That Voodoo That You Do: Music, Trance and Slavery

May 7, 2012 | By | Reply More

Debra Devi
Reality Sandwich

Blissed-out, ecstatic union with our divine selves — we seek it at raves and rock concerts, and in the desert with the Burning Man. I try to get there when I’m jamming with my band — but I didn’t realize until I wrote The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to Zuzu how much this longing relates to Voodoo, and the concept of possession.

Vodou (the proper Kreyol/Creole spelling of Voodoo) is a neo-African religion that evolved in the New World from the 6.000-year-old West African religion Vodun. This was the religion of many slaves brought from West Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean. Vodun was brutally repressed by slave-owners, yet its powerful ethics and aesthetics endured. We owe our concepts of cool, soul and even rock and roll to it.

The roots of rock are in a West African word for dance — rak. And as Michael Ventura wrote in his important essay on rock music, “Hear that Long Snake Moan“: “The Voodoo rite of possession by the god became the standard of American performance in rock’n'roll. Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown, Janis Joplin, Tina Turner, Jim Morrison, Johnny Rotten, Prince — they let themselves be possessed not by any god they could name but by the spirit they felt in the music. Their behavior in this possession was something Western society had never before tolerated.”

Vodou possession is not the hokey demon-possession of zombie movies; it’s a state of union with the divine achieved through drumming, dancing and singing. It’s becoming “filled with the Holy Ghost” in the Pentecostal Christian tradition, reaching Buddhist nirvana, or attaining the yogi’s Samadhi.

In the Yoruba culture of West Africa, this ability to connect with one’s inner divinity is called coolness (itutu). In traditional Yoruba morality, generosity indicates coolness and is the highest quality a person can exhibit. In American culture, we say someone is cool, or that a musician “has got soul.” We notice “Southern hospitality.”

The Trans-Atlantic slave trade carried these ideas to the New World, particularly as slavers burrowed inward from Senegambia on the West African coast to the Kingdom of Dahomey, a Vodun stronghold.

Dahomey spread across much of today’s Togo, Benin and Nigeria and became heavily involved in the slave trade. Vodun practitioners were sent overseas by the thousands, for example, when the Fon people of what is now Benin conquered their neighbors, the Ewe, in 1729 and traded prisoners to European slave ships. Many Fon were also kidnapped and traded into slavery.

 

Vodu is a Fon-Ewe word meaning spirit, or deity. Vodun is God or Great Spirit. This supreme creator was an all-powerful, unknowable, creative force represented as the giant snake Dan carrying the universe in its coils. Today, in Haiti and in American Vodou strongholds like New Orleans, Dan is worshipped as Damballah, the Grand Zombie (the Bantu word nzambi means God). He’s John Lee Hooker’s Crawling Kingsnake.

Branching off from this almighty God-force are spirit-gods called loa. During Vodou ceremonies, a loa may descend the center post of the temple to possess or “ride” a worshipper who has reached a sufficiently high state of consciousness. The morality implicit in this is stated in the Haitian proverb, “Great gods cannot ride little horses.”

Vodun practices like drumming were definitely noticed by nervous colonists who had imported fierce warriors and tribal priests to work their farms. After a deadly rebellion in the South Carolina colony in 1739, the colonists realized slaves were using talking drums to organize resistance. The Slave Act of 1740 in South Carolina barred slaves from owning or using “drums, horns, or other loud instruments.” Other colonies followed suit with legislation against the use of drums by slaves, such the Black Codes of Georgia.

Soon, religious repression was in full swing. Slaves caught praying were brutally penalized, as this excerpt from Peter Randolph’s narrative “Slave Cabin to the Pulpit” recounts:

“In some places, if the slaves are caught praying to God, they are whipped more than if they had committed a great crime. The slaveholders will allow the slaves to dance, but do not want them to pray to God. Sometimes, when a slave, on being whipped, calls upon God, he is forbidden to do so, under threat of having his throat cut, or brains blown out.”

Vodun practitioners taken as slaves to plantations in Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, and Jamaica were also harshly prohibited from practicing their religion. But enslaved Vodun priests arriving in the largely Catholic West Indies quickly grasped the similarity between their tradition of appealing to loa to intercede in their favor with the Almighty, and Catholics praying to their saints for intercession with God. By superimposing Catholic saints over the loa, slaves created a hybrid religion called Santeria (saint worship) in the Spanish Islands and Vodou in Haiti.

On August 22, 1791, Haitian slaves revolted, guided by Vodou priests who gave the signal to begin the rebellion and consulted their oracle to determine which military strategies would succeed. The revolutionaries defeated an army sent by Napoléon Bonaparte. They declared independence on January 1, 1804, and established Haiti as the world’s first black republic.

Read Full Article

Tags: , , , , ,

Category: Body, Community, Consciousness, Culture, Music, Self, Society, Spirituality

Leave a Reply

Must Watch Videos

Could This be the First News Channel Run by Teens?

Could This be the First News Channel Run by Teens?













Heather Callaghan, Contributor
Waking Times

Politics affects everyone, so everyone deserves a voice; especially the youth…

It seems like everywhere I go online, I am met with the diligence of Andrew Demeter. I wrote about his award-winning mini-documentary “We The People, Genetically Modified.” Expertly produced, it encompassed a … More

August 12, 2014 | By | Reply More
How to Create a Self-Sustainable Food System

How to Create a Self-Sustainable Food System













Dr. Mercola
Waking Times

Industrial chemical-based agriculture, which produces the vast majority of US food crops, is actually destroying the soil that makes the growing of food possible in the first place.

This is not true in other countries. Worldwide, 70 percent of the food is grown in backyards or … More

August 11, 2014 | By | Reply More
How To Exit The Reincarnation System

How To Exit The Reincarnation System













Gregg Prescott, M.S., In5D Guest
Waking Times

We have all heard about the tunnel of light that our soul follows upon leaving the physical body, but what is the true meaning of the life review?  Why does a life review almost always involve having us continuously looping back into this … More

August 8, 2014 | By | 37 Replies More
Elon Musk Reveals Open Source Design for 14,000 Mile-an-Hour Vacuum Tube Railroad

Elon Musk Reveals Open Source Design for 14,000 Mile-an-Hour Vacuum Tube Railroad













Christina Sarich, Staff Writer
Waking Times

No, you didn’t read that wrong. Paypal co-creator and Tesla Motors Wunderkind thinks that California just wasted $63 billion on a mass transit rail that only goes 164 miles an hour when a 14,000-mile-an-hour pneumatic railroad could be built for 1/10th that amount … More

August 8, 2014 | By | 2 Replies More
Grounding Is a Key Mechanism by Which Your Body Maintains Health

Grounding Is a Key Mechanism by Which Your Body Maintains Health













Dr. Mercola
Waking Times

Have you ever noticed how good it feels to walk barefoot on a sandy beach, or in a forest? There is a reason for that—it’s called the grounding effect. The reason for this sense of well-being is due to the fact that you’re receiving a surge … More

August 7, 2014 | By | 2 Replies More

Activism Works

As Keystone XL Dominoes Fall, Time to Arrest Tar Sands Industry

As Keystone XL Dominoes Fall, Time to Arrest Tar Sands Industry













, EcoWatch
Waking Times

We’ve got this.

Thanks to the courageous and indefatigable efforts of pipeline fighters everywhere, the tide has finally turned on Keystone XL. As it becomes increasingly clear that Keystone XL’s northern leg is not going through, it is time to set our sights … More

August 4, 2014 | By | 2 Replies More
Seizing Control of Our Destinies

Seizing Control of Our Destinies













Julian Rose, Contributor
Waking Times

In 1381, at a time of great repression for the British agricultural work force, an extraordinary people’s revolutionary named Wat Tyler sprang to his feet and announced, “England should be a nation of self governing communities,” to which he added, “ No lord shall exercise … More

July 28, 2014 | By | 5 Replies More
Triumph For Citizens in Florida As Hughes Oil Company Drops Fracking Project

Triumph For Citizens in Florida As Hughes Oil Company Drops Fracking Project













Julie Dermansky, DeSmogBlog
Waking Times

On Friday morning, Dan A. Hughes Oil Company and the Collier Resources Company agreed to terminate their lease agreement, with the exception of the Collier Hogan 20-3H well, next to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Florida.

Hughes Oil dropped its plans to drill … More

July 14, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More
A Forgotten Community in New Orleans: Life on a Superfund Site

A Forgotten Community in New Orleans: Life on a Superfund Site













Julie Dermansky, DeSmogBlog
Waking Times

Shannon Rainey lives in a house that was built on top of a Superfund site in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

“I bought my house when I was 25, and thirty years later, I still can’t get out,” she told DeSmogBlog.

Rainey’s … More

June 23, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More
Wave of GMO Labeling Victories Emboldens Movement to Take Back Food Democracy

Wave of GMO Labeling Victories Emboldens Movement to Take Back Food Democracy













Michele Simon, EcoWatch
Waking Times

The East Coast has been getting most of the attention lately on the state by state effort to label genetically-engineered food. Vermont recently passed a bill and New York State’s bill is now moving. But let’s not forget about the western states, which are also … More

June 11, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More