Biography of a Houngan

COPYRIGHT 1996 - Mambo Racine Sans Bout

No reproduction without consent of author

Tante Bobo, Aunt Bobo, could remember the stories and the language her great-grandmother had brought from Africa. There, her great-grandmother said, she had been a priestess, until the cataclysmic changes sweeping across the African continent had swept her away too - away in a slavers' ship, away across the Atlantic, far away, too far to return.

Tante Bobo sang the songs of her great-grandmother as she bathed in the stream, washing away the fatigue of a day's work. She relaxed her body, lying back and playing in a little pool among the rocks of the stream bed. The late afternoon sun slanted through the leaves of the overhanging branches. As she lounged in the gurgling pool, another sound came through the songs of the birds and the soft laughter of her companions - a lovely, musical sound. It seemed to come from under the water.

She leaned back to hear the sound better. It grew her, blended with her song. The sound grew in intensity as the rest of the world faded. The afternoon sun dimmed, the voices of her friends grew remote, and Tante Bobo embarked on a psychic voyage into the world of the spirits. Her great-grandmother came to her, young and beautiful, dressed in the manner of her people and singing the ancient song, and she followed her great-grandmother through realm after immaterial realm.

For seven years she wandered, learning the secrets that had been known to her ancestors. She walked through the mirrored gate of Legba, the doorway of sunlight and spiritual power into the world and the entrance into the earth of tree roots. Mighty Damballah Wedo, the silver serpent, and his rainbow wife Aida Wedo encircled her, whirling in a glowing ring that surrounded the entire universe. The universe sang with love, love for it's own self, love for it's own joy of being.

She whirled in the cosmic dance of love, until she spun into the shrine of the Goddess and the source of all human love, Erzulie Freda. She spent hours or years, she could not say which, in divine play with Erzulie, laughing and dancing in her shimmering rose-pink palaces.

Erzulie, Queen of Love, led her to the home of her consort, the heroic warrior Ogoun. She passed through the fires of Ogoun's forge, and saw a shower of sparks fly from the red hot iron as he beat it into the sword of heros. The sparks flew up into the heavens and became the stars, spangling the thrones of ancient, white-robed Bade and Sobo, the Wind and the Thunder. She fluttered downwards from the heavens and plunged into the undersea caverns of La Sirene and her husband Lord Agwe, learning the power of the waters and the moon, the tidal forces and the cycles of the living world. Waves tossed and rolled her into a midnight lagoon, where in awe she bowed before the Cross of Baron, Ruler of the Dead, and saw the cycle of life, death, and rebirth as an endless, gleaming road through Eternity.

At last, she kissed her great-grandmother's hands and, guided by the same unseen powers that had drawn her away, she was returned to the same moment in time, there in the gurgling stream. As the song of her ancestors faded, another sound came to her - the sound of a baby crying.

Tante Bobo sat up and called her friends. They were far from any houses, so where could the sound be coming from? Her friends searched the nearby woods and found a baby girl. They brought the child, naked and hungry, to the woman. Telling her friends of her seven-years' journey, she wrapped the child in a soft cloth and took her home.

No one came forward to claim the child, so finally Tante Bobo adopted her, had a birth certificate made, and baptized her. The girl grew to womanhood and in turn gave birth to a child, also a girl. That girl grew to be a woman and gave birth to a boy child, named Exilus Gedeon. As an adult, Exilus was a tanner and owner of a great deal of land in the district of Glaise, near the town of Grand Goave. He married, and on April 19, 1930, his son, Luc Gedeon, was born.

Luc Gedeon attended elementary school in Grand Goave, and went on to study in the Lycee Toussaint in Port-au-Prince. At the age of twelve, while in church, he suddenly lost consciousness and was possessed by a lwa. This inappropriate and unseemly episode caused his respected and reputable family enormous concern. Luc was encouraged to become an acolyte in order to refuse the influence of the lwa. He served for six years as an acolyte, and after the death of his priest he served in the Church of St. Ann in Port-au-Prince. He continued his academic studies in the Lycee Toussaint. After finishing his studies, he lived as a "gentleman farmer", supervising the workers on his father's land. His respect in the community increased along with his years.

But Luc gradually found that the pull of the lwa was irresistible. The more he fought against it, the more he became tired and overwrought. In 1972 he suffered a crisis, and spent twenty-two days sleeping under the bushes on the Champs de Mars in the middle of downtown Port-au-Prince. This was the final blow to his family. When Luc Gedeon returned to his home, he was permitted to serve the lwa of Africa.

In 1975, after intense study of the mysteries of Guinea, Luc Gedeon was initiated as a Houngan asogwe, the highest rank in orthodox Vodou. From then on, he was never again bothered by mental or nervous problems. His popularity grew, until in 1978 he was elected president of the Federation of Community Action Councils for Grand Goave. He served there for ten years.

In 1986, Jean-Claude Duvalier fell from power. Because Jean-Claude and especially his father Francois Duvalier had protected and encouraged Vodou, many Houngans and Mambos had supported him. In the social upheaval that followed Jean-Claude Duvalier's fall, many powerful Houngans and Mambos were dechouked, urooted, their temples destroyed and their societies scattered. Some Houngans and Mambos were burned alive by rampaging mobs, drunk with their first taste of power in many years.

Luc Gedeon, with great courage, joined with another Houngan named Max Beauvoir and a popular radio personality, Liliane Pierre-Paul. It is a credit to Luc Gedeon that he was able to unite two such disparate personalities - Max Beauvoir is a Macoute-allied Houngan who claims to be able to cure AIDS (for a price!), Liliane Pierre-Paul is a progressive radio personality who survived torture and rape under the Duvalier regime. Together they went all over Haiti, tallying the numbers of Houngans and Mambos dechouked in each area. They visited many peristyles. They held meetings to talk about Vodou, and developed plans to put Vodou on an equal basis with other religions. They encouraged each society to get a blackboard and start a little school, so that all the members of each society could have lessons, and all would be able to read and write.

Unfortunately, the little schools did not take root. The Houngans and Mambos in charge were accused of getting together to start commerce, long a traditional money-making occupation centered in peristyles. But the impetus toward the destruction of Vodou was stopped.

In 1988, Luc Gedeon was elected Magistrate of Grand Goave by a large majority. From 1975 until 1992, he consecrated fourteen Houngans, eight Mambos, and two hundred and seven hounsis kanzo.

Houngan Luc Gedeon, during the summer of 1992, explained a few of his ideas about Vodou.

"Haitian Vodou was born in Africa. During slavery, they didn't usually choose to kill Houngans. That started after independence. From 1804 until 1992, Vodou has been through fourteen dechoukages. But Vodou has always survived, by the power of the lwa.

"Of course white people can enter Vodou! People are chosen by the lwa, and not the other way around. People are chosen according to their temperament. Houngans who exclude foreigners are hypocrites! The same lwa who sent the foreigner will make him or her to be what he or she should be - Houngan, Mambo, hounsi, laplace, whatever. If you are going to initiate someone, Haitian or foreigner, do it with all sincerity. Every time you are hypocritical with a servant of Guinea, the lwa will whip you morally. You, and not the foreigner, will suffer for it.

"Everyone has at least one lwa, whether they know it or not. Some people serve their lwa, others don't, that's all. In every country there are lwa - spirits of the ancestors, spirits of the forests, the sea, the crossroads. Vodou provides a model that anyone can use to approach and serve these spirits. It teaches how to 'interpolate' a spirit, make it come dance in your head, possess you. Even though the spirit isn't African, Vodou provides a model, a pattern to follow.

"The weakest point in Vodou is not the lwa, it is people, especially selfish people. If there was unity, we would have more development. Without education, there is no development. What has caused Vodou to have all these problems is lack of education.

"Why are there more Houngans these days than Mambos? I have no idea. It's a question of the desire of each person. When a Mambo makes a ceremony, it has a lot of charm. When a peristyle has many women in it, that peristyle has more value.

"I won't say that I am stronger than other Houngans, or have more knowledge. It's not the strength of the Houngan, it's the strength of the lwa that works. Vodou will continue forever."

In January of 1993, Houngan Luc Gedeon traveled to the United States for a surgical operation. He died during the surgery. His ceremonial name was Jambe Malheur, one who steps over evil unharmed. Surely he has stepped over all evil on the route of his return to Guinea, guided by God, the lwa, and the great-grandmother of Tante Bobo.