Archive for Gangan Vita

“Remembrance” and why we serve the lwa

Posted in African culture, Haiti, lwas, Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2012 by cheshirecatman

A couple of months ago a few friends and I were discussing Vodou books, and how we’d like to read more that are written by Haitians. Mambo C recommended “Remembrance: Roots, Rituals, and Reverence in Vodou” by Jerry M. Gilles and Yvrose S. Gilles. The Kreyol version is titled “Sèvis Ginen: Rasin, Rityèl, Respè lan Vodou.”

This book really delves into the history of Vodou beliefs and practices, largely via language. Words are traced back to their African roots, often identifying precise regions. It was also fascinating to read about African historical figures who became lwa. Some have songs written about them that are still sung at fets. For example, one song I’ve sung a number of times is written about the Kongo King Antonio who inspired Gangan Vita to start the Toni Malo movement in 1704 to restore the Kongo to its past glory (discussed in Chapter VIII). It’s nice to understand the history of the song:

“Toni rele Kongo, Toni rele Kongo, Toni rele Kongo, Santa Maria Gracia.”

This is translated as “Toni calls for the Kongo, Toni calls for the Kongo, Toni calls for the Kongo, By the Grace of Saint Mary.”

The book also contains one of the best explanations I’ve seen about why we serve the lwa. People new to Vodou sometimes wonder if we serve the lwa as a way of bribing them to do us favors. This is simply not so:

The principle of offerings is based on reciprocity. If good will is shown to the Lwa, good things will happen. Today in Haiti, the Lwa are thought to reside in a world beneath our own and are served as a means of showing appreciation for the support that they provide. A show of appreciation keeps their memory alive and keeps them interested in our lives. When the Lwa are ignored, they go away. (p. 185)

I tend to think of service to the lwa as maintaining a relationship. If I never talk to my friends except when I want a favor, then how likely is it that they will even care about what I need? Service to the lwa is a way of maintaining a relationship that I care about.

I enjoyed this book very much, although it is not one I would recommend for the beginning Vodou student. It really helps to have some familiarity with the lwa, Vodou terminology, the reglemen and some of the songs before diving into this book. While the translation is written very clearly, the sheer volume of information and new words could be overwhelming to a new student. However, I am happy to have it in my library and know I will be referring to it again.