Iemanjá and James Joyce, by Dirce Waltrick do Amarante
Iemanjá and James Joyce
By Dirce Waltrick do Amarante
James Joyce was born on February 2nd, 1882, Iemanjá’s day, an African deity celebrated in Brazil on the birthday of the author of Ulysses. Iemanjá is considered the Queen of the Sea, the protector and provider of fertility and prosperity.
Her name, Iemanjá (Yemọja), derives from Yèyé ọmọ ẹjá, in Yoruba, (Yèyé = mother + ọmọ = son + ẹjá = fish) (mother of the fish children), so that she would represent the natural places of fish: ponds, rivers and oceans, being also the lady of fresh water.
According to the Brazilian researcher Tatiana Maria Damasceno, when Iemanjá “overflows to the sea, a fact mentioned in one of her legends, she expands her meaning and her performance as being divinized. With the extension of their domains, rivers and seas become part of their mythological heritage” (my translation). Damasceno affirms that “due to wars and the slave trade, Iemanjá, in this process, is revered, more and more, as the Great Mother who embraces and welcomes, now, not only her children, but everyone”. She can also be seen as the mother of many other gods and goddesses, of many orixás.
Iemanjá represents the feminine, the woman in the world, or the figure of the woman-mother who conceives, feeds and shelters her children, her legacy.
However, Iemanjá, while being the goddess of life, is also that of death. In fact, she carries many opposing elements: the earth and the sky, the night and the day. According to Damasceno: “Iemanjá is fresh water and salt water: hot, warm, cold; stop, fast, slow; restless, calm; transparent, cloudy; deep, pink; blue, yellow, transparent, green”. She is powerful.
Joyce is the son of Iemanjá, perhaps he did not know this, but when he gave protagonism to Anna Livia Plurabelle, in Finnegans Wake (1939), he ended up also indirectly paying tribute to this aquatic divinity.
In Irish mythology, the name Anna would be related to the goddess Danu, also known as Ana, Anu, considered the great mother of Ireland and associated with fertility, abundance and agriculture. Danu is a goddess of land and water, rivers, seas, whose flow clears and removes blockages. Like Iemanjá, she is also linked to opposite but complementary elements.
Livia, the character's second name, would represent the Latinization of the name of the River Liffey, the river that cuts through the city of Dublin: calm, agitated, slow and fast. Anna Livia, as described by Joyce, is Iemanjá, as she reveals herself to be plural (Plurabelle), with an ever changing nature.
Joyce's Danu, like Iemanjá, welcomes all “national and foreign” children. In fact, the writer stresses that everyone is welcome in Finnegans Wake, and this welcome extends to the different languages, living and dead, that live in the book, which is, in this respect, as plural as the character Anna Livia Plurabelle, the whoever addresses this prayer: “In the name of Annah, the Allmisericordiosa, Eviterna, the Provider of Plurabilities, let it be her eve, let her song come to us, her river run at will, without a headwaters as a birthmark!”.
I want to believe that, through Joyce's novel, Danu crossed the Atlantic towards Brazil and met here with Iemanjá. This cultural intersection, which is significant, has made the Irish writer's work reborn in Portuguese, in old and new translations.