Posted by: posthaiti | March 5, 2010

vodou: part trois

on both nights, the moon was utterly full, exploding into absolute roundess in the night sky. i wondered if they vodou priest and/or “elders” had arranged this. watching this woman flail and fall to the ground amidst the sound of circling conga drums was only the beginning. next, we moved indoors.

i must say, being at one of these was like being at a bbq, but more like a crazy bbq. people were standing, sitting, chatting. the men, for the most part, had been downing rum straight-no-chaser for hours (i know, because i eventually was like, what up, fools, give me some), and for the most part, had no idea what was going on or disparaged it to the point of ignorance.

inside, if one dared to go, was no bbq. the woman who received spirits led the conga drummers and a handful of the family members in attendance to the heart of the room where most of the further trance would take place. i have to say, the most curious of all were the children; whether 3 or 5 or teenager, the kids hung around, peering down from the stoop above the tiny grotto, or on the dirt floor or benches behind the makeshift altar, watching, giggling in wonder.

there were people coming and going, dancing, drinking, splashing rum down their throats and on themselves, all throughout the first ceremony. during the second, there were less people actually attending the woman, but still, outside, about 5 or 6 or 7 drummers. they sat in the clearing, up against an open window, and pounded and prodded their congas incessantly. it was nice, that part. there was constant singing, and dancing, and at one point, the pig that had been tied up during the previous afternoon was brought in to wallow on the ground next to the possessed woman and her entourage of family. not sure what up with the pig; i thought that they (who? the entire family?) would stab it to death or gouge out its innards in sacrifice. when i whispered to someone about the pig and if “est-ce qu’on va le tuer?,” they looked at me as if to say, for real? what *are* you talking about? silly me, not getting this vodou business.

the woman, during all this time, was deep in trance. it was as if she was being possessed, one by one, by a different spirit — which is what i saw in maya deren’s movie, ‘divine horsemen: the living gods of haiti‘ — a different, archetypical spirit. *but,* i also thought that she was being possessed by specific ancestors, who may or may not have represented a typical vodou spirit. for instance, at one point, she appeared to be an old man; she sat with her legs crossed, her back leaning slouched against the wall of the grotto. she requested sips of rum and cigarette after cigarette after cigarette. in “real life,” this woman doesn’t smoke. while smoking, she got up, sauntered around the room, and started hugging all the family members who had gathered around her. it was as if she recognized each and every one, from time in this life or from knowing these people as descendants from generations in the future. this happened several times, where the woman assumed some form of spirit who seemed to know everyone in attendance, or at least to recognize them as distant (future) family, hugging and hugging and kissing and kissing.

the ceremony ended with two more possessions. during the second to the last, yves lit fire to a cross, under which had been placed “spirit food.” unbeknownest to moi, this weird haitian dude who spoke little anything let alone english or french, brought a handful and gave it to me. i thought it was real food, and so i took it, not wanting to be impolite. i tasted it. ugn! i spat it out immediately, almost gagging. it tasted like, i dunno, bad salt water and had this charcoal singe to it. basically, i told my friend who thought this entire affair was bullshit and who i clung to for that reason alone, it tasted like DOG. she laughed and laughed and laughed, and looking up at the full moon that night, on a dark and humid new year’s evening, i had to laugh, too.

finally, the ceremony ended with everyone lined up, sitting under a tree. yves, finally, got into the game. he, too, suddenly became possessed, and was cawing, squawking, shrieking with laughter, and saying odd things. it sounded like preaching, scolding, but i really had no idea since it was all in creole. finally, he spun into gear, ran forward, and flung himself onto the boy who had been protecting (making sure she didn’t fall into a thornbush, knock over a chair, or knock out a tooth, really) the woman. he caught yves like a windshield catches a bug: yves sucked onto him, both arms and legs wrapped around his body, stuck. i’ve read that this final flinging of priest — lifting all limbs off the ground — it’s meant to allow the spirit, whose termination is the top of the tree that we’re under, to successfully go up the tree; if yves legs are off the ground, it makes it easier for the spirit(s) to “disconnect” and leave this realm.

after the ceremony, the woman hugged me, thanking me for being there. i was speechless, considering all that had happened (a few unexpected rum booboos on my part, which i won’t go into here). i hugged her back. “thank you so much for letting me be here; i’m so grateful,” i stammered, not sure what to say to a woman who may have just been to the other side and back. we went home that night and had a few rum punches, me and my “it smells like dog” friend, and called it a night. it was new year’s day by then, and looking at the art on the walls of the house (which has since been demolished by the quake), which my friend had previously told me was “vodou” art and “i don’t really see it, it’s all just confusing to me,” i had a newfound appreciation for the things in this world (and the next) that i can not see.

some pics:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: