the view from the roof of the orphanage
Another central feature of Voodoo is the
service,the religious rites of the religion.
- These are usually held outside, under a rough roof and around the
poto mitan,the center pole. A houngan or mambo almost always directs these.
- Drums are used extensively to provide music and dancing is absolutely essential to the whole service.
- Services are fully participatory. Not only the houngan and mambo participate but nearly everyone present.
- A master of ceremonies (La Place) is often present.
- A hounganikon directs the music and motion.
- Hounsi (women only) are serving ladies, usually dressed in white.
- Those in attendance are nearly all participants and most can be
- In most services the loa
mountpeople. That is, they come and take over a person's body for a time. When the loa come the person is gone. (It's not clear where the person goes.) The body is the body of the person, but it is really the loa. If a male loa mounts a female person, he is referred to as
he,not she, during the mounting.
- Nearly every Voodoo service has animal sacrifice. By killing the animal one releases life. The loa are exhausted by the taxing task of running the universe. Thus they can receive this life sacrificed to them and are re-juvenated. They are usually quite happy about this.
Two weeks ago tomorrow I had one of the worst nights of sleep I have ever had. I was exhausted from working out in the hot sun all day at the orphanage. I joined the men up on the roof of the orphanage to go to sleep that night. I was laying down on my thin little mattress pad, hoping to fall asleep quickly. I hadn't been laying down long when an earthquake aftershock rattled me. One thing I learned while I was in Haiti- I HATE earthquakes. I never ever want to feel one again. When you are living in a country that has been decimated by an earthquake, even a small tremor like we felt that night can be frightening. I did NOT like it. But I was glad I was sleeping on the roof, and not inside the building. Suddenly my compassion and understanding for the Haitians who refused to go back inside perfectly stable buildings grew.
Realizing sleep would not come easy to me, I took two sleeping pills and knocked myself out. Normally under such conditions I would sleep straight through till morning. (I've been told that I did sleep through Brigham poking me trying to wake me up several times.) But I was not so lucky this particular night.
Somewhere late in the middle of the night, in the pitch darkness, I woke up to the most awful sound I have ever heard. It was a voodoo service in a nearby field. It sounded like hundreds of voices in pain. There was chanting, drums, and "singing." It was the horrible wailing I remember the most. It felt dark and evil. I hated it. I hated the sounds and the feeling in the air. I tried to block it out and fall back asleep, but it was nearly impossible. I just laid there in the dark, vaguely aware of a glow in the nearby field, praying for sleep. I fell back asleep at some point. I don't know how long I was awake. It felt like the voodoo sounds lasted for hours.
But then, just before sunrise, I woke up again in a peaceful darkness. At first I thought it was the voodoo waking me up again. But as I sat and listened I realized I recognized the music. There was one solitary voice singing in the darkness. And it was singing (in Creole), "Amazing Grace." It was so beautiful. I listened as the song changed and the man began to sing (in Creole), "The Lord is My Shepherd." I laid there on my mat until sunrise, just listening peacefully as the voice grew fainter and further away.
I asked a Haitian friend later what I had heard. He said I had heard a voodoo service of about 200 people. He confirmed my fears that they can be dangerous, and that they can be evil. I asked if he heard the man singing. He said yes, that it was a shepherd leading his flock. He sings as he walks in the darkness and his flock knows to follow him.
I am glad that I believe that the Lord is my Shepherd.