Kanzo 2016: To Beat War, Part Two

Read part one here.

Kanzo is kind of like being boiled alive. Bat Gé is where you get thrown in the pot and, over three nights, the temperature of the water begins to heat up to a full rolling boil. By the time you get thrown into the djevo, the ‘pot’ is boiling so hard that it is shaking and bouncing and spitting water all over.

On the second night of Bat Gé, bubbles have formed in the pot and steam is coming off the water. It’s getting hot, and the ceremony reflects that. The air is heavy, hot, and wet with kiman and perfumes, there is not one second of silence or stillness, and the lwa come in the heads of their children with an almost unstoppable frenzy.

I am pretty hard to shake or impress these days–I have Seen Some Shit™ and am sort of used to the spiritual rollercoaster of divinities showing up, grabbing me by the proverbial ankles, and shaking me upside down. I, however, have never seen stuff like I saw in Haiti starting that night. It’s hard to explain, really, but vodou is different in Haiti. There is something about having your feet in the dirt–literally, temples do not have finished floors–that changes things. It’s not that vodou is somehow less real or authentic in a Haitian house in the US–it shouldn’t be–but the immense weight of being on the ground that was bloodsoaked and left smoking in the wake of the Haitian revolution and where ancestral spirits live in EVERYTHING makes things blow open in a whole other way.

The first lwa that came on the second night of Bat Gé was a lwa I had never heard of or seen in the US–a theme for much of my kanzo and practice going forward–and he came hard in a petite Haitian man. A priest told me, in our charades-like communication, that he was a very strong lwa. I watched him dance and noted how happy he was–big smiles for everyone, and it was clear that there was some sort of relief and release of tension in being able to be embodied. Eventually he asked for some cologne and the next thing I knew, he had dumped about half a bottle of Florida Water on his chwal’s/horse’s head…and lit the chwal’s head on fire. He danced for a minute with his head on fire and then he was gone, the fire extinguished, and the chwal perfectly fine beyond a slight smell of singed hair.

After he left, another lwa came who I had never heard of before and took the head of a tall, lanky Haitian man who danced like nothing I had ever seen before and then left. After he was there, they started coming faster and faster and people were falling out all over the place. It was surreal to watch–I was constantly jumping out of the way of a flailing lwa or a chwal who had been thrown to the ground and was rolling out of control until they could be corralled by a priest. Being on the ground in Haiti takes away any extra spiritual red tape the lwa have to contend with to be present, and especially for ceremonies with Bat Gé.

At some point, we sang for another lwa I didn’t recognize and he was almost immediately there, in the principal drummer. I found out later that he always possesses a drummer as a precursor to another lwa arriving, and a possessed drummer is something else. I watched Towo drum so hard that, if it had been his chwal drumming instead, he would have had broken hands–he beat the drum so hard that I thought his hands were going to be ripped off. He went faster and faster with only the whites of his chwal’s eyes showing and eventually asked for cigarettes–some lwa like to smoke. Someone put two cigarettes between his lips and he puffed on those for a moment while drumming like a madman. Then, as me and my sister watched over the absolute crowd of folks in front of the drum platform, he opened his mouth, rolled those lit cigarettes back onto his tongue, chewed them up, and swallowed them. I have seen lwa smoke cigarettes and cigars backward with the lit in end in their mouth, but I’ve never seen one eat them lit before. Another ‘only in Haiti’ moment. The chwal, of course, was fine.

As that lwa left, he sort of opened the door for his brother/bestie Bossou, the bull with many faces. All of a sudden, one of the Haitians who had been at the pilón most of the night beating leaves/herbs into powder threw his pestle down and began screaming and stomping the ground like a bull ready to charge would. Bossou did charge, head first into the wrought iron fence around the drummer’s platform, and then began greeting his people in a similar way, albeit with a bit more gentleness–a headbutt to the stomach enough to put them off balance, but not break them in half.

Another Bossou came down and I was presented with another situation I had never encountered before; a calm, human-like Bossou who spoke. I have never seen Bossou not yelling and behaving like a bull, but this Bossou wanted to chat and, specifically, wanted to talk about me. So, he said who-knows-what to my mother, and then began asking me questions through her, since my Kreyol is not yet super conversational.


He asked questions that would become a big theme of my kanzo–are you really going to do this? Are you going to learn what we have to teach you and then disrespect it? Will you do this the right way? In that situation, what else can you say but ‘yes’ (or the appropriate no)? It wasn’t a lie at all when I said yes, but I absolutely know that I didn’t and still don’t really know the weight of my answers except that they were a big promise that can be brought out and pointed to if I purposefully fuck shit up.

Bossou seemed satisfied, and lit the ground on fire for me to walk through, and so I did without my feet even feeling the slightest bit warm. A handshake and a hug and he was gone, and I was a tiny bit dazed–it felt like I had passed my first test. Bossou closed out that night, and we all passed the hell out.

The third night was like nothing I had ever seen before. The temple was packed and so was the alley outside, out the compound gate, and into the street, where all the vendors were set up. For ceremonies, local vendors often set up with a big wooden fold-out case filled with snacks, alcohol, and cigarettes, as well as setting up small grills with meat, fried empanada-like pate filled with beef/chicken/pork/fish, and mayinad, a glorious spicy fried fritter with meat in it. Big coolers filled with Haitian beer, soft drinks, and sache dlo/bagged water complete the vendor row. There were at least a half a dozen there, and the number increased as the size of ceremonies grew.

The lwa came hot and hard almost immediately. Agaou came down screaming into my godmother and another woman and tested the strength of various people, including me. With cigar in hand, he came up and locked elbows with me, on one side and then the other, and tried to shake me out of balance. It is absolutely astonishing how physically strong a spirit can be in a petite Haitian woman a good six inches shorter than me, because it was a fight to keep my feet planted and not crash into Agaou and his lit cigar.

And then we sang for Ogou.

Ogou is very important in vodou as a whole, since it was he who helped light the fire of the Haitian revolution along with Ezili Je Wouge. He is extra important to our house since he is the father of the lineage–everything we have is because of him and his love for us. He always comes hot–there is no such thing as a cool Ogou–and speaks with a ferocity that leaves you wondering if he is angry or just simply intent on you getting the point.

Ogou Sen Jak came long enough to stick his sword into my stomach, walk me into the middle of the temple, and ask when I was going to finally marry him. I thought my head was going to pop off–I just burned everything to ask to be here and you wanna talk about marriage NOW? He got waved off by my Manmi, and then my Manmi was gone and there were suddenly five Ogou in the room.

Without knowing what was really going on (another theme of my kanzo), an Ogou walking up to me, beckoned me to follow him, and walked me to the front of the temple. He poured some rum on the ground and gestured for me to kneel with a few other people, who I figured out were the people I was going into the djevo with. All of us were on our knees, and suddenly one of the Ogous was in front of me speaking in rapid-fire Kreyol that I got maybe two words of.

In a perversely ironic and amusing moment, an Ogou had accidentally hit my bilingual sister in the face with his sword, so she was half conscious in a corner and my other bilingual sister was in the bathroom…and I was all alone with not enough Kreyol to figure out what was being machine-gunned into my ear. So, what happened when I said I did not understand? The song leader, bless him, began to page one of my sisters over the sounds system, which the Haitians found HILARIOUS and rightly so–the blan (me) was basically useless in that moment. I found it utterly ridiculous that my Kreyol fell apart under pressure, but, if anything, I went into kanzo firmly set on the idea that it didn’t matter what had to happen as long as I got into the djevo and did what I came to do. A little public humiliation was just fine with me.

Ogou was patient, and waited until my sister hustled in. He asked me if I was really going to do this, and I imagine the look on my face was excellent–are you seriously asking me if I’m going to follow through after I fought through a jungle of bullshit to be standing in front of you? Of fucking course I am going to do the thing or, as I told him. ‘yes’. He smiled (it freaks me out when he smiles) and told me (literally) that I needed to man up, since kanzo was going to be hard. A little rum breathed onto me and he was off to confer with the posse of other Ogous. I wasn’t dismissed from where Ogou had put me to kneel and eventually stand, so I stayed where I was–my self-preservation was in overdrive.

Ogou left his chwals and then Gede slipped into the head of someone who Ogou had been riding. Gede is a special case during the kanzo process in that he can’t be part of the kanzo process. He is the only family of lwa not welcome in the djevo during kanzo and the only lwa new initiates are prohibited from dealing with for a specific period post-kanzo. So, he gets his attention before and after. He is also a spirit who can come at anytime during the regleman/ritual order and is known to be an opportunist by doing things like slipping in behind another lwa as they leave.

So, Gede popped into S’s head right in front of me and the drums suddenly changed to accommodate him, moving from the militaristic beats for Ogou to Gede’s banda. He grabbed my Manmi’s natural daughter and danced with her until it was judged that he was getting far too handsy with her (she is only 16) and she got yanked away from him, not unlike the crook coming out from backstage and pulling a performer out of the spotlight.

Even though Ogou was gone, I hadn’t really moved yet and was content to watch Gede dance. Gede, however, was not content for me to watch and beckoned me forward, much to my horror.

When Gede (or any lwa, really) calls you forward, you answer, so I stepped up much to the amusement of the temple full of Haitians. I was the only blan/white there and now I was front and center with Gede. White folks often do several things when pulled forward like that–they either stand stone still and act super embarrassed, or they run away as soon as possible. I decided that I was all in, and so was going to go all the way in with him.


He got up close and personal to the point where he could have crawled inside my pants if he had wanted to, and began humping me to the beat of the drummers while gesturing that I should go the same opposite him. He wanted to have a humping contest. The rest of the temple thought this was hilarious that Gede would hump this odd-looking blan-in-pants, but they REALLY thought it was hilarious when I did as directed. So, I humped Gede and the room went nuts and I gained some street cred in that it was clear I was not just there as a spectator who paid their way to an asson. It was nice–people who hadn’t paid me the time of day before came up to shake my hand after.

Gede danced the banda with my sister after, and basically lifted her up and humped her mid-air. We noted afterward that Gede has many agendas–it was very clear that he danced with her as he would dance with a woman (since that’s who she is), and he danced with me as he would most often dance with a man. It was a nice subtle-but-obvious setting of the tone not just for me, but for other people to see. Gede loves me.


The rest of the evening was kind of a blur for me–Ogou had made shit really get real and between him and Gede, I was sort of in a daze. My beautiful godmother got La Reine Kongo for a little bit, which was nice since I had never seen her in the flesh before–she is gorgeous and glorious.


Eventually, we sang all the songs we needed to and dragged off to bed. While Bat Gé is the start of the kanzo cycle, the next ceremony on the following day–Mare Paket–begins equipping future priests and hounsi with the tools they need to move forward.

So, next up: Mare Paket


~ by Alex on October 1, 2016.

One Response to “Kanzo 2016: To Beat War, Part Two”

  1. Been away from the blog world for the majority of this year, but just wanted to say a belated congratulations on your rebirth!

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