‘Mami Water’: A Re-Enactment of an Old West-African History

Pictures courtesy Sundance Institute

The movie Mami Wata is trying something new. First off, this movie is in black and white, unlike many (well-made) movies set in Africa, or at least those created by Africans. One may argue that its purpose is to transcend time because it is impossible to determine the precise time period in which it occurs. Furthermore, Mami Wata transcends location as well, situating itself in the fictitious Iyi beach village, which is supposed to be in West Africa. C.J. Obasi, a writer and filmmaker from Nigeria, claims that this effort was intentional.

In a chat with Essence he mentioned that the film was made in such a way that it connects the people to West Africa. He wanted to tell a story that transcends Nigeria-a West African story.

In many West and Central African ethnic groups as well as their diasporas in the Americas, the revered water spirit Mami Wata is a potent divinity. In the movie, Mama Efe (Rita Edochie), the village chief, acts as a go-between for her people and a deity, pleading for the goddess to act on their behalf. But Mama Efe cannot compel Mami Wata to do anything, including treat children who have just fallen ill to Zinwe (Uzoamaka Aniunoh), Mama Efe daughter’s dismay. Therefore, Prisca (Evelyne Ily Juhen), Mama Efe’s adopted daughter and apprentice, realises that many of the villagers are beginning to distrust both Mami Wata and Mama Efe’s abilities.

The villagers’ scepticism is unravelling a rarely seen narrative—that of Africans being freethinking and cynical of their own age-old beliefs and traditions, and without interference from outsiders. The film’s stunningly shot visuals, which reimagine how African stories unfold on screen, also reveal this narrative.

Obasi opines that during the story development, it was very important that ‘doubt and conflict’ came from within . “because in order to arrive at some level of self-realisation..it has to come from within.”

In the end, Obasi is raising important questions about Africans in general and West Africans in particular as Mama Efe’s tenure as leader in Mami Wata appears to be coming to an end, the Iyi community examines its beliefs regarding its deity, it witnesses and considers the introduction of non-Native medicines to save its children, and the structure of the entire community appears to be changing as a whole.

Mami Water was nominated in the World Cinema-Dramatic category at the Sundance Film Festival though Scrapper, a film by Charlotte Regan won in the category.

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