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

NASA Brings Scientists & Theologians Together To Prepare World For Extraterrestrial Contact

NASA Brings Scientists & Theologians Together To Prepare World For Extraterrestrial Contact













Arjun Walia, Collective-Evolution
Waking Times

A couple of months ago top U.S. astronomers gathered in front of congress to let them know that extraterrestrial life exists without question. Their main argument was the size of the universe, emphasizing that there are trillions of stars out there, with one in every … More

September 26, 2014 | By | 13 Replies More
Mom Says NO to School System Intimidation

Mom Says NO to School System Intimidation













Heather Callaghan, Contributor
Waking Times

And Common Purpose, and the threat of Social Services…

This British mum smacks down the punishing culture of the public school system . She gives a chilling account of what happened when her son was given confusing commands, humiliated in front of class, brought to … More

September 26, 2014 | By | 2 Replies More
Money and the Myth of Freedom

Money and the Myth of Freedom













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

What if EVERYONE was wealthy beyond their wildest dreams and how would that affect our perceived “freedom”?

I often use an analogy of freedom as a man walking his dog.  The man is the government, you are the dog and the leash is … More

September 23, 2014 | By | 4 Replies More
6 Notoriously Misleading Food Terms Used to Trick Consumers

6 Notoriously Misleading Food Terms Used to Trick Consumers













Arjun Walia, Collective-Evolution
Waking Times

Our modern day food industry has become quite the debacle, with chemicals being sprayed all over our fruits and vegetables, to genetically modifying to processed food. As a result, the world has seen a large resistance to modern day food practices, and the resistance continues … More

September 23, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More
Mysterious Virus Spreading Across U.S. and Canada And Primarily Affecting Vaccinated Children

Mysterious Virus Spreading Across U.S. and Canada And Primarily Affecting Vaccinated Children













Dave Mihalovic, Prevent Disease
Waking Times

It’s being considered a severe respiratory virus known as EV-D68. It hits hard and fast and has already created an outbreak in Colorado, Missouri, Utah, Kansas, Illinois, Ohio, and four more states in the Midwest. It has also crossed over the Canada with confirmed … More

September 23, 2014 | By | 2 Replies More

Activism Works

Peace Through Synchronized Global Meditation

Peace Through Synchronized Global Meditation













Lance Schuttler, Personable Media
Waking Times

We live in a world today where the idea of group power is being rekindled and where it’s momentum is gathering. Humanity as a whole is remembering that it is thoughts and actions of kindness, honesty and equality for all that create positive change.… More

September 21, 2014 | By | 3 Replies More
7 Ways Cannabis Legalization Has Already Benefited Colorado

7 Ways Cannabis Legalization Has Already Benefited Colorado













Jeff Roberts, Collective-Evolution
Waking Times

January 1st 2014 saw the opening of the very first cannabis shop in Colorado as the cultivation, manufacture and sale of the controversial plant became fully legalized. Since then, the state has seen a lot of promising results.

Laura Pegram of Drugpolicy.org wrote in her … More

September 16, 2014 | By | Reply More
Sweden Recycling 99 Percent Of Garbage, Edging Closer To Zero-Waste

Sweden Recycling 99 Percent Of Garbage, Edging Closer To Zero-Waste













April McCarthy, Prevent Disease
Waking Times

There’s a revolution happening in Sweden right now. Dubbed the “recycling revolution,” the Scandinavian country now recycles 99 percent of their garbage, edging closer to a zero-waste lifestyle, nationwide.

Wouldn’t it be great if no household waste was wasted? If each and every item … More

September 4, 2014 | By | 6 Replies More
Food as Medicine: How One Hospital Is Using Organic Produce to Help Heal Patients

Food as Medicine: How One Hospital Is Using Organic Produce to Help Heal Patients













Coach Mark Smallwood, EcoWatch
Waking Times

In 431 B.C. Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”

More than 2500 years later, we are inundated with advertisements boasting the latest, greatest cure-all super drug. From a young age, we learn that it doesn’t matter how or … More

August 23, 2014 | By | 5 Replies More
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