I recently gathered the Sosyete’s initiates for a weekend of magic, service and just fun. Having eight assons in ritual space is pretty impressive stuff, and very powerful. We gathered to work Makaya this night, making magic, wanga and pwen. Simbi Makaya came forward a month ago in my own ritual work, looking for me to acknowledge and serve him again. He was very clear with me and several others that we were to invoke him. He was ready to begin again. I felt it was time, having corralled Makaya due to a rather distasteful event he was part of last year. I thought that his time out had cooled his over-eager desire to “help” me. And I use that word in the broadest sense. You will see why as you read down.
Simbi Makaya is called the Godfather of Vodou for a good reason. He is not some airy-fairy kind-hearted spirit. He is direct in his dealing, morally neutral in his choices and doesn’t give a hoot what anyone thinks of him. He is huge, fiery, and angry. The kind of anger that simmers until it reaches a boiling point and then spills over into danger. Makaya comes from the Kongo state in Africa, where some of the hottest and most dangerous spirits originate. In Haiti, one does not work in the Rada-Petro didactic method of service with Makaya . Makaya is not Rada or Petro. It is a separate set of rites with its own reglemen, and is served by the Bizango and Sanpwel societies. It is so secret, that if you are not Haitian or initiated into it, you will never be a part of it.
Rough estimates say there were over 350,000 African slaves at the time of the Haitian revolution who had only recently arrived in Haiti – some as recent as three months prior. They were warriors, military men, and prisoners of the Kongo wars for land and people to work that land. They were mad as hell, first at being in bondage to a King that wasn’t their own, and then for being sold into slavery. They were not about to accept their bondage. They were ready, willing and able to take down the white planters and affranchise classes.
The Kongos also were the majority nation of the maroons, the runaway slaves who retreated to the interior of the island. Their leader was a man named Boukman Dutty. Dutty ignited the revolution by setting fire to the sugar cane plantations outside of Cap Hatien. So great was the conflagration, that the clouds two miles out into the Caribbean were lit up by the flames. These were dangerous times for everyone – masters, slaves and maroons.
I give you this little bit of history, so you have some context for what happened to our sosyete and one member in particular Saturday night. We are fine, so let’s begin there. When one works with the Lwa, it’s like the airplane warning for crash landings: put your oxygen mask on first, before helping someone else. When we work with Makaya we make sure we are safe before we invoke this fiery, hot spirit. So please be assured -- we are ok and so is everyone in the sosyete.
We had lectured and taught all day on Saturday about pwen, wanga and client work. We discovered our own intentional power, and were ready to rock out in Makaya style that evening. After a solid dinner, with offerings presented and space consecrated, we opened as usual with the Rada court, sang our way to Danbala, took the break, and came back to sing full on with voices, clapping hands and assons going full throttle.
We sang through the Reglemen up to the Kongo nation, before we swung into Simbi Makaya’s songs. Having spent many years collecting, we have an excellent repertoire of songs, and could sing without repetition for a dozen or more tunes. I was worried about the houngan holding Makaya, so I had coached all day to everyone that a passé was as good as gold. We began singing, and dancing. The houngan grew red in the face, and broke out in serious sweat. The room became intensely hot. I could feel the sweat running down the middle of my back. Everyone’s faces grew shining, then had little rivulets of water running down, but we kept singing. And then -- I could feel something – the coppery taste in my mouth was overwhelming; the dizziness and the tilt of the room off putting. The houngan saw my stress and rushed to me, touching his forehead to mine. A blaze of bright light tripped me up, and like Alice I fell down the rabbit hole. I re-entered reality 45 minutes later, with my skin on fire and bright red like a sunburn. Some of the mambos rushed to get me water to drink and cold damp towels to cool my skin. We closed the night as usual with a recitation of songs, followed by coffee, rum and a summary of what had happened in my absence.
Makaya was stable, but many people said they could feel his underlying anger. He seemed tense, on point, tightly wound but highly controlled. He demanded cigarettes and whiskey, drinking down a quarter of the bottle on the first sip. Having settled into his smoke and glaring down his nose, he demanded to know what he was doing in the house. The houngan explained that people wanted to receive his gad for protection. Payment was negotiated and accepted, and then the work of giving the gads began. He called each person over, questioning them about the gad and administering it with quick efficiency. When AK knelt, Makaya seemed highly interested him. They conversed quietly, and Makaya gave his gad extra attention. When all the work of the night was done, Makaya lingered for another pull on the Dewar’s and another round of cigarettes. He pointedly answered a few questions, curtly reminded us of his payment for the gads and was gone. I returned to the current time dazed, hungry and very thirsty.
AK told me later that Makaya expressed interest in AK’s woman. I told AK not to worry; interest is not the same as doing anything. His partner was not under any obligation to do, say, or be anything. That’s just the spirit talking. Makaya is a blowhard, and will always puff out his chest to make a big show. Saturday night finished with rum and a late dinner. We talked about the fet, the Lwa who came, what was said. Folks had questions about the gads, but I asked to be allowed to crash. I promised to answer all questions the next day, so the night ended with bed and blessed sleep for all.
Sunday was a refocus day. Having spent a good amount of time in ritual on Saturday with such a powerful spirit, people naturally had questions. The first was how to care for the gad. Second was what to expect if it went off. And thirdly, when would we all make payment to Makaya.
First off, I explained that the gad required nothing of them. It would simply be an early warning system; a way for them to know when there was danger nearby and to make preparation to deal with it. I also told them it could be many kinds of danger – bodily, mental and spiritual. My own gad acts like a hair has fallen down my arm. The feeling continues, until I do pay attention and act in whatever way is necessary to keep myself safe. It would be the same for them.
If indeed it did go off, the deal for protection was simple: allow Makaya to do whatever was necessary in the moment. That’s a big one – we want things fixed but we often put the brakes on the work as well. “Help me, but don’t do this or that. Don’t hurt him/her/it, just make it go away.” That is not how the deal works with Makaya. You don’t get to dictate how he does his work. You have to accept whatever he chooses to do. I teach all the time that the Lwa are morally neutral entities. To expect them to act human is to deny their natural abilities. They are like a knife. A knife can cut food to sustain you or kill someone to save you. Wielding that knife takes skill and finesse. Working with Makaya is the same thing. I don’t tell him what to do. I just ask that my godkids be safe. It’s his choice to do as he sees fit. I reminded the godkids that even Makaya is beholden to the Almighty and cannot do anything without it being BonDye’s will. That is a point often forgotten in all the magic and smoke and whiskey and bragging that goes on with him.
And finally, payment for this gad (like all gads) is a blood offering. We will be buying a lot of roosters next year to fulfill our end of the bargain. But in this area, my godkids are good. We do blood work for Kanzo and other rites in Vodou. They’ve all assisted and seen how we do this work. We do it with humility and with compassion. Death is a swift gesture, meant to cause little pain and suffering. Our African teacher showed us how, and we work in the African manner. (If blood work is not to someone’s liking, then a gad won’t work for that person.) Having satisfied all questions, everyone said their goodbyes and headed off to planes, trains and buses for home. Sunday night was rum and coke with old friends, and a review of the weekend. We were very content all around.
(I will finish the tale in tomorrow's blog.)