Thursday, October 13, 2011

A L’occasion des ceremonies de ses Jumelles

I just returned from a classic Voodoo ceremony.  It was a celebration in honor of Monsieur and Madame Touglo’s twin girls.  The girls are about six.  I would say this voodoo celebration is something like a baptism or Jewish Bat Mitzvah.  That being a very loose comparison, meaning it is a celebration of a turning point in a child’s life, and in this case an official voodoo initiation of being twins.  And so this day was to recognize and celebrate the gift of the Twins, and to thank the spirits for this blessing.

Monsieur Touglo teaches at L’ecole No. 5, a primary school.  Mr. Touglo is one of my favorites.  He’s always happy, and polite, and I know he’s very smart.  I was pleased that I was invited to this important occasion.  Monsieur Dove and Kaizai came by my house earlier in the week with a handwritten invitation to Monsieur Touglo’s Fete’.  They told me they would come to my house at 7am on Friday and walk with me to the event….and so they did.

The Ceremony
It was fascinating…..full of rituals, both African and Voodoo.  It’s a natural manifestation of the Voodoo philosophy that twins would be considered special.  Twins are viewed as two halves of one soul.  They are given status and looked on as having special powers.  Twins never die in the Voodoo Culture, they live on to be spiritual guides for the generations to come.  Mr. Touglo has three daughters.  Following folklore the child that comes after the twins is even MORE special because that child will benefit from the personal guidance of the Twins. 

There were many people; neighbors, extended family and some dignitaries and while the Chief couldn’t come, there were representatives of the Chief present.  The ritual began with the family (mom, dad and the three children) sitting in the middle of a circle of probably over 100 guests.  During this time they were presented with many beautiful necklaces and other jewelry,  all of which were  ceremoniously placed on each of them.   Earrings, necklaces, bracelets.  Drums beating in the background.  Then the girls, all three of them, were taken aside, away from their parents  and eye makeup was applied to each one of them by a voodoo priestess.   I didn’t understand this part, but later someone told me it is part of the voodoo ceremony.  The eye makeup represents keeping bad spirits from entering through their eyes.  I’m sure there’s probably a little more to that, but I was kind of glad to hear this interpretation.

The ceremony was very serious during the presentation of the jewelry, but the rest of the time it seemed to be  lighthearted, like a party after a First Communion.  The guests, mingled, drank and ate, listened to music.  All three of the girls seemed to enjoy themselves.  They were serious and well behaved when they needed to be and then they were playful when left to their own devices.   I could see that the whole family was very proud of this event.   I think maybe they were a little nervous also.  It was a “big to-do,” for a little village family.

I learn more about voodoo as I go along.  There are so many misperceptions.  From what I’ve learned thus far, it is really a wonderful, quite beautiful philosophy, though sometimes quite complicated, for this western thinker.  It’s difficult to find accurate, indepth information about voodoo, primarily because one of Voodoo’s tenets is that it is an “oral” history.  The tenets and traditions of this religion have been passed on orally from generation to the next for over 6000 years.  It has also gone through a variety of manifestations as people migrated around the world.  The basic tenets of voodoo are the same everywhere, if not all the details.

The Essence of Voodoo
“Within the voodoo society, there are no accidents. Practitioners believe that nothing and no event has a life of its own. That is why "vous deux", you two, you too. The universe is all one. Each thing affects something else. Scientists know that. Nature knows it. Many spiritualists agree that we are not separate, we all serve as parts of One.  So, in essence, what you do unto another, you do unto you, because you ARE the other. Voo doo. View you. We are mirrors of each others souls. God is manifest through the spirits of ancestors who can bring good or harm and must be honored in ceremonies. There is a sacred cycle between the living and the dead. Believers ask for their misery to end. Rituals include prayers, drumming, dancing, singing and animal sacrifice.

Some people associate Voodoo with evil, but many of its rituals, even those that include the sacrifice of live animals, focus on respect and peace. Its religious leaders become community leaders, providing guidance and settling disputes. Leaders also frequently provide medical care in the form of folk medicine. Priests, priestesses and other practitioners typically dedicate their work to helping and caring for others “

Ablo (A traditional Togo Meal)
The “After Party”
I had to leave the ceremony for a meeting after about three hours, but I got to see the ceremony.  Dove and Kaizai were demonstratively disappointed that I had to leave so soon.  On the way to the event they seemed upset when I told them what time I’d have to leave.   When I left  I’m sure the festivities were barely started and that this party would go into the night if not the next day. 

Kazai and His Father
Dove and Kaizai had other plans for me.  I almost foiled them.  I couldn’t understand what they had in mind as we were walking.  I thought I was going home to get ready to go to a meeting in Taglibo…..but I  could tell that they had something else in mind.  After a short walk we reached Kaizai’s house.  I had never been to his home before.  His entire family was there…his wife, his father, his brothers, children.  I don’t think they were there because of me, though they were really welcoming.  I think this whole family shares this compound and the ones next door, and this get together is somewhat of a daily occurrence. They were all busy doing something.   Kaizai’s wife was cooking, his mother was holding her grandbaby.  Kaizai’s brothers wife was sewing, Kaizai’s father was sitting in a doorway on the stoop, shucking corn.  Little kids were running about.  

The Girls
The Boys
It was really nice to meet Kaizai’s family. I loved his family.   They asked me to take photo’s.  After a short while meeting and greeting everyone Dove and Kaizai led me across the road to his brothers house.  His brother and his wife had a meal prepared for me, a very traditional African meal.  Ablo.  It’s made of cornmeal, and there is a spicy sauce that goes over it, and usually chicken.  I really, really like ablo.  It’s kinda got the taste, if not the consistency, of cornbread with a spicy sauce.  They had a little table set up, just for me and brought me a couple courses of food.  I think they were very pleased to have me as a guest in their house, and they were thanking me, and getting to know me.  We joked a bit about the fact that I don’t eat meat.  That’s a little shocking to them and hard for them to understand.  It gets about the same reaction as when you say, “I’m divorced.”  They talked to me while I ate, I kept asking them to join me, but that’s not the normal tradition. 

They didn’t keep me long.  They knew that I was pressed for time.  I appreciated that I got to go to Kazai’s.  It’s obvious they were planning on having me there for a meal.   After I ate I said good bye to everyone, and thanked them.

It was such a nice day.

I had a lot to think about on my walk home.

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