Saturday, April 7, 2012

Samedi: RaRa Haitian

Yesterday, Good Friday, was the beginning of the week-long Souvenance Festival.  Celebrated largely in Haiti, and there at the town of Souvenance near Gonaives, this observance is dedicated to the powerful Rada lwa and is attended by houngans and mambos exclusively.

For those of us who have not been called into the priesthood, however, there is another lively tradition in Haiti that is particular to this season of the year.  Beginning with Mardi Gras and throughout Lent, the RaRa Festival is celebrated.  During this time – particularly on weekends – bands sashay down the streets of towns and villages alike, usually led by an houngan who serves as musical director and spiritual advisor.

Traditionally, the instruments include drums and horns repurposed from old pieces of metal, conch shells and voices.  Dancers are usually along as well; sometimes jugglers and acrobats accompany the bands.  Everyone is dressed in their brightest clothes and a general holiday atmosphere accompanies the RaRa players.

This noisy tradition was originally a country celebration, but it moved on to large cities fairly quickly.  RaRa bands are at their loudest as they pass through crossroads, where their music and good cheer are believed to drive off evil.

The RaRa bands of Haiti are said by some anthropologists, myself included, to be the ancestors of the now famous Second Line bands in New Orleans.  What goes around comes around, and good cheer is welcome everywhere.  À la votre!

Header: RaRa Band via Haiti Metal Art


Timmy! said...

I like the name "RaRa" too, Pauline. It sounds so festive, but also brings to mind the sports expression that someone is a "rah-rah" guy...

Pauline said...

And it is festive. Once you've experienced it, it will always bring a smile to your face to remember :) In a place like Haiti, where so much is sad to say, there is still a delight in life. How wonderful and brilliant is that?