Thursday, March 8, 2012

Authentic Vodou and White *ahem* Middle-Class College-Educated European-American Practitioners

On Facebook, the ever-persistent Wade Long said:
Right now I'm just trying to clarify HIS argument. So far he has been unable to convincingly explain why the magic is only "authentic" when nonwhites do it.
I'm also unable to convincingly explain how one can swallow rocket fuel and fart his way to the moon.  Which is why I'd never make such an absurd statement as "[Vodou] is only "authentic" when nonwhites do it." 

Let's look at a quote from "Why I am not a Professional White Vodouisant,"

Since I wrote The Haitian Vodou HandbookMambo Chita Tann and Mambo Vye Zo Kommande la Menfo have also written excellent guidebooks for aspiring Vodouisants. We have all made it clear that while it is possible to honor the lwa and ancestors on your own, you will not be able to get to the heart of Vodou practice without actually joining a société and becoming an initiate (or, at the very least, a regular attendee at fets and public ceremonies for the lwa).
Anyone can serve the lwa and the ancestors privately, regardless of their race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation.  But there is also a public and communal aspect to Vodou as there is with every other religion.  And to understand that public aspect you're going to have to attend public services. There's nothing saying those services must be thrown by Haitians, or even that any Haitians must attend those services.  But as a practical matter, the vast majority of fets being thrown in the United States today are thrown by Haitians and attended predominantly by Haitians.

Does it have to be that way? Not at all.  It's entirely possible that a non-Haitian Houngan and Mambo Asogwe could hold a fet attended by their non-Haitian initiates and other interested non-Haitians.  The excerpt above mentions two non-Haitian Mambos Asogwe: I'd also point you in the direction of Houngan Asogwe Matt Deos and Houngan Aboudja, both of whom are just as non-Haitian as a certain Houngan si Pwen who has written a few books on the subject. (For that matter, all five of the people I've mentioned above would likely be considered "white" by your average New York cabdriver).  If Houngan Tim Landry is back from Benin, we could add another European-American practitioner of "authentic Vodou" to the mix - so there go any claims of Vodou "only being authentic if non-whites" -- or even non-Haitians -- practice it.

We would need to find a Houngenikon who knew the songs and drummers who knew the appropriate rhythms.  Again, the vast majority of people with these qualifications in the United States are Haitian - but that is by no means a requirement. And while we'd probably have to wind up going to a Haitian marche (market) to pick up some of the necessary supplies, we could definitely use materials purchased on the Internet so long as they were the correct ones.  I've seen Lotion Pompeia, Palma Christi Oil, and various other materials sold online, so that shouldn't be a problem.  So there is nothing stopping us from holding a fet which hewed to the reglamen and served the spirits without so much as a single Haitian or Haitian-American crossing our threshold.

But here's the thing: none of the people I mentioned above would be particularly interested in going through the hoops required to hold this theoretical non-Haitian Vodou ceremony. We would all be more inclined to go to our initiators in the Haitian community and attend services there.  While there is a non-Haitian Vodouisant community, it is still too small to offer the kind of knowledgeable and skilled people we could find by going to our Haitian friends and co-congregants.   And we would not be particularly sympathetic to those who treated our friends with disrespect and wanted us to create a ceremony which adhered to Haitian protocols but protected their delicate sensibilities from coming in contact with our "scary" or "threatening" Haitian co-congregants.  I wouldn't disinvite an African-American friend from my party to mollify a bigot who wanted to attend.  Why would I treat my Haitian friends with any less respect?