The Asson in Vodou
The sacred maraca of Vodou, the Asson, tied with beads and containing secrets, is today the sacred object that identifies the houngan and mambo of vodou. The asson as symbol of the houngan and mambo asogwe however is a testimony to the importance of kreyolization as the asson was originally a symbol of royalty and held by few people. These few people were those who came from royal lineages in Dahomey (Benin). Oral history tells that these priests, said to be 21 in number, was regonized by a spiritual tool they carried with them, which was called asogwe. The asogwe was a gourd rattle, the very same gourd rattle we today call asson, a word that defines a web of beads. It was these 21 priests that arranged for the formalities of the fateful sevi in Bwa Kayman in 1791 led by Boukman Dutty and Cecile Fatiman that sparked the 13 year long revolutionary battle for independence.
With Haitian independence came the opportunity of making some form of organization of the spiritual legacy found in Haiti and various forms of Vodou took shape. Most of them vere worked without any asson, especially in the north of Haiti where the African heritage was more intact and the forms of vodou largely referred to as Fran Ginen, honest Ginen, was transmitted within families with the memory of the linage intact. These lineages were using a kwa-kwa (a simple maraca) at most to work with their lwa and ancestors. They had no kanzo, which is the name for the initiation in asson lineages. Rather they had a three ceremony called kanzwe which was mainly sevis tet, manj tet, lav tet and a three day long couche in honour of one’s met tet and ancestors. This would be considered sufficient for those of fran ginen to affirm their connection with Ginen. This way was also called the water path of Vodou as in working water one would work clairvoyance, prophecy, memory and dreams as the vital axis of the vodou being done.
What they had in these fran ginen lineages was the boule zen, the burning pots with the aim of heating up the lwa of the hounfor by a work of contrast. This ritual was taken along with the water elements of fran ginen to create the ritual of initiation into asson lienages called kanzo. Kanzo literally means “to tie fire”. The kanzo was developed first in the North of Haiti by the children of these 21 priests that ensured the beginning of Haitian independence in 1840 – 60. The aim was to ensure a true royal succession to those who was not purely African and to preserve the rich heritance of Haitian spirituality as we find in the wealthy spirit catalogues detailing the 21 nations of lwa. It was a way of giving royal blood to non-royals by a literal passing on of the royal fire! An enormous act of spiritual generosity that was largely rejected in the North of Haiti due to some reservations with excessive use of fire and also the lack of necessity for those who still held the memory of where they came from alive.
Consequently the kanzo travelled south and found itself thriving well in more urban places like Port-au-Prince, Jacmel and Leogane. Cities like Goave, home to Milo RIgaud, managed to keep a quite beautiful acceptance of both the fran ginen and the fire ginen that was given through kanzo. The travel from North to Port-au-Prince took a few decades and so we find that the most traditional and ‘old’ houses of kanzo Vodou in Port-au-Prince dates back to around 1920
The history of the asson in Vodou is a testament to the beauty of spiritual generosity, the willingness to preserve memory and the absence of spiritual jealousy in offering the royal fire of the asson as a means to awaken these royal powers in people remote in memory and legacy from Guinen. It was this attitude that gave equal status to the rada lwa, the original lwa from Africa and the petwo lwa, the spiritual forces that took shape in the new world as equally important in Haitian Vodou Asogwe. Vodou is fire and Vodou is water. Vodou is oil and wine fusing alchemically together, an impossibility made possible through the starry dance of lwas stretching across the web of the world as beads, vertebras and secrets…so naturally when the asson is shaken lwa is also shaken and when lwa is shaken so are we. Shaken into the memory of ginen infuses us with the secret wisdom that enables us to stir the cauldron of water until it takes fire!