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Ancestrality and Vodou

Frater Vameri

When we discuss Vodou the subject is often about the Lwas. Although this is understandable, it ends up emptying other relevant dimensions within this spirituality. These dimensions will also impact the Lwas themselves. One of these dimensions shows itself particularly more important the more we study and live Vodou: ancestry.

Ancestry basically deals with our ancestors - those people who came before us and who paved our way with their blood. In the West, perhaps the focus on individualism has erased much of the notion of family, and if we got to that point, ancestry has certainly been the victim of a much more significant erasure. Our relationship with ancestors is usually one of ignorance or deliberate forgetfulness. However, in Vodou this is often seen in another way.

Since we have talked about the Lwas, let's go to them first. Some Lwas can be deified ancestors. For example, we have the mythical Agassu - ancestor of the lineage of the Kings of Allada and Dahomey. Or even, we could mention Ogou Shango who would have been King of the city of Oyo. The problem with these examples is that we cannot attest to the truth of the human life of these spirits. If we want to bring the discussion closer, we can use Maya Deren's masterful book “Divine Horsemen ” , in which it was shown a beautiful ceremony held one year and one day after the death of a relative (usually), in which one of the relatives comes to remove the soul of the dead from inside the abyssal waters and puts his spirit in a receptacle that will be the object of care. In theory, this ancestor may even (in due course of time) become a "high ancestor" or, some will say, even a Lwa . Here is an important point: some practitioners - servants - understand that anyone who has been alive cannot be called Lwa. For them, the Lwas would be just entities that had their origin beyond our human life. This discussion is beyond what I want to bring here, but, in any case, it is important for us to know that there is no harmony in this matter.

We will not miss the opportunity to make a parallel between these abysmal waters and the Kalunga of Congolese cosmology. A subject that would give a separate discussion, but that is marked here so that the interested reader can search about Kalunga (if he doesn't know already about it) and draw his conclusions.

Mambo Vye Zo Komande LaMenfo in her book “Serving the Spirits ” places (in a hierarchical order that we can question) the ancestors just below the Lwas and above the Gede on a scale that does not show the importance, but perhaps the proximity to Bondye. In doing so it is automatically excluding the Gede from the ancestors. This is a discussion that often causes confusion. The Gede are generally understood as the dead. However, it is generally comprehended that they would be the forgotten dead: that did not have an appropriate funeral; or even that were not cried by anyone.

So, why would the ancestors be above the Gede in this theology proposed by Mambo Vye Zo Komande LaMenfo ? Was it just by being close to Bondye ? Well , I think it is also due to proximity to the server, certainly - and here I do not speak of proximity as if their nature were similar, since Mambo places the living still below the Gede. I'm talking about proximity to the servers in the sense of contact. Ancestors are the dead who are remembered. They may not even be known specifically by the person in question, as there may be a great distance between generations, but they cannot be confused with the dead who are left behind. These ancestors are spirits who will be particularly (generally) supportive of working for their lineage and who will accompany their blood.

Ancestors, when you are initiated into a spiritual family, will also be mande of those who participated in the house in question. Therefore, in many Lakous there are ceremonies to recognize these people who came before. In individual work, it is also important for a server to recognize the strength of their ancestry. For example, many Lwas that come with servers can be passed in a "hereditary" way. Karen McCarthy Brown's Mama Lola shows some of that. In addition, ancestral spirits can help in a variety of ways, but you need to be open to that kind of help.

The problem with putting things in boxes, like Mambo Vye Zo Komande LaMenfo did is that the complexity is flattened. Accepting her view one may think that relations with Gedes could be less significant for a given servant than relations with his ancestors - but it is not always so. In fact, relations with the Gede are quite conflicted. For example, in many Vodou houses the Gede doesn’t fit in anyone’s head - in other words, if a person´s Met Tet ( Lwa “owner of the head ”) is revealed to be a Gede , like Bawon Samedi, (usually) Ogou will take the place of Gede in these houses.

In any case, it is clear that this does not mean that relations with ancestors should be neglected. Think of Vodou itself and Haiti - both built inseparably and both built by the blood and sweat of the ancestors of those who live there today. Now, if we breathe today and have what we have, we all owe a portion of that to our parents and to our parents' parents and so on. Part of the solidity of the earth that sustains us is given by the bones of those who came before us.

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