It's that time of year again -- the weather has turned colder, the leaves are falling and here in Pennsylvania thoughts turn to purple and black drag, sunglasses with dirty fedoras and a loud laugh followed by high jinks and outrageous behavior. Yes, it's Fet Ghede, the feast of the Ancestors, and for me a time of turning inward to reflect and think about the path I am on.
I am a child of the Baron -- I was born on November 2 at in the wee hours of the morning. My birth was heralded by my great grandfather's arrival at dawn with an armful of huge white mums for my mother -- the Baron of our household, with a Ghede gift if ever there was one. I am intrinsically linked to this time of year. So its no surprise to me that when I Kanzo'd those ten years ago, the Haitians were slightly put off when they heard of my birth. The Baron is feared in Haiti. He is not like Ghede, the loving clown who is a ribald character and a healer. No, the Baron is "other" and let's talk a bit about why.
The cemetery in Port au Prince is another world -- one that remarkably mirrors that of the living. Long roads with fabulous mansions line the wealthier parts. Here the elites of Petitionville bury their dead with all the pomp and circumstance money can buy. But there is also Kwa Baron - the grave of the first male in the cemetery. A large cross surmounts this place, and it is here that the focus of all the Fet Ghede celebrations is centered. But who is this person who sleeps beneath the black cross covered in flowers, candles, rum and bits of paper? Let's remember that the cemetery was first established as a burial ground for victims of the Yellow Fever epidemic that took so many of the foreign soldiers during the Revolution. The man who lies there is not necessarily Haitian but "other" -- just as the Baron is not Haitian nor African, but "other". When the Baron arrives in our temple, he sits and stares at the Ghedes clowning and making their riotous noise. He clicks his teeth in distaste and has said to us that the Ghedes are Creoles without family or friends. And he has been very clear that he is not a Creole, but other (his words).
Heating up the Dead -- is a hallmark of the feast day. A conversation with your beloved gede is the best way to mark the day. An offering of rum and habenaro peppers is a way to help those who have been in the water, literally anba dlo (under water) become warm and enthusiastic again. One wants to engage the Dead to help with things -- advice, job hunting, lost love. But having been sleeping in the cool waters of Ginen, they need to be enlivened, and so the piman goes around to "heat up" the dead, so they will work for us again. Ghede Nibo, the prime gede, loves piman, the hot, spicy peppered drink that is the hallmark of the Gedes. They will even wash with it (including their genitals), as a sign that they really are dead. Our Papa Edgar used to say that we should not believe every Ghede does this. And in fact, Kate Smith has shown that Ghede was much more of a healer than a clown fifty years ago. But in this new world of cholera, political fighting and religious intolerance, Ghede is needed to give voice to the La Pep. And so he makes fun of the politicians, the elite and anyone else who comes across his radar as a fit target.
Serving the Ancestors -- is the way to finding your conversation with Ghede. One doesn't so much adopt these Lwa, as be adopted by them. Mama Lola says everyone has gede -- because we all have dead in our family. But not everyone has the Baron, and that's ok, too. The Baron is a tough task master. He doesn't cotton to people who dally with his energies. And he is just as likely to take your life, as give it to you. I am careful around my Baron. I honor him at this time of year -- but only at this time of year. I have a head full of spirits who require my attention, and so I try to give each one their due. I think I will make fresh Piman this year for Baron, and make a trek to the graveyard to say hello. It's the best offering I can make, and one that is expected of me as a Mambo. May all your Dead be blessed and well fed this year.
Kwa. Kwa Senbo. Kwa la Kwa.