On the coast of Ghana, in the shadows of the Portuguese slave forts, lies the Gulf of Guinea. This sea is home to the "surf boys", teams of expert fisherman who paddle into the ocean in large canoes, sometimes staying at sea for one or even two nights.
In MAMMY WATER, Jean Rouch depicts the surf boys of the coastal village of Shama, at the foot of the Pra River. Their success is governed by water spirits ('Mammy Water'). When the catch is bad, villagers must honor the spirits with a ceremony if they wish to change their fortunes.
The film captures one such ceremony: The Festival of the King of Shama. The whole village takes part in a procession that concludes with a series of offerings to the sea. Afterwards, surf boys pile into their canoes and head back into the ocean. Will their luck be better?
More strictly observational than most of Rouch's films, MAMMY WATER takes an intimate look at the spiritual traditions and the wider life of a West African fishing village.
"In Mammy Water (1955), after a ritual sacrifice is held to appease the angry ocean spirits, fishermen return to shore with a copious catch, young boys play in the gentle waves of a now-tranquil ocean, and the voice declines to comment as the images are left to communicate the relaxed joy of the moment." —Matt Losada, Senses of Cinema
2012 African Studies Association Conference