Monday, August 31, 2009


While Alan Lomax was in Haiti he kept a very detailed journal of his travels, recordings, findings and feelings.  The journal will be transcribed as its own book in the upcoming boxset ALAN LOMAX IN HAITI, due out in November on Harte Recordings.  It was transcribed by his niece, Ellen Harold.  For the first time ever, the public will be able to read his journal. The following is the first part of his description of a vodou ceremony...

A Vodou Ceremony Pt. 1
Possession by the Loi

The Mombo and her assistant were in no hurry about lighting the candles on the altar from the oil lamp that is kept burning always on the floor of the assembly room. The doors were kept shut, or partially so, during the lighting of the candles, in one of which four young women who are being prepared for baptism participated.
At last, however, the Mombo began to dance. She whirled slowly about the rooms a few times, swaying and bowing, her feet as precise as a première ballerina. She made libation before each drum. Presently, after she had danced for ten minutes, and she is by far the most graceful and charming dancer I had so far seen, the others began. Each one in turn kissed the ground before the drums, the others singing, the drums beating the Jean Valou rhythm, and then bowed and kissed the ground before the Mombo's feet. 
There was the usual stately and warm handshaking, curtseying, twirling, and embrasse-ing. A few of us went into the chapel room on the left side and kissed the ground before the three candles before the altar, touching first our hearts and then the earth with our index fingers. A kiss before another candle on the ground at the right wall, and before a square basin of water at the rear (this is Damballa).
Back in the main room again the drums were beginning to pull the loi into the hearts of the worshippers. A tall young woman in white with a red head rag and a loose and silly face was Simbi. A possessed person (generally) begins by staggering about the room on one leg, almost but never quite falling into the arms of the spectators. The motion is that of a person walking along the iron of a railroad track. Then a violent and frenzied dance begins....(to be continued)

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