By Guichard Cadet
The Haitian Revolution was a successful anti-slavery and anti-colonial war by self-liberated Africans against French colonial rule in Saint-Domingue, now the sovereign state of Haiti. The battle for liberation began on August 14, 1791, at the congress and Vodou ceremony of Bwa Kayiman, and ended January 1, 1804, making January 1 Haitian Independence Day
Delivered to the audience as an original podcast, VODOU ROOTS: A Love Story Musical is an amazingly beautiful personal, familial, historical and spiritual testimony that pushes the boundaries of the medium. Régine Romain’s voice heightens the expectations of what is to come since most have come to associate Vodou more with “Voodoo” – doll piercings, spells and backwardness.
Ms. Romain serves as a guide through levels of understanding and facets many have never pondered and many will continue to ignore. When an orator utilizes a medium, in this case a podcast, there are established norms yet there is plenty of room to add one’s personal style. Ms. Romain is a gifted storyteller who in telling this story does a sort of multimedia experiment, a digital realignment of music where she repurposes a song’s meaning to connect the shared history of African diasporan peoples. The journey is bracketed as “Brooklyn to Benin: A Vodou Pilgrimage”, also a short film directed and produced by Ms. Romain in 2016.
For Vodou Roots, she provides additional stops at locations – physical and other. Since this not a linear narrative, the musical selections serve as gatekeepers welcoming the listeners. The first song, “Ti Gason Lemba” by Racine Mapou De Azor & Wawa, segues into a deeply reflective tone where one can feel the movements of the ocean, as Ms. Romain explains the spiritual calling that led her to return to Benin, West Africa where many of her ancestors were taken from. The next song used to bridge cultural divides is Bob Marley’s “Roots Natty Roots.”
“What is Vodou? It is the root of our beginning,” says Ms. Romain. The name has roots in the language from the Ewe of Togo, and the Fon of Benin, formerly Dahomey. She details how the religious systems has survived, its relationship to other African religions and the hope for a full revival.
Ms. Romain, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, was born in Washington, DC and grew up in the suburbs of Maryland. When her parents became Jehovah Witnesses she resisted many of the strict Christian teachings. Through seasonal visits of a favorite aunt, Tante Rose Marie, she was introduced to the spiritual teachings of Vodou.
“Since the 15th century, practitioners of Vodou have endured global religious persecution,” says Ms. Romain. Millions of prisoners of war endured persecution. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade caused irreparable harm to the people, their religion, traditions and culture.. Vodou “was systematically demonized…forcibly hidden…[yet] bloomed in the Americas and Caribbean.”
Ms. Romain highlights the spiritual aspects of Vodou, its “arts and healing modalities” and provides an overview of its spiritual traditions, how “spirit forces serve as intermediaries to the Almighty (God).” Vodou played an important role in The Haitian Revolution. At Bwa Kayiman (Bois Caiman) on August 14, 1791, the Vodou ceremony and congress served as the launching point for the first and lone successful revolt where enslaved peoples defeated their captors and took the land, the country.
Vodou is grounded in a monotheistic faith and the concept of “vo bon don”, which means “to draw energy from the source of creation fearlessly and to always honor your God.” Upon her aunt’s death, she handed the baton of responsibility to Ms. Romain to continue honoring the ancestors by learning and preserving Vodou’s cultural traditions. She ends this love story with a song from her father’s record collection: Lou Rawls’ “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.”
I implore you to take the time to listen to this. It will undoubtedly free a part of your mind, a part of your spirit.
Credits: BRIC 2018 Podcast Fellowship, Brooklyn Free Speech Radio, Mark Pagan, Daniel Johnson, Atibon NaZaire, Zulu Fawohodie and Derek Johnson.
Podcast link: https://soundcloud.com/bfreebk/vodouroots
Film link: https://youtu.be/EWUt-9-fiT4
Website link: www.REGINEROMAIN.com
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