Photo by M. M. Beasley in: Myron M. Beasley (2010) Vodou, Penises and Bones Ritual performances of death and eroticism in the cemetery and the junk yard of Port-au-Prince, Performance Research, 15:1, 41-47, DOI: 10.1080/13528165.2010.485762
In this article I bring the discussion raised by Myron M. Beasley in an article that deals with performances about death and eroticism in Vodou. The reason why I was especially interested in this article orbits the duality “sex & death” that characterizes the Gede. This duality, I think, is often either misunderstood or poorly understood. However, this dynamic between the erotic and the end of life is revealing and highlights the importance of Gede .
It is curious that Beasley begins the article by highlighting the similarity between death and a performance. Beasley points out that both things are mysterious and have others things in common: to leave impressions of things that are gone and, for example, longing. Thus, Beasley will try to unveil through a short ethnography about the performance of death what, after all, death and erotism have in common.
Here, it is worth mentioning a Beasley´s informant who states: Vodou is who we are, it´s nothing to be afraid of… it protets us. Death is both the beginning and the end, [ Gede ] death is a welcomed friend.
This brief speech shows us very direct things about this informant : Vodou is more than a mere religious practice; death is more than just an end. The interesting thing here is to think about whether we can generalize these personal impressions or not. I believe that we can and thus we will be able to better understand the role of Vodou and its mythology in the lives of those who are immersed in it.
Beasley quotes Bataille who states that the erotic is a way for us to feel alive and that it involves a certain dissolution of the person that makes possible to move from a normal state to an erotic state. This, Beasley correlates with the Gede rituals that involve transgressions and exhibitions of an erotic and also mortuary nature - here we can see that dissolving is also found in death, which is also a passage from one state to another. So, the act of walking between states is something that connects eroticism and death in a very intimate way.
Also, Beasley discusses an interesting similarity between this erotic and deadly transit to the state of religious ritual - or perhaps to religious ecstasy, we could say. Citing Somè , Beasley tells us that the spaces of sacredness can make us “succumb”, he we find an idea of letting go and even dissolving. When we "succumb", we can then transform.
One of the performances that Beasley witnesses and tells is quite remarkable. On the day of the dead, while conducting his studies at the Port-Príncipe cemetery, Beasley saw a man talking to a Gede and then being hugged by him and bursting into tears. The assumption is that Gede said things that impacted the man. In any case, the man consulted takes the drink of Gede (Rum full of peppers) and uses it as a lubricant to masturbate in the sacred space. Beasley does not fail to point out that this would sound like blasphemy to many, but there it is a sacred act. Semen is a sacred liquid that holds the mysteries of life and life is the vehicle for the spirit - and the body the vehicle for the Gede . There are connections and multiple connections.
It is evident that Beasley's study goes further, but we stop here for our purposes. Beasley seems to point to the fact that performance is a mean by which we can move between states. This may be a clue to explain the Gede's exhibitionist character. Furthermore, as death and eroticism are par excellence changes in state and nature, we can see how they connect. Only what is alive dies and life is only perpetuated by eroticism. Thus, it is without much fear that we can think that eroticism is the expression of death.
Myron M. Beasley (2010) Vodou, Penises and Bones Ritual performances of death and eroticism in the cemetery and the junk yard of Port-au-Prince, Performance Research, 15:1, 41-47, DOI: 10.1080/13528165.2010.485762