An altar at a Haitian Vodou ceremony in Passaic, New Jersey. Photo: Rachael Bongiorno
(From Feet in 2 Worlds)
On a Saturday night around thirty people gather in the basement of a suburban New Jersey home. Friends and family greet each other and the scent of grilled fish lingers in the musty air.
This is not your typical weekend barbeque. It’s Fèt Gede, a ceremony to honor the Haitian Vodou spiritual force or Lwa, named Gede. An altar in the center of the room is laden with gifts for the Lwa including libation bottles filled with the Lwa’s favorite drinks and covered in colorful sequins. There are baskets of sweets, musical instruments, perfume, candles, and raw goat meat.
Everyone is wearing black and purple, colors associated with the dead and with Gede.
“Much like how Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead, on Fèt Gede, we connect with those ancestors who have passed,” explains Dòwòti Désir, a Manbo Asogwe, or female high priest in Haitian Vodou who has come to lead the ceremony.
At one end of the room a group of drummers begins warming up with intermittent rhythmic tapping of their congas, sometimes adding a playful, yet startling bang to wake up the crowd.
Drummers at a Vodou ceremony. Photo: Rachael Bongiorno
“Vodou integrates all the senses,” explains Désir. “The scents, rhythm and vibrations of the songs and drums all connect to help call down the spirits.”
Désir is a passionate advocate of Vodou and dedicates much of her time to fostering a greater understanding of Vodou’s religious and cultural practices. Her work aims to dispel the myths that plague the Vodou religion including the Hollywood-invented stereotypes of zombies and ‘pins in dolls’ that were popularized throughout the twentieth century.