Saturday, November 12, 2011

Samedi: Voudon Chants

One of the largest parts of any Voudon ritual is music.  Drums are a staple at the oumphor; in fact each one usually has its own name and resting place for when it is not in use.  The rhythmic stomping of feet and clapping of hands is also part of the tune and the clear voices of the worshippers raised in song completes the sound. 

The songs, or chants, are slightly different in each oumphor, but their meanings and their use in worship are the same.  Some are sung in Haitian Creole and some are sung in French; in New Orleans voodoo, the chants may also be sung in English.  None of this changes the importance of the songs, which can address a specific lwa or a lwa nachon.  Either way they are sung to entreat the spirits to help in a specific working being undertaken by the mambo or houngan.  They are similar to the raising of power done by groups of Wiccans or the prayers repeated by an entire congregation of Catholics.

Milo Rigaud, a native of Haiti born in the early 20th century, recorded many of the old chants in his book Secrets of Voodoo.  Published in 1953 and still in print today, the book is a careful study of Haitian Voudon that, despite its somewhat titillating title, should be on the shelf of any serious student of the religion.  Rigaud documented many of the chants, in Creole or French and English, so the words used when he was writing are still available to us today.  To my knowledge, not much about them has changed.

As an example, here is the Yanvalou (part of the service-lwa or ritual of worship) to the Queen of the Ghede Maman Brigitte as sung in Port-au-Prince according to Rigaud:

Maman Brigitte!  Maman moin!
O! Ououe ca?
A l’entour caille-la
Gangnin dif e la-dans ni
Nous cache bois
Pou Nous semble dif e;
Nous cache d’l’eau pou nous
Touye dif e.
La plus par tome
Ou pas our?
Terre-la glisse.

Mother Brigitte!  My mother!
Oh! See that?
Around the house,
There’s a fire in it.
We gather wood
To build a fire;
We gather water to
Extinguish the fire.
The rain does not fall.
Don’t you see?
The ground is slick.

Maman Brigitte is thus called up to protect not only the oumphor but the worshipers within it as well.  An appropriate chant, I think, on this her holy day.  Bon Samedi ~

Header: Maman Brigitte painting via Vudu Mexico


Timmy! said...

Very appropriate, Pauline...

Pauline said...

I thought so, too.