dimanche 14 septembre 2008

The Phenomenology of Voodoo (Part 4)

Without going, into a tiresome exploration of all the details, we will examine one major institution relevant enough to be considered as a key which leads to the understanding of voodoo; the lowa LEGBA.

It should be stated that the LOWAS appear as visible forces of the Gran-Mèt, supreme creator, but are situated on a level inferior to his. They enjoy a more profound awareness than man (konèsans) (METRAUX, 1958: 310-317). They protect humans and help them to avoid danger (METRAUX, 1958: 219). They incarnate themselves in their servants by coming to them from Nan Ginin, the voodoo Olympus.

They are addresses prayers and offered sacrifices have space and time which are consecrated to them and can either punish or reward. They can decide on the duration of human life and are called “papa” in virtue of the final feeling they inspire. In short, they are considered in their functions as delagats of the supernatural power between the Gran Mèt and man. However, one of them seems to have a very special role and to take precedence of the others and this is LEGBA.

Present at any spot of influence, he is the object of a myth which says that the supreme God has made him the Universal Interpreter. As guardian of houses, his symbols are found everywhere. They are the sacred plants in the courtyards. They are the small earthern hillocks topped by a phallic sign in front of the houses. They are the blue cross traced with indigo in doors. In the cult, LEGBA fulfills a primordial function.

Only he can also translate into, human language the messages of the gods and express their will (METRAUX, 1958: 319). He is also the god of Destiny, the one who presides at divination by means of palm nuts and shells. He is honored at the beginning of each ceremony and receives the first offerings. His liturgical colors are the fundamental colors of the Negro African world (METRAUX, 1958: 80).

What meaning does this material convey? A first interpretation comes from the voodoo liturgists themselves who, in a cultic chant celebrate legba as the “opener of barriers” (METRAUX, 1958: 88), or in other words, the one who makes possible the communication between heterogeneous spaces, at least between two different worlds. Indeed, all of the cultic and “extra-cultic” rites emphasize this position of legba as myth tells it. It seems, therefore, that the function of this dignitary comes to that of an intermediary, and in-between. It is also illustrated by the fact that he presides over the sexual encounter of married people. It is shown in the fact that children wear the “legba shirt”, a symbol which refers to the African idea that the child is the most visible connecting link between two married people. Another illustration of this point of view is given through the main symbol of legba which is indeed his “vèvè”: the legba cross. Maya DEREN (1953) convincingly established in her book DIEUX VIVANTS D’HAЇTI that the cross of legba is in no way indebted to any Christian influence even if it identical in form to the roman cross. In her opinion, the voodoo cross is the symbol of the unity of the universe that has been entrusted to legba’s care and ministry by the Grand Mèt.

The vertical branch of that instrument represents the link which makes the connection between what is above and what is below. This is the route of the “invisibles”. In fact, the foot of this vertical axis plunges into a submarine country which is considered to be the mythical paradise of the Lowa who come up at the call of the living.

The horizontal branch stands for the world of man and things. It is only at the cross road of these two worlds between the divine and the human earthly axes that the encounter between the divine and the human is realized. Legba watches over the cross road. This explains why the offerings are made to him at the intersection of roads.

The special significance of Legba becomes clearer if one remembers that African Eprotemology is a form of knowledge in which mythical tradition furnishes both the category of thought and the models for human behaviour and social exchanges.

African logic tends toward a type of analogic reasoning which established connexion between the different strata of reality, permitting one to pass from one to the other while, at the same time, maintaining their changeable differences…the mythical structure, the mental structure, the social structure form part of only one reality (Bastide, 1958: 244).

Therefore, “The African is induced to see the most ordinary object as part of a global system” (Cf. Thomas, 1969: 75). For him the cosmos is a network of forces distributed in an unequal and dynamic way along different spots where the universal force is at work.

“From God all the way to the least grain of sand, writes Leopold S. Senghor; the African universe is seamless” (Cf. DE Leusse, 1967: 210).

So it is this system of forces, correspondences, analogy and reflexion which can help decode the mythico-ritual elements of the voodoo.