Yemoja, Yemaya

Gender: Feminine
Origin: Yoruba
Meaning: “mother whose children are like fish.”

Yemaya is the name of an Orisha in Candomblé, Lucumí/Santería and Vodou. An Orisha is a spirit or diety that reflects an aspect of God. Followers of the above religions are most likely of African heritage and are mostly found in the American south, the Caribbean and in Latin America.

The origins of Yemaya can be traced back to Africa, in Yoruban mythology, Yemoja is a type of mother goddess who lives in the Ogun River. She is considered a special patron of pregnant women and the mother of all dieties and spirits.

Her name is believed to be a contraction of the Yoruba phrase, yeye emo eja, which means, “mother whose children are like fish.”

Her cult was brought to the shores of the New World with African slaves, today, she is often synchronized with the Virgin Mary, in particular Stella Maris (Star of the Sea), and festivals are held in her honour throughout Latin America. In Brazil, especially in Bahía state, her festival usually occurs on February 2, in which devotees send out small offerings to sea, in tiny rafts. Afterwards, a huge festival takes place.

Yemaya and Yemoja are her more common names. She is also known by the following, depending on the religion and country:

  • Yemanjá/Iemanjá/Janaína (Brazil)
  • Yemaya/Iemanya (Cuba)
  • Yemalla/Yemaya (Creole-New Orleans)
  • Imanja (Uruaguay).

The name is occasionally used among devotees, in honour of the orisha.


  5. Verger, Pierre. Dieux D’Afrique. Paris: Paul Hartmann (1st edition, 1954; 2nd edition, 1995).