dimanche 31 août 2008

The Phenomenology of Voodoo (Part 2)


Briefly, while the Condolese religion is based on a cult of the dead, the Yaruba religion is centered on the Monotheism of olorum (supreme God) and the polytheism of the Orisha (Heroes or national sovereigns deified), the Fon religion is based on divinities an ritual possessions (Bastide, 1960:82-83). The funeral rites also come from the IBO in the form of the Kasé- Kanari and the religious dances. Therefore, one can better understand the multiplicity of influences which Dahomean religions architecture had to recast so as notions from them into a coherent system capable of producing a complete and understandable meaning.

Thus, the Haïtian voodoo is the product of an intense integration under the influence of Dahomean ideas, of the religious conceptions brought to America by bantus (Congolese and Angolians) and Sudanese of the Manding groups (Bambara, Diola, Sonixke) as well as of Achanti, Ewe, Aoussa (of the Kamiti race) Ovaloffs, Fors and Yarubas (Ceseneuve 1967:61-68).

Now certain catholic appearance of the voodoo has often been denounced so as to deny to this cult any true religiosity and to disqualify is as a sort of deformed Catholicism, a “mixture”. As a matter of fact, this syncretism can be obscured on three levels; a) that of the pantheon, b) that of the liturgical calendar (Metraux, 1958:2921) a)St-Patrick stands for Dombola, St-Peters stand for legba; St-Ann stands for Erzili; St-James stands for Ogours; St-Expedit stands for Agoué (CF Salgado, 1963:31. Price Mars, 1954:180-182) that of the sacramentary cult. But this cult syncretism is not in any way a fusion, nor a synthesis nor an amalgam but only a write mask put on over black skin. The voodoo has kept its religious originality in spite of the catholic (leak which circumstances have obliged it to raise in front of its cultural face and in spite of the Christian ingredients which it uses by reinterpreting them, so as to reinforce its magical effectiveness.

In Antilles, the policy of the masters was to force their slaves to give up their culture (language, work methods, religion) and to assimilate a new one, the only possible reaction was to reject or to reinterpret the culture forced on them. This is what gives the voodoo its aspect of a religion of deportees which, therefore, could only be a religion of protest and social redemption.

For the Voodoo believer, conception is not a biological phenomenon nor is the appearance of a new baby a purely social happening. It is a religion even made up of ritual prophylaxis designed to protect the future mother and the fetus as well as a subsequent thanksgiving for a happy delivery.

Giving birth to twins is considered a matter of considerable importance and one which involves a very strong divine mission. Twins who have been ascribed a special ancestry will be venerated even while they are alive.

In the Voodoo context, the name is very important. It is the name which regulates the spiritual condition of the person. It is so much a part of his make up that “it should not be divulged” otherwise, the bearer of the name is exposed to evil spirits. It is the name which situates, according to Voodoo belief, the very essential of the person: the Grobon-nanj, whose power can be reinforced by the rite of the “lave tèt and who can be taken away from the attacks of a wicked supernatural being by the rite of the « Potèt ». This Grobon-nanj is a kind of orchestral component which presides at the same time over the spiritual life and the organic life (a fact which led some to say that each person that has two souls).

In fact, it is mobile and detachable from the body in the sense that it can wander at night, running the risk of being captured by evil powers and causing the death of the living person to whom it would not be able to return. It returns to the Grand-Mèt after death.

The sacrements of the church as Baptism, Eucharist…are rethouget in an African perspective. Their function henceforth is going to be that of increasing the vital force, health, the deseases and strength in the head, dwelling of the personality and the god (CF. Bastide, 1968:85).

Every religion activity develops on a certain set space and is inserted into a calendar which rythms its life. Slavery had forced African people to divorce their religions expression from its natural geographical framework and environment to adjust it to a new setting, another calendar, that of their western white masters from these force adjustments stemmed the first forms of syncretism. What features the spatial syncretism is the fact that the material spend out in the space is understood of solid objects that cannot be put out of shape and therefore, the syncretism in the case cannot be a fusion. It just remains as coexistence of dissimilar objects (CF, Bastide, 1968:160).

Pouring forth in African idea into a western envelope is not a synthesis which is defined as an assembling of different parts into a new from or a complex whole resulting from this. As an example: when the Voodooist make believe they are celebrating the Voodoo liturgical new year which is according to them, the period of best quality of the mana (CF Bastide, 168:160), an amalgam would be a mixture of two or many religions beliefs opposed to one mother (CF., Luzbetak, in 1968).

This is why the Voodooist got rid of the soul by the funeral ceremony of Boulezin (Metraux, 1958: 226) which they celebrate one-year and one day after the death of the initiate whose soul resides until then, in an earthenware jar or at the bottom of a river in a cold, unattractive world. It was nevertheless, the “Grobon-nanj” which gave the body its meaning. As long as the body is alive, it is never an object. It enters into a substantial unity with the soul to become the space for a mystic geography.

In this view, the liver and blood become life’s paint of condensation. The God enters and leaves people via the Fontanels, “the teeth, saliva, sweat, nails, hair represent the entire person” (Mauss, 1968:57). The feet gather up the force of the earth which is the conservatory of the Ancestors.

The Grobon-Nanj assumes two functions: 1) that of “vital principle”. Indeed, if it leaves the body once and for all and goes back to God, the individual’s death can be expected. This situation recalls the close parallel that could be made between the role of the Caribbean “Grobon-nanj” and that of the Yaruban Ori” (Bastide, 1967:218), that of a more “subtle soul”. It can during sleep, have the body which still remains alive. It can be inferred from this belief that the “vital principle” is, then, always there to keep the sleeper alive he breathes and moves unconsciously, that the Voodooist introduces the idea of the detachability of the “Grobon-Nanj” is a sign of the independence of this element and of its spiritual freedom since it can use the natural life of the body and, at the same time, oppose it even if, in concrete fact, there be no barrier between the body and this principle. Besides, each person also possesses a “Tibon-nanj” who is tutelary God of the individual, also called his Mè-tèt, a limited supernatural being (CF Metraux, 1958:39) whose servant honours him at the Autel: the personal altar the creats in his room, this guiding lwa could have been chosen by the bearer’s parents sometimes a dream or by the intermediary of one of his supporters (his possessed), manifest his desire to take the child under his protection. But the child remains free, when he reaches an adult age, to renounce his patron and adopt another such action concerns only the renouncer and the God. It shows religion under its most personal cultic aspect (Romain, 1958)

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