“My religious beliefs are my birthright,” the Afro-Boricua told Fader of her roots in Regla de Ocha, otherwise known as Santería. “I like to honor my West African and Taíno ancestry, I consider it sacred and divine.”
It is through ancestor worship that the 1992 rapper sustains a vital connection with her late mother and grandmother. “My mother and grandmother both died when I was a child, but because they were proprietors, their egguns (ancestor spirits) were so strong, and they’ve always been able to guide me,” she said.
Before passing, Nokia’s mother introduced her to orishas, humanlike gods and goddesses. “My orisha is Yemaya, the depiction of a motherly mermaid. She’s the goddess of the ocean, motherhood, and fertility,” she continued.
Today, the series of tokens her mom left behind continue to infuse purpose into her life. “She wanted me to know that I was a child of the ocean, that I am Yemaya’s daughter. It made sense from the day I was born,” the New Yorker mused. “She left the mermaid tokens so I could understand who I was, who my mother was, who her mother was, and therefore never be lost in this world.”
While it’s custom for her ancestors to keep their religious practices quiet, Princess Nokia doesn’t care to keep her traditions under wraps. “I practice with discreteness, but I’m also open because I’m proud to be West African. I like to reclaim that beauty of the religion, and of the people. Without that, it dies. I simply cannot allow that,” she explained.
With singles like “Young Girls” and “Brujas,” her decision to celebrate her ancestry is transparent in her music. “The indigenous woman is reflective of the modern, urbanized ghetto woman. I don’t like to lose sight of that. Because my people were oppressed, murdered, and their spirituality was taken away from them, I feel it’s my duty to exhibit it in my art,” she said. “Once we touch back into that tribal sh*t, we can understand our potential as fabulous women and break the stigma of the urban brown woman.”
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Read Princess Nokia’s full thoughts on the Fader, where rapper Chynna Rogers, jewelry designer Arpana Rayamajhi, tarot reader Rachel Howe and tattoo artist Tamara Santibanez also weigh in on their beliefs.