A voodoo banner

A voodoo banner


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Title: Voodoo Oriflamme.

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 90 - Width 60

Technique and other indications: Sequins and beads of scales and plastic sewn on fabrics.

Storage location: Private collection

Contact copyright: © Private collection - All rights reserved

© Private collection - All rights reserved

Publication date: October 2007

Historical context

Deported from the African coast, mixed without respect for ethnic groups at the bottom of the hold in slave ships, sold and dispersed upon arrival in the Americas, African slaves, despite everything, reconstitute community rites to which they more or less indulge clandestinely.

One of the most important is the voodoo cult, syncretic, emerging rapidly in Haiti and joining many African animist elements (especially originating from vodun still practiced today in Benin) Christian, Native American and even Freemason elements. He is extremely popular and sometimes scares the masters.

In the "houmfor", a closed temple, the initiates meet, under the leadership of a main priest, the "hougan", and practitioners; after the bloody sacrifice of an animal, ritual dances on the circular sacred surface, around the "post-mitan" (true axis of the world), make it possible to bring in the "loa", "spirits and divinities" of this cult in order to that they answer the questions, the concerns, the requests of the practitioners who question them. The initiates in a trance, who have become “loa horses”, answer these questions and their throats articulate what the thought and the voice of the “loa”, astride their shoulders, instill in them.

Image Analysis

The banner hangs in the temple, in a twilight misty with dust and smoke from torches; at the top of its pole or a wall, it remains flexible and its mobile image sparkles.

This is a set of esoteric signs, knowledge of which is reserved for initiates. The central black axis designates the post-mitan. The 8-pointed stars designate the mythical city of Ifé, in Yoruba land, in northern Nigeria. The black undulating symmetrical lines are "vévé", signs designating "loa" and capable, if they are rubbed when they are drawn on the ground and that one erases them there, to make physically come these "loas" so that they own the initiate. Checkered hearts and fishes designate other "loa". Exceptionally - because writing is rare there - this banner names in capital Latin letters two of the main "loas", Dambhalah, often represented as the serpent god and Erzulih, mulatto goddess who embodies beauty, coquetry and sensuality.

Everything here is done by the anonymous women who sewed the sequins of this banner onto the fabric to signify the strength, harmony and concentration of power dominating the world, as the voodoo cult expresses them.

In his famous Topographical, physical, civil, political and historical description of the French part of Saint-Domingue, Louis-Élie Moreau de Saint-Méry (1750-1819), lawyer of Martinican origin, relates for the first time the rites practiced by black slaves under the name of voodoo. He thus mentions in 1797, the serpent and the vévé as elements of the animist cult, originating in West Africa, practiced by the slaves.

Interpretation

It should be understood that this banner was made to be seen, agitated by drafts and the posturing of dancers and initiates in trance, in the semi-darkness of the temple. The vigorous black lines of the "vévé", the white shapes of the bodies of the fish remain, in this situation, quite visible.

But what emerges above all then is a complex, sparkling, mobile image, the appearance of which is constantly moving and deforming. The banner makes the invisible visible during voodoo worship, impressive: the glitter that shines and moves, these are the thousand eyes of the dead, they are also those of the "loa" who constantly look at us and immediately conceal themselves. The banner belongs to a polytheistic cult, without a center, without a single and unifying god. The appearance of the world shimmers, the divine depth of it constantly multiplies, escapes, seduces, returns and leaves, diffuse and elusive hope, just as the slaves see their gods distant and still present, faithful but rebellious to all calm seized. Spiritual peace is not accessible to them.

  • slavery
  • Haiti
  • religion

Bibliography

Médéric-Louis-Elie MOREAU de SAINT-MERY Topographical, physical, civil, political and historical description of the French part of the island of Saint-Domingue. New edition completely revised and completed. Philadelphia, 1797; réed.Paris, Society of the history of the French colonies, 1958.3 vol.Pp.64-69.Pierre PLUCHONVaudou, sorcerers, poisoners of Saint-Domingue in Haiti.Paris, Kharthala, 1987.Donald J. COSENTINOSacred Art of Haitian VodouUniversity of California Los Angeles, Fowler Museum, 1995.

To cite this article

Yves BERGERET, "A banner of voodoo"


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