Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Baron in Haitian Vodou

We are in a liminal timeframe – between ages as it were.  The fall of the Piscean rule and the rise of Aquarian ideology provide a rocky footpath for those of us living in the end of times.  War, disease, starvation and planetary upheaval in the forms of Tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes can make one very sensitive to the cycles of Death and Birth.

During this cycle of planetary death, it is only natural that the more sensitive among us can ‘hear’ the voice of the Baron.  Wildly popular through the gothic style of his look and clothing, he is none the less a powerful and ferocious spirit who is not to be played with.  Along with Mama Brijit, he rules The Gedes, the large, bawdy class of spirits who are the unknown, unreclaimed, and forgotten dead.  The Baron and his unruly children live in the cemetery, itself a gateway between here and the unknown.

A crossroad of both the living and the dead, the cemetery is a magical place.  It is a deep well of immense power, danger, and magic.  Here lie the ancestors, with all their knowledge, experience and skills achieved during their lifetime.  All that adds up to power – power gained by work, living and loving; emotionally wrought, intensely etched upon their remaining consciousness.  Here is where we come to gather this knowledge, because it so ready and available.  Here, at the crossroads of the living and the dead, we find the domain of the Baron.

Traditionally, the grave of the first male buried in a cemetery is considered to be the location of the Baron's grave.  Why?  Well, as the oldest grave, the occupant has had access to each and every person buried in the grave yard.  If we think of the cemetery as a large community of souls, then this first person is the gate keeper, the sign post and the most respected.  Not just for his age, but because he's been there the longest!  He's seen it all, and as such, knows everything.

One goes to the cemetery to talk with the Baron, to ask favors or help, to leave offerings, to find solace.  Who better to understand the pain of loss and regret?  The Baron hears this through his eternal night.  The souls under his keeping express their earthly emotions all around him, seeking emotional sustenance and succor from their father.  It is a very tough business, this keeping the dead in line.  The Baron comes to it with solemn stature and a deep konesans of what needs to be done, to be given, to be taken.  Through his domain pass all who ever were.  He is the one who understands best the pain of loss, the agony of unspoken desires.  It is what he hears all day and all night, from the denizens of his unearthly domain.  The forgotten dead, those left behind by families too poor to pay them heed or too angry to offer remembrances, only have the Baron to turn to for their grievances.  The Baron sits and listens eternally.

The Baron is accompanied by three brothers – Samedi, LaCroix and Cimitiere.  Each has a purpose and a duty particular to their station in life.  Samedi is said to be the owner of the cemetery as a whole; LaCroix owns the graves; Cimitiere owns the perimeter. (La Legende des Loa, Port au Prince, Mercedes Guignard, 1993) Although the Baron is the ruler over all, each brother also is responsible for his own operations, his own work, and his own spirits, working in the world.  It is also said that these spirits are the ones bokors can purchase (known as pwen achte or ‘bought points’), but that Baron, the Overall Father, does not condone this kind of thing.

When the Baron comes in possession, he is a striking figure, tall, coolly aloof and sepulcher in his personality.  Dressed in his funeral finery, he drinks Piman, a fiery concoction of habena peppers, spices and rum, smokes cigars and sits watchng the Gedes  dance the bawdy banda.  This dance often makes one think that he wants sex – but it is a joke, a test.  The Dead always want to get married, they always want to simulate the sex act, but they know that these things are forbidden between themselves and the living.  The banda with its wild hip gyrations and gratuitous thrusting is a parody of the sex act, but is also symbolic of the place where The Gedes reside - the corridor between birth and death.  They pantomime sex which leads to conception, which leads to birth which is how the dead re-enter into the sensate world.  With their wild dance and salacious attitude, the Gedes reminds us that this life is just another step in the process.  Death will come, but so will life again. 

The banda is not danced by Baron. He has clearly said he is not a creole Lwa. One is reminded that the Port au Prince cemetery is the original burial ground for French and Spanish soldiers who died during the yellow fever epidemic. The first man buried in there is more likely a foreigner than Haitian. So it makes sense to me at least, that the Baron would not regard himself as Creole.

In Haitian Vodou, the Baron is often called the Father of the Gedes.  How many times have you passed an old cemetery, with the grass over grown, weeds sprouting and no flowers in site? Those dead are long forgotten, left to fend for themselves.  But the Baron is still there, waiting, watching, gathering information and time.

I find it amusing that people today assume the Baron's personality: the black clothing, the dark brooding attitude.  It's as if being a gothic groupie some how makes the assumption of the Baron's form more palatable.  This is not true – one does not assume the persona of Death unless one wishes to die!  .  The Quick and the Dead do not mix – it’s one of the few hard and fast rules of Vodou.  In Vodou, we keep the Dead separate from the living.  Family crypts are out in the yard, away from the main house.  Cemeteries are elaborate in Haiti, more so than the homes.  It is in the best interest to keep the family dead happy, so they can work for the living.  The Baron knows this, and keeps his counsel to the living – “Do not commune with the Dead.” (La Legende des Loa).  The dead have spent their time on earth, gathering knowledge and experience.  It is time for them to rest, reflect and journey forward on their endless round. 

The Baron is beyond caring, beyond our simple rules and reasons.  He is like Father Time, both timeless and ageless.  He is exists beyond the mortal consciousness of time constructs.  Married to the fiery Maman Brijit, together they rule over the dead, making way for their multitude of children to have egress out of this world and into the next.

 St. Martin de Porres is the Catholic saint shown standing before a poor house, with dying people.  Dressed in a black cassock, with a long rosary, he personifies the stern solmen demeanor that is associated with the Baron.  The Baron likes fiery rum , laced with hot peppers, unfiltered cigarettes and ancestral foods like strong cold coffee, white bread, popcorn and peanuts.  His veve is comprised of the cross, the coffin and the spade, all symbols of the dead and of graveyards.  Listen in the still of the night, as steel shovels hit hard packed earth.  That is his voice, speaking out for all eternity, reminding us that eventually, we are all bound for the same place, equals at the very end.

Copyright 2005, Mambo Vye Zo Komande la Menfo, Daginen

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