake.
We call the lake Uhamiri or Ogbuide.
We sometimes call her Mother.
She is the mother of us all.
~ from Flora Nwapaʼs novel: The Lake Goddess (Jell-Bahlsen 37).
Traditionally known as Uhammiri, Ogbuide is the goddess who presides over Oguta Lake in Southeastern Nigeria. Her name, Ogbuide, depending on pronunciation, means both “life giving beauty” and also stands for her destructive potential. To some she is but one manifestation of Mami Wata, but to the Oru-Igbo people she is the mother of all. Like all African water spirits, she is elusive, colorful, and dynamic. She is widely known as the one who gives, an attribute that could be translated towards generosity in distributing abundance, but also eludes to her flexible fluidity. In daily relationship with Ogbuide is Ani/Ala the earth goddess whose rigid code of conduct is enforced by the patrilineal priests of the Oru-Igbo culture. The townʼs male elders are the representatives of the ancestors and the custodians of the customs. In legend, to break tradition means to be eaten alive by Ani/Alaʼs soldier ants! On a spiritual level, the “giving” nature of the water goddess balances the stringency of the earth goddessʼ laws.
Oru people perceive their cultural identity around their knowledge of the water and commit their very lives to her service, observing her ways and honoring her for their very subsistence. They look to her for an abundant harvest, protection from enemies, financial blessing and most of all reproductive fertility.
Her fertility and resilience is empowerment of women. Although Oru-Igbo gender roles are clearly defined within their society, Ogbuide is much more forgiving. Women who break the norms of tradition can find refuge in her fluid grace. She harbors innovation, creativity and transformation and despite the male-biased social structure has cleared the path for women to hold positions of political power.
Woven through a rigid and complex system of lineal customs, threads of power are spiritually spun and maintained by merit, achievement, and ethical behavior. Social status is available to both men and women, who are considered compliments of one another. In this way female authority is a complicated movement, coursing like an undercurrent and following the path of least resistance. It transcends lineal boundaries and finds freedom under the surface of “male spacial limitations of power." Jell- Bahlsen writes: “Above all, womenʼs ritual leadership is an expression of their different but complimentary and decisive status, corresponding to the female powers of the universe” (166).
Totems, or messenger animals, for the Lake Goddess are the python, the crocodile and the turtle. These are symbols of the cycle between death and rebirth, procreation and ancestry. All three move freely between the water and land, bridging opposites. So too Ogbuide creates a passageway between the distinctly different attributes of male and female power.
CELEBRATE Ogbuide energy today by reaching out to someone with whom you have experienced "differences." Take time to share with them, exploring the flexibility and adaptability of your fluid nature. Seek to find the beauty and commonalities in those that oppose you.
Doumbia, Adama and Naomi Doumbia. The Way of the Elders: West African Spirituality and Tradition. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 2004.
Drewal, Henry John and Margaret Thompson Drewal. Gelede, Art and Female Power among the Yoruba. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1990.
Drewal, Henry John. Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum of UCLA, 2008.
Grillo, Laura. “African Religions.” Encyclopedia of Women and World Religion. 2 vols. Macmillan Reference USA, 1999.
Jell-Bahlsen. The Water Goddess In Igbo Cosmology: Ogbuide of Oguta Lake. Trenton: Africa World P, Inc, 2008.
Neimark, Philip John. The Way of the Orisa: Empowering Your Life Through the Ancient African Religion of Ifa. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1993.