“The Roads of Yemoja” is a multidisciplinary project (photography, audio, text) about an Yoruba orisha (deity) and her alter ego in Afro-Cuban religion. It is a conversation about disseminated collective memory and cultural hybridization. Yemoja is the “Mother of all Orishas” and a prominent figure of Yoruba religion, which has been practiced historically across present-day Nigeria, Benin, and Togo.
Yemoja derives from the Yoruba words Yeye-Omo-eja, which mean “mother whose sons are fish”. Her element is water, the sea, and she symbolizes maternity, abundance, fertility and patience. From the West African coast, her rites travelled along to the “New” World with millions of Africans deported during the Transatlantic slave trade. In Cuba, syncretism between African rites and Spanish Catholicism meant that Yemoja became closely associated with (and worshipped as a representation of) the Virgin Mary, precisely the Virgen de Regla, protector of sailors and fishermen.
“The Roads of Yemoja” is a visual and auditory journey following this African divinity on the two shores of the ocean, from Benin and Nigeria to Cuba. The photographic series blends scenes from the three countries, including portraits, images of religious ceremonies and ritual objects, presented singularly and as diptychs and triptychs. The visual approach is articulated around chiaroscuro—a contrast of light and shade—to illustrate the African belief that in the dark lies an invisible world of ancestors and spirits always here to support and guide us. The images come with an audio installation of chants and testimonies from the three lands, including extracts of African, Cuban, and Afro-diasporic literature.
This work explores how an ancient African system of beliefs morphed in order to survive cultural annihilation. It is meant to document Yoruba and Ewe-fon contemporary religious practices and their avatars in Cuba, Regla de Ocha and Regla Arara. Through the African heritage in Cuban identity, “The Roads of Yemoja” will offer new perspectives on cultural resistance, preservation of collective memory, and the processes of resilience, creolization, and transculturation.
The Roads of Yemoja: Archiving the Light
Analog triptychs from Cuba, Nigeria, and Benin depicting scenes of cultural transmission through a mixture of intimate portraits, religious ceremonies, and ritual objects from the three countries.
Walking up the Roads of Yemoja
Fay Chiang fellow Laeïla Adjovi looks back at two years of research connecting the dots between religious systems in Benin, Nigeria, and Cuba.
Rising From the Barracoon
Beninese writer and photographer Laeila Adjovi visits the ruined slave barracks of old Cuban sugar plantations for her Fay Chiang Fellowship research, where she discovers vestiges of ancient African rites.
The Roads of Yemoja: The podcast
A character-based documentary series on Cuba’s African spiritual heritage, with a focus on the water deity Yemoja (“Yemaya” in Cuba).
In this essay from “The Roads of Yemoja,” Laeïla Adjovi examines how a West African deity survived the Middle Passage from Benin and Nigeria to Cuba and became venerated on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Roads of Yemoja
Africans sold into slavery were forced to disguise their deities as Catholic saints when they arrived in the New World. Laeïla Adjovi, ArtsEverywhere’s first recipient of the Fay Chiang Fellowship in Artistic Journalism, is retracing the journey of the African deity Yemoja across the Middle Passage to Cuba, where the old rituals still exist in syncretic form.