A fet and a funeral

A new statue for Legba's shrine

Saturday morning I woke up with a mild headache, which wasn’t good since I had Marie’s funeral to go to. My girlfriend Anne and I were planning on taking the bus there, but her uncle e-mailed us and offered to pick us up at 10:30. The funeral was scheduled for 11:00.

St. Joseph Parish is an elegant old cathedral built in 1929-1930. Its Art Deco exterior includes a towering tiered steeple and a circular stained glass window. The interior is no less impressive, with more stained glass, a skylight that opens the congregation to natural light, mosaics and statues of Jesus and the saints. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, my journey into Vodou has given me a new tolerance and appreciation for Christianity, and I enjoyed taking in the intricate glasswork as we waited for the service to begin. The weather had been very rainy recently, yet on Saturday morning yellow rays of sunshine were streaming through the skylight and the windows.

The service lasted about an hour. Remembrances by friends and family were interspersed with musical interludes by a classical guitarist. I wasn’t sure how I was going to react at the service, but as her friends talked I felt the loss acutely and shed some silent tears. Anne, who had been stoic, suddenly lost it about 20 minutes into the service. When it was over, we were both emotionally drained. As we walked out of the cathedral, I had to smile a little though. The pews were full of people all the way to the back of the room. And the crowd was very diverse: young and old, white, Asian, black, straight, gay. Marie, being the force of nature that she was, commanded a full house.

I had to rest when I got home. Had it not been for my friend Slinky agreeing to accompany me to the fet, I might have decided to cancel as I wasn’t sure if I was up to dancing. But I wanted to see Slinky and I had already bought a $21 bottle of Barbancourt rum for the event, so I changed out of my black clothes and into a white shirt and jeans. Slinky arrived and off we went.

The fet was held at a live/work dance studio in south Seattle. Its focus was the Rada lwa, particularly Damballah, Ayida Wedo and Papa Loko. During the discussion session preceding the service, Mambo C explained that Damballah is syncretized with St. Patrick, which is why she decided to honor Damballah and his wife, Ayida Wedo, at this fet. (They are the serpent and the rainbow referenced in Wade Davis’s book.)

Providing the rhythms were the wonderful Bill Matthew and Friends, the same troupe that played at the last fet. The crowd was a bit smaller this time. I can’t resist doing my ethnic report, so here it is: Maybe 15-20 people not counting the drummers. Of those people, 1 African American woman, 1 Asian woman, and me (Asian/Inuit). It’s quite possible that there were others there of mixed blood or Latino background, but mostly a European American crowd).

The service began in the same manner as the last fet, with the recitations of the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary. Then songs were sung for Legba and the Rada lwa. The energy at this fet was much lighter than at November’s Fet Gede, so I was surprised at how many possessions there were. During the Damballah section, at least two people ended up rolling on the floor. Later Mambo C was possessed again  by her met tet, the bull lwa Bossou. She snarled fiercely and lunged through the crowd. The most dramatic possessions took place during the Ogou section . There were two young men who became possessed and it was not real obvious except that their dancing became quite aggressive. If we were not in the Ogou section I don’t know if I would have recognized which lwa it was. In both cases the houngans placed their hands around the handle of the machete but did not turn them loose with it. The most dramatic possessions involved one of the owners of the studio (who was also a dancer at the last fet, I’ll call her V) and a houngan visiting from another town (I’ll call him Houngan A).

V is a gifted dancer, and her possession involved graceful lunges, parries, and turns as she moved around the floor with the machete. When Houngan A became possessed, the warrior lwa came out in full force. Slicing his machete through the air, he stalked around the dance floor. Mambo C, Houngan D and a visiting mambo watched him carefully and sometimes placed themselves between him and the rest of the crowd. Several times I had to move out of the way when he veered in my direction. Although I was cautious, I was not afraid. It was exciting and exhilarating.

There were a few other brief possessions during the service, but I am not sure which lwa they were. I seriously need to learn some of the songs and some Haitian Creole would not hurt either.

Afterwards Slinky and I were wondering about the less obvious Ogou possessions and also whether possessions are sometimes psychosomatic. I e-mailed Mambo C to thank her for the fet and was able to discuss the possessions with her.

She pointed out that one of the female participants had Ayizan (Ayizan is thought of as the first mambo) in her head. Mambo C told me that Ayizan comes as an old woman. The possessed woman just sat sort of hunched over in a chair. I kind of remember that and probably just thought she was tired.

Mambo C also explained why the two young men’s possessions were less recognizable than those of V (who is initiated) and Houngan A. She told me that possession can be rougher on people who have not had a lave tet or are not used to carrying the energy. This makes sense.

Several times during the evening I’d watched the houngans raise someone’s arm above their head, spin them around, and release them just prior to a possession. I did not remember seeing this before, so Mambo C explained that to me. “There are different techniques for getting the lwa in people’s heads. When it looks as if someone is close, spinning them can help bring it on all the way, or pressing forehead to forehead, or shaking the asson near their head can help.”

I am a little disappointed that I am still unsure about my met tet, but will strive to be patient and continue on my journey. (I continue to wonder about Legba, Agwe, Ogou and Aggassou–and it’s hard to find much information on Aggassou). One final note for comparison: my regular readers will remember that during and after the Fet Gede, my forearms ached like crazy and I had a brief bout of vomiting the next day, but no physical soreness in my legs from dancing. Well, this Sunday after the fet, my legs were so sore and stiff that walking was difficult(!), but I have no arm or other weird pain and no stomach problems. My theory is that back in November I was carried along by the intense energy of the fet and thus experienced no muscle fatigue. However, my body wasn’t used to all that energy and thus the arms/stomach problems. I did not ride the energy much this time, and my body is paying the price.  It’s worth noting here that Mambo C commented that she thought the energy was more focused at the Fet Gede.

In closing, I’d  like to add that I presented Legba with his new statue on Sunday, as you saw in the photo at the beginning of this entry.


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