samedi 23 août 2008

The phenomenology of Voodoo

Since voodoo is a region without writings, there are no official texts. Our study will have to be like the work of an artist trying to rediscover the context of the voodoo which underlies its cultic practices. Actually, this cult came to us in the Antilles from the black continent by means of forced slavery. It is known that, beginning in 1500, the Portuguese began selling the first Africans to the Spanish for the mines of Hispaniola. 1510, Pope Nicholas I would give them his blessing as they undertook this “work of civilization and Christian Faith”. About 1505, the English began trading – In 1612, the Dutch get involved and, about 1665, the French is their turn begin setting up their counters.

During the time of colonization, the tribal chiefs on the western coast of Africa became real bellhops for the slave traders. Those in charge of kidnapping and razzia took not only men but even the women and children because these lost ones were particularly sought after by certain planters since the coast less one the open market. The victims were raided from Senegal to Angola. But the “slave coast” was a mosaic of many different people.

According to A. Labat (1722), the Caribbean slaves came from Senegal, Gambia, Benin, Juda, Arda and from other places along this coast. An official document published in London in 1789 mentions that Dahomey furnished to the slaves traders an annual average of 10,000 “pieces” of the total number, the French exported 6 to 8,000 “heads” destined for the Antilles.

About 1789, the Caribbean colony of St-Domingue had 500,000 slaves. We learn from Moreau de St-Mery (1797) that they were mostly Congolese, and that can easily be understood when one recalls that the Bontus were the best farmers in black Africa. There were also Angolians Alfred (1968) writes that “the growing number of slaves coming from counters in the congo and in Angola has not stopped increasing….Many were from Togo, Nigeria, and Dahomey. Almost every west African ethnic group was represented in the French colony of St-Domingue.

To avoid the inhuman conditions imposed upon them, the slave engaged in “Maronnage”, escape from the plantation. “The Maronnage” allowed the slave to break away from everything in the terrible colonial situation which had disturbed his African way of life. It would now, in those hiding places, permit the outlaw to perform the complete re-Africanization of his life in addition, Moreau de St-Mery (1797 vol 3:1395) Notes the existence of vast zones which owe their names to runaway slaves and which were really impenetrable by whites. This is significant because it would contribute to making of “Maroon” refuges into true cultural storehouses where nature African values would flourish. But who are these “maroons” and what king of content would they give to voodoo in their hiding places?

“Voodoo is, in fact, a concentration of various African religious expressions which, taken one by one, only appear as modulations according to local particularities and experiences of the same basic substratum. Metraux (1958:15) observes that “ voodoo is a religion practiced by autonomous confraternities of which each one often has its own style and traditions. The fact is that even though the affinity of great cultural traits from Africa caused a joining in all that would be essential, it did not cause the various cultic nuances to be leveled nor was the originality of each group’s conceptions rubbed out what happened was that many factors came together to form a common vision.

One of the strongest influences in voodoo was that of the Congolese because, being in the majority, they “would also easily take off for the hidden maroon colonies” (St-Mery, 1797, vol 2:212) it can, then, be supposed that a strong crystallization of Congolese customs appeared in the maroon communities even if, in the last analysis, we must minimize this phenomenon and see it combination with others.

Ethnologists have discovered in the voodoo hagiography a whole long list of Congolese divinities. They are divided into Congo Bodmè and congo Savan’n, also called Zandô. The latter group is divided into “families” of which the principal ones would be the Kanga, the Kaplaon, the Boumba, the Mondongues and the Kita. In addition, there also exist the Congo Fran, the Congo Mazon-n and the Congo Moussai (Metraux, 1958: 76; Bastide, 1967:118; Peters 1941). These last divinities would preside over sorcery (Metraux, 1958:164; Denis, 1944 Courlander, 1960). The term “zombie”, which refers to the ‘living-dead’, victims of the work of the book (Bastide, 1967;117) is of Congolese origin. Furthermore, Folkloric danses, divided into Congo Mazon-n, Congo Payèt, Congo Fran and Congo Pastorèl witness to the good humour of this ethnic group and to their very advanced musical knowledge.

On the other hand, the god Wangòl and the god lamba, god of regenerationin Angola, witness to the important Bantu influence in voodoo.

It must be said at once that the Bantu religions were not based on “systems” as well organized as those of the sudonic and Guinean religions. The basis of the Bantu religion was ancestor worship – the social structure and life on the plantations disturbed their expression of faith. Once this base was destroyed, only a certain Animism survived which served to distinguish the Bantus from the Fons and the Yorubas who professed a more systematic mythology. Voodoo also gained a great deal from theses last two groups; for example, the Fon influence gave Voodoo the following vocabulary : a “vodoo’n” is a god, a spirit; a “houn’-s” is the servant of a god; a “houn-gan” is the priest of a god;

The accessories for the cult in Haïti still bear names of Dahomean origin: govi - pitcher; Zin – pot; Ason = sacred shaker; houngnò – God’s child.

The major divinities in the voodoo pantheon are found among the Fons and the Yorubas; légba, Dambala-ouèdo, Aida-ouèdo, Heviéso; Agassou, Ezili, Agoué-Taroyo, Zaka, Ogoun, Chango still have their temples in the towns and villages of togoland, Dahomey and Nigeria. The Fons succeeded in imposing their ritual cadre on voodoo more than the other groups did. This preponderance is due, for one thing, to the Dohomean “will to have power” and, for another, to the number of qualified people and exiled priests from Dahomey who were deported as slaves to the Antilles (labat: 1722; 38:40); thus, they were able to impose their religions domination, on the other ethnic groups.

To be continued....

1 Comment:

Anonyme said...

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