Saturday, March 19, 2011

Samedi: Lwa Nachons

In Haiti, the lwa run in packs. It may sound a little irreverent to put it that way but I’m betting Baron Samedi and Maman Brigitte at least are having a good laugh about it right now. Lwa families, or nations known in Haitian Creole as nachons, are worshipped together at fetes. They have different family characteristics and they are approached according to same. At one point there were numerous nations but over the years some have been absorbed into the more recognizable groups that we know today. In this post, I want to give a little background information on each of the five major nations with whom I am personally familiar.

Rada: The Rada nation contains the lwa considered the most benevolent and easiest to work with. They are probably also the most familiar to people who know only a little about Voudon. The lwa in the Rada nation originated among the Fon people of Dahomey and includes Damballah, Papa Legba, Erzulie Freda and Agwe. These lwa are thought to be distant, ancient and forgiving but they are said to work very slowly so they are rarely consulted in a situation of dire, immediate need.

Petwo: The fiery Petwo nation originated in Haiti. They do not claim African origin but were kindled by voudonists on their native soil, particularly during the era of rebellion and revolution in the early 19th century. This nation includes Bossou, Simbi, Erzulie Danto and Kalfou. Because this nation is much less predictable and more quick to anger than the Rada, they are sometimes referred to as ze rouge meaning “with red eyes”. They are more demanding of their devotees but they can hurry along workings for healing, prosperity and even revenge.

Kongo: This nation originated in the Congo area of Africa and many of their individual lwa have been assimilated into the Petwo nation. They too are considered fiery and quick to anger. The Kongo lwa are often referred to collectively as lwa-gad or guardian spirits. They are associated with magick and with protecting the voudonists who serve them.

Ibo: The Ibo nation came to Haiti with the Igbo people. These are ancestral lwa who are particularly concerned with protecting the downtrodden and the enslaved. This association may come from the fact that the Igbo people tended to be enslaved by their neighbors in Africa before European slavers appeared on their soil.

Ghede: This is, of course, the nation of the dead. Ruled by Baron Samedi they are the closest to living humans. They do not have their only rituals per ce but will happily barge in while other nations are being called, heedless of whether or not they were invited. They are frequently called upon for help in matters of health, money, love and particularly fertility. Talking to the Ghede is a daily occurrence for many voudonists who very much feel them to be part of everyday life.

Other nations exist as well, including the Nago of Yoruba and the Bambara from the Sudan but, as noted earlier, many of these have been absorbed into other nations. There are also lwa who are the almost exclusive domain of secret societies like the Zebop which no one with my limited knowledge has any business talking about. In the end, the lwa are like a large clan with each family having its own area of expertise and with certain members openly loving or despising one another on an ongoing basis. But that’s another story for another time. Ashe ~

Header: RaRa band in Haitian metal art via


Timmy! said...

Interesting... I was only aware of the Rada and Ghede lwa previously, Pauline. Good to know, though... thanks!

Pauline said...

We learn something new every day, right?