Sunday, August 24, 2014

And now a word from our sponsors...

I just received this from Brill Publishers this morning. 

It's the cover of an anthology on African American Religious experience. I am very honored to be included in the work. My piece is on Esoteric Writing in Haitian Vodou. I compared the art of veves to sigil writing in Western Ceremonial work. The commonalities are far to close to dismiss out of hand.

The gestures of blessing, the veves themselves and the proper way to actually draw them (as opposed to slap-dash method I see many folks doing) is a ceremony in and of itself. I was taught that to draw a veve is a dance - moving slowly and deliberating clockwise around the artwork. The houngan who showed me this was named Jean Vale. He would arrive each morning at the peristyle, a cigarette dangling precariously from his lip and a large plastic bag of cornmeal in hand. Eyeballing me and my husband, he'd gesture us over, and through creole accented English, with a voice thickened by smoke and phlegm, he gave us the finer points of writing "the words of the Lwa." The ever present cigarette never strayed from his mouth, while he spoke.

Jean particularly like Don, and spent an hour each day, showing him how to "write" the veve properly.  Bent from the waist for an hour at a time was hard on the legs, but the artwork was stunning.  Jean showed us how to use other materials - coffee grounds for instance -- to color a veve so it would have depth and vigor.  He even drizzled clarin (Haitian Moonshine) over an Ogoun veve one night, then lit it on fire. A spectacular piece of artwork, he then made all the girls present dance over and through it -- said he was heating us up for love later one. (That Jean, quite the ladies man!)

When we worked with Papa Edgard, he was very impressed by Don's artwork, nodding and complimenting him. "Hmm-hmm, tres bon" he would grunt, as Don finished the details on a rather complicated Danbala piece one night. Taking a bottle of rum, Edgard then "foulye" the drawing to enliven it (sprayed rum over it in a fine mist).

I was taken by the artwork I saw, both in person in Haiti and in older books. The floor work was spectacular - huge lacy patterns, some that filled the floor of the peristyle. You couldn't help dancing on the image - there was literally no where else to stand. The hours spent drawing these beautiful pictures was mind boggling. Bent from the waist, with nothing but cornmeal, the houngans would drizzle the cornmeal out in thin rivulets, all the while holding the image in their mind. Sometimes, we couldn't even see the whole piece from one side - it was a 360 degree artwork, meant to be seen from all sides, and enlivened throughout the night with rum, water and candles.

Today, I see Veve's all over everywhere - on artwork, on jewelry even on myself (I am tattoo'd with Legba's veve on my upper arm - the same arm I use to hold my asson.)

The humble veve has moved out of the Haitian temple and onto the world stage. I do hope the Lwa are pleased - after all, they are the ones who chose to enter the world of non-Haitians. Surely they picked the sites and places where they can best be seen and understood. I am always amazed by where the Lwa have landed - from my own simple household to the places as far away as Norway and even Japan. Some day, I hope to draw a veve for them on each land mass of the world. But for now, I am pleased to do it here at Sosyete du Marche. I know they are, too. Ayibobo.

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