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The day God visited Bocor Zandolite

Frater Vameri

Harold Courlander presents us with a story that he collected in the field and that I reproduce here entirely:

"Bocor Zandolite invited people from the whole countryside. They sacrificed chickens, goats, and bulls, and the feast was to last seven weeks. The finest drummers in the country were drumming, and everyone danced, from the old women and the old men down to the babies who could hardly walk. They danced all night and all day, day in and day out. The noise was deafening. Ten hills away people could hear them singing and drumming. Bocor Zandolite brought out his great Assotor drum, which stood as high as a man could reach, and when his musicians began to play it even the people down in the villages by the sea could hear. God heard it too. All night and all day he heard it, week in and week out. He couldn't sleep at night, and in the daytime he couldn't work, for all the noise. Finally he called St. John and instructed him to go down to halt Bocor Zandolite's feast. St. John descended and approached the gateway of Bocor Zandolite's habitation. He was very stern. Bocor Zandolite met him at the gate. The drums were pounding, and the dancers were dancing, and the loa had entered people's heads. Bocor Zandolite took St. John by the hand to greet him. He sang: "Factionnaire ouv'e' baye pou' moin passe! Wa wa ile londja londja! Bocor Zandolite, wa wa ile londja londja!" Then he shook St. John's hands three times, and pirouetted him twice, first to the left and then to the right. Suddenly St. John staggered. He staggered this way and that, and his face broke into a sweat. He grasped the centerpole of the dance ground, and reeled around and around it. Then Bocor Zandolite took him by the hands and gave him a lighted candle in one and a glass of water in the other, and St. John spilled water on the ground for the loa who was in his head. A week went by, and the noise was getting worse, and God wondered where St. John was. So he called St. Patrick and sent him down to stop the ceremony. Bocor Zandolite met St. Patrick at the gate. He took him by the hands and sang: "Wa wa ile londja londja! Bocor Zandolite, wa wa ile londja londja!" Then he pirouetted St. Patrick back and forth and shook his hands. St. Patrick staggered and reeled, for he had a loa in his head too. Another week went by, and God sent St. Miehael, and the same thing happened. The next week God sent St. Anthony, and when St. Anthony didn't come back he sent St. Peter. But when St. Peter didn't return God was angry. He hadn't slept for weeks, and that made him feel worse. So he welnt down himself. The drums were beating louder than ever, and half the people of the North were there dancing with loa in their heads. God frowned at everything, and he scowled when Bocor Zandolite met him at the gate. Bocor Zandolite took God by the hands to greet him. He shook his hands downward three times, and then he pirouetted him, first to the right and then to the left. God suddenly staggered and jerked, and he reeled from one end of the habitation to the other. the drummers beat an ochon (salute), and the singers sang loudly and clapped their hands, for God had a loa in his head...."

The allegorical events described above are certainly very interesting. What Courlander argues is that although God is the most powerful force, he is not the absolute force, as the story he reproduces demonstrates. Furthermore, it may seem strange that the saints have Lwas on their heads. However, if we remember that many saints are identified with Lwas or that the saints are a mysterious category equivalent to the Lwas, perhaps this question will be answered.

The fact that God and the saints have Lwas in their heads does not mean that the Lwas are more powerful than these - what this seems to imply is in a shared universe, in which these things coexist. Thus, the Lwa in the head of the saint appears just as there will appear in other stories Lwas who are Catholic, that is, who accept Christ and the saints. What one should do with that? First, I think we need to stop trying to impose a cartesian logic on these dimensions. It is difficult to accept that not everything needs to be perfectly nested, but in doing so, the world can become richer.

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