The vodun service in Northern Haiti*

by George Eaton Simpson


The theology of the vodun cult comes to life in the vodun service. The true believers look forward to these dramatic ceremonies with eager anticipation; the skeptical regard them with suspicion but are afraid to ignore the Zanges, or vodun gods; while the non-believers either stay away and speak with contempt of the priests and the gods or else they go to enjoy the social aspects of a big ceremony.

In spite of a basic similarity throughout the country there are regional variations in the manner of conducting vodun ceremonies, and some of these differences will be indicated later. Since each priest has supreme authority in his own temple, one finds deviations in the execution of the ritual in the same locality. The description of the vodun service of northern Haiti which follows is based upon: a ceremony witnessed on July 17, 1937; parts of ceremonies staged in my house on a number of occasions by informants some of whose relatives were houngans, or vodun priests;1 information supplied by my interpreter, Mr J. B. Cinéas, and conversations with priests, servants, or persons who become possessed by the gods at vodun ceremonies, and ordinary believers of the cult.2 Comparative data have been secured from conferences with Dr Price Mars, Dr J. C. Dorsainvil, and Professor M. J. Herskovits, and from their published materials on the vodun cult.3 In addition I had an opportunity to attend a complete ceremony at Léogane in February, 1937.

A prominent * The data on which this article is based were obtained during a seven months field trip to Haiti in 1937. I am indebted to the Social Science Research Council, New York City, for the post-doctoral fellowship which made this study possible and to Professor M. J. Herskovits of Northwestern University for invaluable advice. 1. These individuals were: Bertrand Velbrun, Terméus Joseph, Ulysse Marius, Arshe Pierre Jean-Baptiste, and several others whose names I did not obtain. 2. In this group were Madame Petit-Homme, Anazine Merveilleuse, Termitus Boisier, Madame I. Maximain, Anesthal Joseph,—Zepherin, Augustin Vernal, and others. 3. Price Mars, Ainsi Parla L’Oncle; J. C. Dorsainvil, Vôdou et Nevrose, and Vôdou et Magie; M. J. Herskovits, Life in a Haitian Valley. priest holds vodun rites on the festival day of the Catholic Saint who corresponds to the principal god of his temple. Ceremonies are also held when a vodun god or a dead relative demands them, that is, when a priest advises a client to arrange a service. A ceremony is held for one or more purposes such as: thanksgiving for some favor, the expiation of an offense against the gods, to propitiate the gods, or simply to show respect for and pledge loyalty to them. Some of my informants assert that each believer enters into a sort of contract with his chief god which obligates him to give a ceremony each year in return for the protection which he gets from the Zange. If he cannot afford to give a big service, he gives little offerings from time to time and gets permission from the god to postpone the big ceremony until he is more prosperous.

The peasants attribute very human characteristics to the gods, and they believe that the way to please them is to give them a good time. They do this by providing food, drink, music, songs, dances, and gossip for their enjoyment. If the ceremony is given primarily to thank the gods for favors recently received, such as recovery from illness or success with the crops, it is usually held at the humfort, or temple. If the main purpose of the ceremony is to ask the gods to cease persecuting the family by ruining the crops, sending diseases to the children or to the live stock, or causing other misfortunes, it is customary to hold it on the family’s land. Ceremonies given especially for the dead are always held on the family estate.

Before the American Occupation the most important ceremonies at famous temples, such as those at Souvenance, l’Anse-Rouge, Léogane, and Arcahaie, are said to have lasted as long as six weeks. Informants say that hardly any of the ceremonies at these places lasted less than a week. Formerly the longest ceremony in Plaisance is said to have run for three weeks, and the shortest took one day and one night. Whether ceremonies of a generation ago were prolonged for a period of from three to six weeks, or whether this is idealization, I cannot say. Today, however, a ceremony near Plaisance rarely has a duration of a week, the average time is less than two days, and some services are completed in less than twenty-four hours.

The cost of a service depends mainly on its duration, but also on the priest’s fee. This fee varies with the reputation of the priest and the ability of the client to pay. A widely known priest charges from $20.00 to $40.00 for a ceremony, while a man of lesser ability may ask as little as $5.00. Money is required to buy animal and other sacrifices, clothes for the animals, and food and drink for the reception which follows the ceremony. If there are guests from other towns and villages, they must be fed; and if the ceremony lasts a week or more, the cost of this entertainment is very great. The least expensive service costs $15.00 or $20.00, and one which lasts several days might easily cost $150.00 or more.

The vodun service near Plaisance

A family spends months preparing for a service. The priest’s fee, chickens, goats, liqueurs, and all of the accessories which are indispensable for the ceremony, as well as the supplies for the guests, must be accumulated. This is usually a gradual process and frequently it is one which entails much sacrifice. If the ceremony is held on the family estate, the house has to be repaired, whitewashed, and trimmed with yellow paint.

On the day of the ceremony experienced hands carefully arrange the colorful vodun altar with its collection of flags, chromoliths of Catholic Saints, crucifixes, holy water, choice foods and liqueurs, dishes, goblets, flowers, perfume, rosaries, candles, thunder stones,4 4. Polished stone axes made by the Indian aborigines of Haiti. The peasants believe that these stone axes are stones which have dropped from the sky during thunder storms. and various other objects which are thought to have some magical properties. About four o’clock in the afternoon the officiating priest appears in the garb which his chief god is thought to wear. Since the garments of the gods vary greatly, one priest wears military clothes, another has a hat made of paper and covered with silk in imitation of a bishop’s miter, others wear brilliant multicolored robes, while some simply tie silk handerchiefs of appropriate colors around their necks. Regardless of his costume the officiant always carries a small handbell. His first act is to trace cabalistic designs on the ground with cornmeal, syrup, tafia (raw rum), and liqueur while he sings:

Fais verver pou moin, s’ou’plé.
La famille qui mangé sang,
Ou pas oué moin innocent?

Make verver5 5. This refers to the tracing of designs on the ground mentioned above. 6. Many of these songs are untranslatable, and some of them are incomprehensible to the peasants who sing them. The general meaning of this particular song is “Gods who punish by killing, I have done no wrong,” and this is probably understood by everyone. However, the significance of many of these chants for present day vodouists lies not in their words, but in their rhythm and in their emotional overtones. 7. The marassa, or the marassa-jumeaux, as the twins are frequently called, are a special category of the dead, and they, as well as the other dead, must not be overlooked in any service. The marassa (dead twins of the family) must not be confused with the god Marassa, the vodun equivalent of the Catholic Saints, Comas and Damien. There seems to be an important regional difference at the beginning of the service in the North. The action de grace described by Herskovits, op. cit., 157-161, does not precede the making of verver and the other opening rites as it does in Mirebalais. 8. The singer improvises words of his own here and there, and adds syllables such as: oh, yo, ko, no, ah, ya, hé, yé, etc., to perfect the rhythm.
    The Créole of Haiti is made up mainly of French words, but there are also English, Spanish, Indian, and African words in it. According to Herskovits, op.cit., 22-23, the “languages (of West Africa) were and are mutually unintelligible,” but “structurally and idiomatically they were much the same. … The slaves, having mastered a requisite number of words in the language of their masters, merely poured them into this mold of their own linguistic patterns and, approximating the phonetic values of such words in terms of the West African modes of speech, thus established a means of communication between one another, no matter what their tribal derivation.” On this point see also Suzanne Sylvain, Le Creole Haitien: Morphologie et Syntaxe. Créole is the language that all Haitians have in common, although it varies somewhat in different sections of the country. The members of the elite speak French.
9. Dosu and dosa are the terms for male and female children born after twins. 10. It may be cult practice to sing three songs for the twins before giving them food. The explanation given me was that some of the twins are always tardy, and that it is important to allow ample time for all of them to arrive at a ceremony, otherwise there might be complaints and reproaches in the future.
for me, if you please.
The family which eats blood,
Do you not see that I sin innocent?6

This is the beginning of the ceremony and the members of the crowd immediately become attentive.

After making verver the officiant turns his attention to the twins.7 He prepares food for them by taking three or four winnowing baskets which have been covered with white tablecloths, and mixing together boiled corn, fried corn, uncooked corn, fried pistachio, shredded cocoanut, cornmeal, millet, boiled plantains, fried plantains, uncooked plantains, yams, eggplant, cucumbers, rice, beans, potatoes, cabbage, water cress, fish, herring, codfish, cakes, bread, candy, all kinds of liqueurs, and coffee. When all is ready he begins a chant for the twins.

La famille oh! semblé-hé!8
Dosu, Dosa, Marassa-Jumeaux,
Si ou cré moin mangé déjà,
Misére pou dos-yo!

The family assembles!
Dosu, Dosa,9 Marassa-Twins,
If you believe that I have already eaten,
Misfortune be upon you!

The priest offers a third chant for the twins before presenting them with food.10

Jumeaux, Jumeaux, pressé pou oué
Côti jumeaux mangé

Twins, Twins, hasten to see
Where the twins are eating!

The drummers beat a rhythm as the officiant puts that part of the food which is to be given to the twins in calabash dishes. These offerings are then placed under trees, at springs, crossroads, and at all of the places which the twins are believed to visit. As this is done, the priest sings again:

Jumeaux-yo, méré mangé
Na pé ba ou.
Jumeaux gangnin l’habitude,
Quandd yo ba yo,
Yo dit yo pas mangé!

Twins, here is food
That we give you.
Twins have got the habit,
When they give them (food)
To say they have not eaten!

After expressing the hope that after they have eaten the twins will not claim that they have received nothing, he implores them to go away and leave the family alone.

Renvoyez jumeaux.
Jumeaux-bois, allez lan bois!
Renvoyez jumeaux.
Jumeaux-d’leau, allez lan d’leau!
Renvoyez jumeaux.
Jumeaux-la’caille, rêté la’caille!
Renvoyez jumeaux.
Jumeaux-barriere, rêté lan barrière!

Send away the twins.
Twins of the forest, go back to the forest!
Send away the twins.
Twins of the water, go back to the water
Send away the twins.
Twins of the house stay in the house!
Send away the twins.
Twins of the gateway, stay at the gateway!

About seven o’clock the priest continues the service by consecrating the sacred places, that is, the springs, brooks, trees, crossroads, and other places which are supposed to be the abodes of the gods or the sites which they like to visit. He sprinkles these places with a sprig of orange leaves dipped in holy water. This water may or may not have been obtained in the Catholic church, but the ritualistic formulas which he repeats are certainly of Catholic origin. The priest then offers libations to the gods, throws white flour and pours liqueur on the ground, and tosses fried corn in the air. All of these actions are accompanied by drumming, but this ceases while he delivers a brief address.

Friends, we demand silence and meditation. Those who cannot remain serious may leave at once. The ceremony we are about to begin is not a joke. The master of this ceremony wishes to pay a heavy debt which has been disturbing and crushing him. He offers this ceremony to the gods of the water, the gods of the forest, the gods of the sky, to all of the gods, known and unknown, but especially to Saint John and to Erzilie. If any disbelievers try to spoil this ceremony, powerful gods will take revenge on them, and as for the jealous persons who are accustomed to interfere with services, by the grace of God, I feel myself strong enough to overcome their evil intentions. When I am conducting a ceremony there is never any disorder!

He now rings the handbell and blows his whistle, and at the same time his assistants, who are called badjicans, strike the triangle, shake the chachas, beat the drums, and wave the ceremonial flags. These acts constitute the sagwe, or salutation, to the vodun gods. After commanding the participants to kneel, the priest begins a series of songs and prayers. Included in this melange are morning and evening prayers, the Pater-noster, the Credo, the Ave Maria,11 11. Sometimes the priest asks for the “converted women,” that is, the women who perform their Catholic devotions regularly. They come forward and, with their beads, recite Catholic prayers. If the officiant does not know the prayers of the Church he is replaced by a badjican, another priest, or anyone present who is familiar with the Catholic ritual, and this person conducts this part of the ceremony. The pret’ savanne does not take an active part in the vodun ceremony in the North. See Herskovits, op. cit., 157. and the Magnificat, all rendered in mutilated form, as well as songs and prayers peculiar to the Haitian vodun cult. One type of vodun prayer and one song will serve as examples of the latter.

Oh, Marie, Mère de Miséricorde, ayez pitié cé pôv’ âmes délaissées. Marie Apolita, Mère de Dieu, mère des mères, mère de grâce, priez pou’ ces âmes convertiés, les âmes du purgatoire. Tous les Saints, tous les anges, anges du ceil, Zanges d’leau, Zanges bois, Zanges connis , et inconnis, tous les Saints, tout’ jumeaux, venez délivrer ce pauv’ frère de tribulation. Pas permett’ mové zesprit gaté service. Oh! les morts, suspendé persécuté li, fais-li gangnin la paix , le repos, la limière iniverselle. Vini secourez li. Li pas jamais réfisi ou an rien. Temps-là raide, li fait sacrifice pou ou, pas fais li honte devant démon. Prié bon Dié fort pou li, pou li victoire ses ennemis, pou’ li terrasser Lucifer et ses satans. Crâce! Miséricorde! Pardon!

Oh, Mary, Mother of Mercy, take pity on these poor, abandoned souls. Mary Apolita, Mother of God, Mother of mothers, Mother of Grace, pray for these converted souls, these souls of purgatory. All the Saints, all the angels, angels of the heavens, gods of the water, gods of the forest, gods known and unknown, all the gods, all the twins, come and deliver this poor brother from tribulation. Do not permit bad spirits to spoil the service. And you, the dead, stop persecuting him, make him prosperous, give him peace, repose, complete understanding. Save him, for he has never refused you. Times are bad, but he offers you a great sacrifice. Do not let him be shamed by the devil. Fervently pray God that he may be victorious over his enemies, that he may triumph over Lucifer and his demons. Grace! Mercy! Pardon!

Not’ Père, je vous salue, Marie.
Zanges, luminain.
Not’ Père, je vous salue, Marie.
Zanges, luminain.
Not’ Père, je vous salue, Marie.
Zanges, luminain.
Moin dit: Not’ Père,
Je vous salue, Marie encore.
Zanges, luminain. Na luminain!

Our Father, I greet you, Mary.
Zanges, enlighten us.
Our Father, I greet you, Mary.
Zanges, enlighten us.
Our Father, I greet you, Mary.
Zanges, enlighten us.
I say, Our Father,
I greet you again, Mary.
Zanges you must enlighten us!

The priest is now in the heart of the service, and it is time to summon Legba.12 12. Herskovits reports, op. cit., 160, 173, 180, 190, that a boucan (bonfire) is always made for Legba at Mirebalais, but it is not customary to do this in the North. In fact, no bonfire is made for any god at a ceremony in this part of the country. In the Artibonite a fire is always built for the Garde Ammon and when this god possesses a hunsi (woman assistant of the priest) she dances in it, and is said to take a red hot machete from the flames and put it in her mouth. My informants know of two cases in the North where fires were built for persons possessed outside of ceremonies. These possessed individuals danced in the fires, but neither of them was possessed by Legba. 13. Legba appears first, according to Professor Herskovits’ informants, because, as guardian of the crossroads, the highway, and every gateway, he opens doors. It is necessary for him to come first so that the other gods can pass the various barriers and get to the ceremony. I do not have this explanation specifically in my notes, but Legba is regarded as the guardian of the crossroads in the North, and the explanation just mentioned may be implicit in the reference to Legba’s “character.” 14. It may be traditional to sing three songs for Legba at these ceremonies This god, venerated because of his age and character must be the first to arrive at a ceremony.13 The priest welcomes him with a chant:

Ah! Legba yé!
Ah! Legba nan la cour-là,
Nou rivé pou service yo.

Greetings, Papa Legba!
Ah, Legba in the court,
You come to their service.


Acon, qué yé!
Qué yé, parraine oh!

Sing rattle, sing!
Sing, god-father-oh!

All of the participants repeat the chant, and the movements of those who are dancing in the circle become somewhat more animated. If Legba does not respond to the first invitation, the officiant must call him with greater insistence.14

Ah! Legba couri vini oh!
M’embarrassé! M’embarrassé!
Moin doué, moin payé!
Côté Legba yé?

Legba come running!
I am embarrassed!
I owe and I am going to pay!
Where is Legba?

Sometimes this song is followed by a repetition of the “Ah, Legba yé” chant. Everyone realizes that Papa Legba is old and that he cannot hurry because of a limp, but if there is too great a delay some begin to wonder if a jealous priest, angry because he was not chosen to conduct the ceremony, is trying to spoil it by preventing the arrival of the gods. Others think that one of Legba’s servants has “tied”15 15. If a servant of a god does not want to become possessed at a ceremony he can keep him away from the service by saying a prayer and tying two knots in his handkerchief, and then tying the handkerchief to his bed or to a chair, or putting it under a rock. Or he can accomplish the same end by making certain marks on his head and in his hair. One procedure for bringing on possession in a servant who has tried to “tie” his chief god is for the priest to stand in front of the person whom he suspects, make the sign of the cross, and strike him on the forehead three times with a sacrificial stone. Usually these blows are hard enough to make blood spurt. The servant then begs the pardon of the angry god, and as soon as possible he unties the knots in his handkerchief, or removes the marks from his head and hair. 16. A muttering unintelligible to those present, but supposed to be understood by the gods. him. The harassed priest redoubles his efforts. He snaps his magic whip, strikes his feet with it, speaks the language of the gods,16 makes mysterious signs in the air, and enters the house to perform special rites. When he returns his eyes are distended and his face is distorted. He walks to the entrance of the habitation (the family land and houses) and returns to the ceremony singing another Legba song.

Ah! Legba, mé boué, mé mangé.
Ah! Legba,mé boué, mé mangé.
Parraine-Legba qui rêté ici-là,
Ya pé ba ou mangé!

Legba, here is drink, here is food.
Legba, here is drink, here is food.
God-father Legba, who stays here,
We give you food!

Suddenly a dancer will whirl herself about, leaping and going through a series of violent contortions. Her behavior stimulates the dancers and the drummers as she reels, cries, and throws herself on the ground. When she stands again, her distorted face looks fatigued and she acts like an old man. She limps about, asking for a cane. This is a moment of triumph for the priest, for Legba’s arrival is a sign that the rest of the ceremony will proceed smoothly, and now the drums, rattles, hand-bell, triangle, and chorus all sound together. Legba receives this salutation gravely and majestically. The priest says: “Here is Papa! Here is Papa! Here is Papa! Papa, we say ‘Good evening’ to you. Papa, where were you? How you have made us suffer!”

Calm is restored as Legba throws the water that the priest gives him, pours liqueur on the ground, and tosses fried corn at those participating in the ceremony. He walks about nervously and finally gives the “salute.”

Salue-é Legba, Salu-é!
Salzi-é Legba, Salu-é!
Legba salu-é devant badji zenfants-yo.
Salu-é Legba, Salu-é!

Salute Legba, Salute!
Salute Legba, Salute!
Salute Legba before the shrine of the faithful
Salute Legba, Salute!

The faithful repeat this song, and the dancing continues as Legba speaks again.

Legba oh! cé moin Legba oh!
Legba couri, cé moin Legba oh!
Legba-carrefour, cé moin Legba.
Legba, cé moin ka commandé!
Legba-Roi, cé moin ka commandé.

Legba! I am Legba!
Legba who hurries!
Legba of the crossroads, I am Legba.
It is Legba who must command!
It is King Legba who must command.

When the priest gives him a black chicken Legba goes wild with joy. He thanks the master of the ceremony for the honor that has been given him, and assures him that he has nothing to fear. Legba will ask pardon for him and will see that he is granted the protection of the gods. Then he chants:

Baingnin, baingnin,
Baingnin bête-là.
Ou va laver pied,
Ou va laver tête oh!

Bathe, bathe,
Bathe that beast.
You will wash the feet,
You will wash the head, oh!

After the chicken has been carefully washed and perfumed, Legba caresses it. Then he begins to dance spiritedly with the chicken, and during the course of the dance he wrings its neck. This done he throws it to the ground and the priest makes “verver”17 17. There are two ways of making “verver.” One is the tracing of cabalistic designs on the ground at the beginning of the ceremony and is mentioned earlier in this article. The other practice consists of muttering mysterious words, making the sign of the cross, and throwing holy water, food, and liqueur over an animal which is about to be sacrificed, or one which has just been sacrificed. It is to the latter series of acts that we refer here. over it as he sings the “Ah Legba yé!” chant. This song is followed by another.

Poule-là mangé lan grand-caille.
Li boué d’leau lan gobelet.
Poule mangé mais ‘Guétor.’

Li boué d’leau lan gobelet.

The chicken has eaten in the big house.
He has drunk water from the goblet.
The chicken has eaten the maize of ‘Guétor.’
He has drunk water from the goblet.

The climax of the important Legba rites has been reached and the priest tapers off this part of the ceremony with a final chant for the old god.

Moin baille mangé moin, vié Legba.
Nou tout’ mangé li.
Moin rhélé houngan Sanitte oh!
Moin baille mangé moin, vié Legba.
Nou tout’ mangé li.

I offered my sacrifice, venerable Legba,
And you have eaten all of it.
I call houngan Sannitte-o!
I offcred my sacrifice, venerable Legba.
You have eaten all of it.

While the priest sings, the members of the family and the aides of the houngan sprinkle water on the chicken.

Tout ça qui vlé jeter d’leau pou loas oh!

Tout ça qui vlé jeter d’leau pou loas oh!

All those who desire to throw water for the gods-o!
All those who desire to throw water for the gods-o!

Finally, Legba gives the chicken to the cooks.

After a lull the priest starts a song for another god.18 18. After Legba’s arrival there is no special order for the other gods to come to a service. The sequence at no two ceremonies is the same because the ritual is not standardized, and also because at every ceremony some of the gods appear without being summoned by the priest. She needs no coaxing, and as Mambo Ya-Djoni takes possession of one of her servants, an assistant of the priest tosses her the red and white kerchief which she likes.

Mambo Ya-Djoni!
Mambo pas la.
La pé vini.
Mambo pas la.
La pé vini.
Ya-Djoni, mé Mambo!
Yab branni!

Mambo Ya-Djoni!
Mambo is not here.
There she comes.
Mambo is not here.
There she comes.
Here is Mambo!
Yab branni!

Before this possession has worn off the houngan honors a third god by leading a song for him.19 19. No sharp distinctions are made in northern Haiti between the Arada gods and gods derived from other African cults. Therefore, separate ceremonies are not held there for Arada, Petro, Guinée, Ibo, Congo, and other African tribal gods. None of the vodouists near Plaisance could classify the gods they know according to these or any other categories. Some of them are acquainted with a few of the Petro gods, but in their thinking and in their ceremonies they treat them as if they were Aradas (Compare with Herskovits, op. cit., 149, 310-314.) In the West, and perhaps in the South and in some parts of the Artibonite, special Ceremonies are held for the Petro gods. At Mirebalais Herskovits found that the worship of Congo and Ibo gods was restricted chiefly to individual families. 20. When a god takes possession of one of his servants he is said to “mount his horse.” Agwé “mounts”20 a servant, joins in the singing and dancing, and then performs the customary rites with the chicken which the priest gives him.

Agwé Oyo, map quitté rond-là
Nan main “Ca na fait.”
Agwé Oyo, map quitté rond-là
Nan main “Ca na fait.”
Agué Oyo, ma prallé.
Map quitté rond-là
Nan main “Ca va loh.”
Map prallé la caille
Agwé Oyo,
Map prallé la caille
Agwé Oyo,
Qui l’hèr na vini
Oué nous?
Pays changé!

Agwé Oyo, I am leaving the dance
To the indifferent one [or: In the hands of “It makes no difference”]
Agwé Oyo, I am leaving the dance
To the indifferent one.
Agwé Oyo, I am going away.
I am leaving the dance
To the indifferent one.
I am going home.
Agwé Oyo,
I am going home.
Agwé Oyo,
When will you come
To see us?
The country has changed!

One of the favorite gods in the North is the aristocratic female Zange known as Erzilie, or Erzulie, or simply Zilie. When the houngan wants her to make her appearance, he begins a Zilie song.

Grande Erzile Dosbas hé!
Manman palé ou.
Ou pas vlé coute.
Papa palé ou.
Ou pas vlé coute.
Grande Erzile Dosbas hé!

Grande Erzile Dosbas hé!
Quand nallé, ça na dit?
Mais quand nallé, ça na dit
Grande Erzilie Dosbas yé!
Grande Erzilie Dosbas yé!

Grande Erzilie Dosbas hé!
Mother talked to you.
You would not listen.
Papa talked to you.
You would not listen.
Grande Erzilie Dosbas hé!

Grande Erzilie Dosbas hé!
When we return, what can we say?
Whcn we return what can we say
To their children?
Grande Erzilie Dosbas yé!
Grande Erzilie Dosbas yé!

The drumming, dancing, and singing continue and Erzilie takes possession of a young woman. The priest then leads the song which is appropriate to welcome Zilie to a ceremony, and it is taken up and repeated by the participants.

Jeté d’leau pou’ Grande!
Grande pas té la.
A là lapé dormi.
Jeté d’leau pou’ Grande!
Alo mi yo!
Jeté d’leau pou’ Grande-oh!

Throw the water for Grande (Erzilie)!
Grande (Erzilie) did not come.
Because she was sleeping.
Throw the water for Grande (Erzilie)!
Alo mi yo!
Throw the water for Grande (Erzilie)-oh!

Some one hands Zilie a silk scarf, and she goes around the circle wiping off the faces of a number of those within reach. After shaking hands vigorously with several individuals and kissing some of them on the cheek she starts a new chant.

Zilie oh! A pas Zilie ça?
Nan lan mer canot chavir.
Si pas té bon Dieu,
Nous toute ta nayé.

Zilie! Is it not Zilie?
In the sea a boat was shipwrecked.
Without the aid of God,
All of us would have drowned.

The violent and dangerous Linglessou comes to a ceremony uttering reproaches and threats. His song is in keeping with his reputation.

Cinq coups de couteau, cinq coups de poignard
Moin baille manman, moin baille papa-moin
L’en Guinée pou’ refaire pou’ moin.
Point-là utile.

Five stabs with a knife, five stabs with a dagger
I gave my mother, I gave my father,

For the African spirit to renew my charm.
My magic charm is useful to me.

The houngan replies with a jocular chant.

L’Inglessou Waya,
Combien femmes ou gangnin?
Deux femmes, ou gangnin.?
Ou gangnin trois.
Ou gangnin quatre.
Ou gangnin cinq.
Ou gangnin six.
Fré L’lnglessou Papa,
Sept femmes ou gangnin.

L’lnglessou Waya,
How many wives have you?
Have you two wives?
You have three.
You have four.
You have five.
You have six.
Brother L’Inglessou, father,
You have seven wives.

By this time the excitement of the assembled vodouists is so great that one might describe it as a sort of collective hysteria. Only ten to twenty per cent of the faithful ever become possessed at a service, but all of them enjoy the drumming, dancing, singing, drinking, and the mysterious rites. One possession follows another as such gods as Sans-Manman, Limba, and Saint Michael appear on the scene.

Côté na passé,
Nu boué d’ leau.
Oui, nous sans-manman,
Oui, nous sans-papa,
Côté na passé?
Na boué d’leau.

Wherever you go,
You shall find water to drink.
Yes, you have no mother,
Yes, you have no father,
But every place you shall go
You shall find water to drink.

Limba, or Limba Zaou as he is sometimes called, a glutton with an insatiable appetite, announces his arrival with a short verse.

Limbal Limba!
Nou pressé pou’ oué
Côté Limba maché.

Limba! Limba!
You hasten to see
Where Limba walks.

Saint Michael, like the others, has difficulty in making himself heard above the din of drums and voices.

Saint Michel Archange,
Priez bon Dié pou’ la Vierge oh!
Crâce, aïe bobo!
Saint Michel Archange,
Priez bon Dié pou’ les Zanges oh!

Archangel Saint Michael,
Pray to God for Virgin Mary!
Mercy, aïe bobo!
Archangel Saint Michael,
Pray to God for the Zanges!

If the priest sees that a possession is too violent, he tries to calm the servant with an egg or a goblet of water, or by “speaking the language.” When a houngan gives a possessed person an egg, she may eat it, including the shell, or she may throw it away, or she may put it under a tree. If the possessed individual is handed a goblet of water, she dances with it, pours some of it at the center pole of the tonnelle,21 21 A lonnelle is a shelter erected for a service or a dance. The framework is made of boughs, and the top and sides are covered with palm or banana leaves. 22 Compare with Herskovits, op. cit., 185. 23 At Mirebalais “If evil deities are to be banished or ‘restrained,’ they are called once more, and the priest may have to battle with those possessed by them, for these gods have no desire to be driven away, or incarcerated where they cannot escape.” Herskovits, op. cit., 158. and some in front of the ogan or triangle of the vodun orchestra. Sometimes the god, that is, the person who is possessed by a god, then eats the glass. Candles are not used in the North to help calm a person who is too violently possessed.22 It is interesting that although the priests in northern Haiti occasionally try to tone down a possession, they do not try to drive any Zanges, even those of bad reputation, away from ceremonie.23

As the great President Clermeil seizes one of his followers, the priest begins the Clermézine chant.

Clermézine,24 24 Clermézine is President Clermeil’s daughter. rellé li ban moin!
Oh! Clermézine oh! pou’ jou m’engagé.

Clermézine rellé li ban moin!
Oh! Clermézine oh! pou’ jou m’engagé.

Clermézine rellé li ban moin!
Oh! Clermézine oh! pou’ jou m’engagé.

Clermézine, call him for me!
Oh! Clermézine, ask him to come on the day I am in trouble.
Clermézine, call him for me!
Oh! Clermézine, ask him to come on the day I am in trouble.
Clermézine, call him for me!
Oh! Clermézine, ask him to come on the day I am in trouble.

When Damballa, a strong and turbulent god, comes to a ceremony, he demands alcohol and rolls on the ground like a snake. The crowd greets him with a Damballa chant and he responds with another.

Damballa, tout’ Zanges, cé Zanges.
Damballa Wallo
Damballa, tout’ Zanges, cé Zanges.
Damballa Wallo
Damballa, tout’ Zanges, cé Zanges.
Zanges l’en bois, cé Zanges,
Zanges l’en d’leau, cé Zanges.
Tout ça qui marré.
Lagué yo pou’ moin!

Damballa hé, illé, illé no!
Damballa hé, illé, illé no!
Damballa hé, illé, illé no!
Petite manman marré,
Petite yo sous là tapis.
Damballe hé, illé, illé no!

Damballa, all the Zanges are Zanges.
Damballa Wallo!
Damballa, all the Zanges are Zanges.
Damballa Wallo!
Damballa, all the Zanges are Zanges.
Zanges of the forest are Zanges,
Zanges of the water are Zanges.
All those that are tied.
Release them for me!

Damballa hé, illé, illé no!
Damballa hé, illé, illé no!
Damballa hé, illé, illé no!
Thc children are in trouble (tied),
These poor children are under the carpet.
Damballa hé, illé, illé no!

The terrible Soussou-Pannan, an ugly, cruel Zange, tries to smash the drums, goes after the tafia, and runs toward the goat as if he intended to bite it and suck its blood (he has the reputation of sucking the blood of live stock). He sings a threatening song.

Yon seul pitite moin gangnin.
Yon seul pitite moin gangnin.
Qui reté pou’ chaché d’leau van moin.
Soussou-Pannan passé,
Li vlé prend li,
Pou’ li allé manger.
El moin ators? Charité ma mandé?

I have only one child.
I have only one child.
Who stays to seek water for me.
Soussou-Pannan is passing,
He wishes to take him,
For he is going to eat him.
And what will become of me? Must I ask charity?

As the ceremony progresses several of those who have already been possessed are “mounted” by other gods. Guédé, Ibo, Adjassou, Sobo, Nago Shango, and Congo are usually present at ceremonies in the North. The behavior of these Zanges varies greatly. Guédé, guardian of the cemetery, looks like a dead person. He wears a black robe and talks continuously in a nasal tone. He is armed with a knife and he goes around beating those who are possessed. Ibo acts like a dog. Adjassou, a Zange with protruding eyes, is always excited, always in a hurry, and always in bad humor. Sobo, a handsome military officer, is very calm, the antithesis of Adjassou. Nago Shango, a respected god, is restless and stern, but good-hearted, while Congo, a minor god without power, is handsome, but timid, apathetic, and almost feeble-minded. The songs for these Zanges follow:

Guédé-Nibo, moin devant la Croix.
Comm’ oué gade là, arrêtez-yo.
Comm’ oué gade là, arrêtez-yo.
Moin devant la croix!
Garde-à-Ibo, mané papa
Si nous content.
Adjassou-Miroi, vive en Dieu.
Adjessou-Miroi, vive en Dieu.
Yo dit nan point bon Dieu.
Gangnin bon Dieu!
Yo dit nan point les Saints.
Poutant gangnin les Saints!
Adjassou-Miroi, vive en Dieu!
Mé Sobo! Mé Sobo! Mé Sobo!
Tcha-tcha, danoué so hé
Anago! Anago! Anago hé!
Si nous mangé cabritt’ déjà,
Nous pas mangé cochon encor.
Anago! Anago! Anago hé!
Congos vini oué zaffé à-yo.
Congo-Loas vini oué moin.
Congos-Radas vini oué moin,
Zaffé à-yo!

Guede-Nibo, I am before the cross
When you sce the guard there, stop them
When you sce the guard there, stop them
I am before the cross!
Guard of Ibo, ask Papa
If you are content.
Adjassou-Miroi, live in God.
Adjassou-Miroi, live in God.
They say there is no God.
But God does exist!
They say there are no Zanges.
All the same the Zanges do exist!
Adjassou-Miroi, live in God.
Sobo has come! Sob0 has come!
Rattle, shake the rattle!
Anago! Anago! Anago!
You have already eaten a goat,
You have not eaten pork yet.
Anago! Anago! Anago!
The Congos have come to see their
The Congo-Loas have come to see me.
The Congo-Radas have come to see me,
To see their affairs (to see the rites for them

Zonges continue to arrive as the time for sacrificing the goat approaches. Although the excitement ebbs and flows most of the songs for the gods are sung enthusiastically, and sometimes two or more chants are heard simultaneously.

Saint Antoine, saints anges gardiens,
Priez pou zenfants-yo.
Arada, sonnez Agwé
Ou pas oué nou embarrassé?

L’Afrique yo mandé mangé.
Moin travaillé assez
Pou moin ba l’Afrique yo manger.
Jodi-là force raidi m’raidi
Pou’m payé dette moin.
Moin mandé la paix,
Pou’m ça fait la vie moin!

Saint Antoine, guardian angels
Pray for these children.
Arada, call Agwé!
Don’t you see that we are in trouble?

The African gods demand sacrifices.
I have worked enough
To give the African gods their food.
Today I have worked hard
To pay my debt.
I ask for peace,
And ways to earn my living!

Finally the solemn moment for the sacrifice of the goat arrives. The victim, dressed in his ceremonial goat25 25 In the North, sheep, goats, and cattle which are to be sacrificed in vodun ceremonies are dressed in white cloaks on which are stitched red and blue crosses. Red and blue ribbons are tied on the horns of cattle. The beards of the goats, as well as their hair, must be well combed. No “clothing” is worn by chickens and pigs. bleats as it is led to the priest. The houngan makes verver, and then offers the animal three branches of green leaves while he sings:

Na prallé ba bête à les saints manger.

Na prallé ba bête à les saints manger.

We are going to give an animal to the Saints to eat.
We are going to give an animal to the Saints to eat.

The goat hesitates a little, but hunger gets the best of him and he nibbles at the leaves. The priest does not allow him time enough to eat but repeats the maneuver three times, always with the same results. The crowd is now very happy, because the eating signifies that the offcring is acceptable to Saint Jean-Baptiste (or whichever Zange is the main one in the service). The officiant cries in a loud voice: “Vive Papa Bon-Dieu! Vivent les Saints! Vivent les Anges! Vivent tout’ zenfants!” The drums are beaten furiously, and are accompanied by rattles and a triangle. The participants repeat the words of the priest many times. Ogoun-Tonnerre (Saint John) mounts the goat, rides it around as if it were a spirited horse and when the goat is tired, lifts it to his shoulders and dances with it. After some time he gives it to the sacrificer, a person appointed by the houngan. The priest then sings a Catholic chant:

J’engagé ma promesse au baptême.
Mais pour moi, d’autres firent serment.

I gave my promise at baptism.
But for me the others pronounce the oath.

The participants repeat the same chant, and the houngan says:

Priez pou li, bonne et puissante mère.
Reconnaissez vos âes!
Mettez à genoux.
Du haut du ciel,
Oh, les Bienheureux,
Secours des Affligés!

Pray for him, good and powerful mother.
Recognize your souls!
From the heights of Heaven,
Oh, blessed ones,
Help the afflicted!

This is followed by another Catholic song, There Is a King of the Angels. Then the goat is washed for a long time to the singing of two chants:

Oumtort là senti fort.
Oumtort là mandé baignin!

Baigné, baigné,
Baigné bête-yo.
Ou va laver pied,
Ou va laver tête oh!

The goat smells strong.
The goat demands a bath!

Bathe, bathe,
Bathe the beast.
We are going to wash the feet,
We are going to wash the head!

The animal is now ready to be sacrificed and the priest intones:

Moin té palé yo.
Yo pas té vlé couté
Cé jou ma coupé tête-à yo,
Cé jou-là ya couté moin.

I had advised them.
They would not listen!
It is the day I cut their heads,
It is that day they listen to me.

The houngan continues the rite with a couplet.

Sang apé coulé, Mouché Pierre,
Preparé vaisseau pou mêter sang-là!

The blood is flowing, Mouché Pierre,
Prepare a vessel to receive the blood!

He walks around the circle three times followed by his aides, one of whom leads the victim. A final verse is sung before the sacrifice is made.

Preparé vaisseau.
Mé sang-là apé couler.

Prepare the vessel.
Now the blood will flow.

The sacrificer cuts the head of the animal, and the blood is caught in the proper utensils. They are very careful to allow none of it to fall on the ground. The dancing becomes more animated, and the singing continues.

Grâce! Grâce, Papa Bon-Dieu.
Grâce les Saints! Grâce les Zanges!
Aïe yo! Cê la vie nous mandé.

Mercy! Mercy, God.
Mercy, Saints, Mercy, Zanges!
Aïe yo! It is life that we ask.

Catholic and vodun chants are smoothly interwoven as three or four chickens are added to the principal sacrifice. The priest throws acassan (a mixture of corn meal and milk), fried corn, liqueurs, and other foods and drinks on the body of the goat. A short distance away the cooks are very busy. The sacrificial chanting is prolonged:

Bonsoir, parraine Legba!
Bonsoir, zenfants!
Ah! Legba mandé ou ti moceau.
Ba li moceau goûté.

Good evening, God-father Legba!
Good evening, children!
Legba asks you for a small piece.
Give him a piece to taste.

Tardy Zanges, anxious to plead for the poor man who is giving the ceremony, sing an action de grâce and a chant of deliverance.

Grâce oh! Grâce oh!
Grâce ma pé mandé.
Ou pas oué cé pauv’ innocent?
Les Saints de ciel,
Ou pas oué cé pauv’ innocent.
Grâce oh! Grâce oh!
Grâce ma pé mandé.
Lagué pauv’ malhèré.
Lagué pauv’ innocent.
Les Saints de ciel,
Ou pas oué ce pauv’ innocent?

Mercy! Mercy!
I ask for mercy.
Pardon him.
Don’t you see this poor innocent man?
The Saints of Heaven,
Don’t you see this poor innocent man?
Mercy! Mercy!
I ask for mercy.
Release this poor, unhappy man.
Release this poor innocent man.
Saints of Heaven,
Don’t you see this poor, innocent man?

The houngan slips away for a brief rest, leaving the Zanges and the fidèles (vodouists who do not become possessed at ceremonies) to dance and sing until the food is cooked.

At six o’clock in the morning the priest, fresh and alert, begins the ceremony again. He sprinkles the food with holy water, repeats the Catholic morning prayers, evening prayers, and the Magnificat. He supplements them with several compositions of his own invention and ends with a chant which appeals to God, Mary, the Saints, and the Zanges.

Sainte Marie, Mère de Dieu,
Priez pou les Saints-Arada.
Sonnez, Agwé! Sonnez Agwé!
Grâce, Grâce Papa Bon-Dieu
Grâce les Saints, Grâce les Anges.

Cé la vie, nous mandé!
Grâce, tous les Zanges, l’en roche, l’en ciel, l’en la mé, l’en bois. Ainsi soit-il.

Saint Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for the Zanges-Arada.
Ring the bell, Agwé! Ring the bell, Agwé!
Mercy, Mercy, God, Our Father!
Saints, give us mercy. Zanges give us mercy.
It is life that we ask!
Mercy, all the Zanges, of the rocks, of the sky, of the sea, of the woods. So it is.

He makes verver over the food and commences to distribute it, singing all the while. The twins, Papa Legba, and the chief gods receive the first servings. These portions are placed under trees, at springs, at crossroads and other sacred places. The rest of the food is given to the participants, with those who have been most active in the ceremony getting first attention.26 26 There are two differences between the North and the region around Mirebalais at this stage of the service. No gods are “sent away” and “buried” with needles with broken eyes in the North, and the family does not place food in a “small house of worship” and then wait quietly for several hours while the gods eat. In the North each family does not have a house of worship for the Zanges. Most houngans have badjis (vodun temples), and some servants who are not houngans have such houses, but they are not common. The servants who have these houses may hold rites for their families on Christmas, Easter, January 6th, and other days, without the presence of a houngan. On these occasions they put a basket of food on the altar, but neither they nor houngans wait for the gods to eat. See Herskovits, op. cit., 167 and 176. 27 A line seen’s to have been dropped from this song. It is given as I received it from my informants. The priest eats nothing, but a generous supply of food is reserved for his household. The drummers receive the head of the goat as their reward, and the various helpers are given large portions. During the distribution of the food and the liqueurs the houngan chants:

Délaido, jou’ na coré

Nou mangé viande à Papa.
Nou ba li zo-là pou soucer.
Délaido, jou na coré!

Délaido, when you are embarrassed
You have eaten Papa Legba’s food.
You give him the bones to suck.
Délaido, when you are embarrassed!

The bones of the goat are placed in a wooden bowl filled with water, and the priest’s aides proceed to wash their hands in the bowl. Then the members of the family giving the ceremony come and put several coins in the bowl. After the chlidren of the family have been bathed with the greasy water, a little of it is carefully poured into a bottle, and the rest of it, with the bones, is secretly buried in the ground at the entrace to the family estate.The horns and the bones (care must be taken not to break them) are arranged in the form of a cross pointing to the four cardinal points. These precautions are necessary to prevent a new demand on the part of the gods. By seven-thirty the drumming is done half-heartedly and the crowd begins to leave. Most of the Zanges have departed, but a few accompany their “horses” as far as the entrances to their own homes. In concluding the service the priest chants.

Crâce à Bon Dié,
Crâce à les Saints ,
Crâce à les Zanges,
Crâce à les Morts,
Crâce à jumeau-yo
Crâce pou Mait’ service,
Crâce pou Madame à li,
Crâce pitite-li,
Crâce pou Zanges universell!

Thanks to God,
Thanks to the Saints,
Thanks to the Zanges,
Thanks to the dead,
Thanks to the twins,
Mercy for the master of the service,
Mercy for his wife,
Mercy for his children,
Thanks to all the Zanges!
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