Momowa, my men and my women, gather around! Come and sit under the palaver tree and let me tell you a tale of our people, the Banoho people. Let me tell you the tale of Ndjengu!

There are places in Africa that look like heaven. The Garden of Eden is in Africa, I guarantee it. It is certainly here in Kribi, Cameroon. My land. The land of the Banoho people. White sandy beaches and turquoise waters.

If she is one of the ancestors, then I am her descendant. Whatever I wish, she will grant. Etomba, my people! Where are you? Gather around! The Fashion Griot is about to tell you about Ndjengu.

The name the colonizers gave her is Mammy Wata or Mammy Sea. The Mother of Water, the Mother of the Sea. But we have known her since time immemorial as Ndjengu. 

Now that we are all gathered under the palaver tree, let me start. Do not be mistaken, she is not a goddess. The God of the Etomba Banoho, the Banoho People, is Anyambe. The Banoho have always known that there was a God, who else could have created the Ocean, the Sun and the Moon? 

Ndjengu is a woman with her complexities, her weaknesses and her superpowers. A lover, a protector and a nurturer. But she is also a spirit who, if you scorn or betray her, will punish you, mercilessly. 

Ndjengu is manifested as visions and premonitions.  Not that feeling of deja-vu, I mean she will appear and announce the future downright! When she chooses anthropy, she is the most beautiful woman one has ever seen. Or man. Ndjengu can be male or female.

She is the master of the ocean. She roams her queendom with her sisters and their collective is known as the Miyengu.

There are rites to conjure Ndjengu. They are performed in a closed, secretive setting. Initiated men, wearing dried banana leaves around their waist and forehead perform the Mbaya dance and beat their drums. Initiated women chant, white loincloth around their hips, faces and arms painted with white clay to resemble the manifestation of Ndjengu, whom our ancestors tell us is a pale, ethereal form. She does not have a fishtail, that is Western folklore. Actually, no one has ever seen the bottom of her body as she is said to hover and be without feet. 

Keep this to yourselves: there are people possessed by Ndjengu. She has claimed them, usually since childhood. They are the servants, the virgin vestals who will serve the spirit until they die and join it in the ocean. 

The vestals can be male or female, like Ndjengu. They do not marry and they have miserable love lives, if any, in this plane of existence, because they belong to Ndjengu. 

Ndjengu is water, she is life. She is purification. She is nourishment. 

Be water. Water can flow, water can crash, water can drown, water can uplift.

Ndjengu is also thundering waves that will toss you around like a doll. She is that watch you lose when you go for a swim. She is your favorite sunglasses falling off your nose and into the sea. She is the moss stubbornly tied around your ankles that feels like it will drag you to the bottom of the ocean. 

Ndjengu has various names in different cultures. What does your culture call her?

Author: Hortense Mbea

Photos: Emerson Lawson

Location: Aneho, Togo.

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