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1 The Role of Dance in Haitian Vodou Camille Chambers, University of Florida Dancing, along with si nging and drumming is a fundamental part of H aitian Vodou ritual ceremonies. Just as how the songs and the drums have a spiritual function and reflect a creolized heritage, dance holds a similar value in Vodou. As a religion that is kinesthetic in nature, dance is part of the physical manifestation of serving the lwa Dance is not only an important part of Haitian Vodou but also of Haitian culture, in which there are two types of dance: secular and s acred (Dunham 1947: 15). For the purpose of this paper, the sacred dance will be addressed. Many anthropologists have studie d ritual dances in the African d iaspora of the Caribbean. Through the studies of dance in Haitian Vodou, the connection to spirituality and memory provided to the community through dance and music in Vodou ceremonies is evident The community is a key element in Vodou ceremonies Hebblethwaite argues that Vodou songs are important because they are the living memory of a Vodou community (2012: 2) Dance holds the same importance in preserving this living memory. Vodou songs educate about the lwa and the philosophy of Vodou and they signal the transitions between phases of the ceremony Dance in Vo dou also educate s about the lwa and philosoph y and through carefu l study of the different dances one may also understand how dances change in the different phases of the ceremony. Before getting into the study of dances, the importance of drums must be addressed. Wilcken (2005) describes the drums as providing the fuel and guidance to the dance participants. The different rhythms of the drums, not only signal the song that is being sung but also the dance that should be d one at that moment in time (Wilcken 2005: 195). Dunhams ethnographic work on Vodou dance gives us an excellent account as to the organization and form of dance in ceremonies. A V odou ceremony has two parts in chronological order: a Rada rite and a Petw oKongo rite Dunham (1947) observes that the Rada Dahomey service begins with a danza z paules which purifies and prepa r es for the arrival of the lwa This dance is usually accompanied by songs sung to Legba and then to the other lwa The rest of the dances in the ceremony are determined by the type of lwa that are to be worshipped that night. These dances are called rele lwa which mea n to call or summon a lwa These dances are different t han other dances because they are dances of possession. The y symbolic ally reflect the lwa possessing the individual. (Dunham 1947: 4950). Yanvalou is one such dance. Dunham (1947: 50) describes yanvalou as the d ance for a general group of lwa that include Ayida Wdo zili, Saint Jacques, and Gede. However both Daniel and Wilcken describe the yanvalou dance as a dance that mimics a snakes movement and is thus dedicated to Papa Danbala ( Daniel 2005: 89; Wilcken 2005: 195). Dunham does make a distinction for Danbala having his own dance that is stylized after him as the snake god ( 2005: 50). However, after viewing videos of yanvalou dances on the internet, it may easily be determined that the yanvalou dance is real ly for Danbala due to the movements of the body and arms that mimic a snake (UFlibraries). Dunham gives us another example with Agwe whose dances are in flowing movements: half swimming, half waves ( 1947: 51) These examples demonstrate, as Daniel (2005) a rgues, that the purpose of ritual dance is to transform the community in such a way that the spirits will appe ar. Not o nly is it important for the lwa to appear at the ceremony, it is also a reflection of the living memory mentioned before. Daniel (2005) also goes into detail about embodied

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2 knowledge which is comparable. Daniels example of embodied knowledge is in the dance for the lwa Ogou. Ogous dance involves aggressive warrior stances, rigorous travelling movement sequences, and an emphasi s on slicing or cutting with a sword or some sort of metal. ( 2005: 63). Through the dance of Ogou, the audience is reminded as to who Ogou is; his representation as a war rior, and his associat ion with iron. Brown also describes the possession of Mama Lola by Ogou and the dance that was performed (2001: 95) She describes his gestures as elegant which speak s to the power that he embodied as the warrior The ideas of living memory and embodied memory are reflected even within the cultural history and structure of the dances. Wilcken translates Moreaus description of the dances as being from Africa in their characteristics ( 2005: 197). As mentioned before Rada and Petwo Kongo are the two main parts of a Vodou ceremony. Rada is the remembr ance and worshipping of the lwa originating in the Dahomian region. P etwo Kongo includes the lwa originating from Africa in the Kongo and Angola regions. It is different from Rada because some of the lwa it includes also originate in Haiti. (Hebblethwaite 2012: 278, 282). Three different dance styles make up the dances of Rada. T he z p l which means shoulders is a move featuring fast pushing of the shoulders back and forth. T he may i is a fast paced three step patt ern dance with agricultural influences. These two dances along with the yanval ou addressed earlier make up the Rada dances (Daniel 2005: 111112). The Petwo dances are considered more powerful than Rada. The steps are violent and include the thrusting of the chest and the high lifting of legs to create tense stances and fast paced running and jumping (Daniel 2005: 114). Dunham describes the Petwo ceremony to be more violent and negative while the Rada ceremonies are beneficent and positive ( 1947: 6657) Though her descriptions may be extreme in calling one negative and the other positive, she does highlight the difference between the ceremonies and the dances: the Rada dances are more calm and orderly than the fiery Petwo dances Dance is an integral p art of the Vodou ritual ceremony. By studying the nuances of the dances involved in a ceremony one may understand how the dances, drums, and songs are interrelated. With all of thes e components, it becomes clear that Vodou is a layered religion in terms o f its complex history and culture.

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3 Works Cited Brown, Karen McCarthy. 1991. Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. Berkley: University of California Press. Daniel, Yvonne. 2005. Dancing Wisdom: Embodied knowledge in Haitian Vodou, Cuban Yoruba, and Bahian Candomble. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Dunham, Katherine. 1947. Las Danzas de Haiti. Article in Acta Anthropologica. Vol. 2, no.4, pp. 560. Hebblethwaite, Benjamin. 2012. Vodou Songs in Haitian Creole and English. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. UFlibaries (2012, March 16). Dr. Elizabeth Chin demonstrating the Yanvolou Dance of Vodou. Retrieved April 14, 2012, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= CtRu Amtp8 Wilcken Lois. 2005. The Sacred Mus ic and Dance of Haitian Vodou fr om Temple to Stage and the Ethics of Representation. Article in Latin American Perspectives. Vol.32, no. 1, pp.193210.


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The Role of Dance in Haitian Vodou
Camille Chambers, University of Florida

Dancing, along with singing and drumming, is a fundamental part of Haitian Vodou ritual
ceremonies. Just as how the songs and the drums have a spiritual function and reflect a creolized
heritage, dance holds a similar value in Vodou. As a religion that is kinesthetic in nature, dance
is part of the physical manifestation of serving the Iwa. Dance is not only an important part of
Haitian Vodou but also of Haitian culture, in which there are two types of dance: secular and
sacred (Dunham 1947: 15). For the purpose of this paper, the sacred dance will be addressed.
Many anthropologists have studied ritual dances in the African diaspora of the Caribbean.
Through the studies of dance in Haitian Vodou, the connection to spirituality and memory
provided to the community through dance and music in Vodou ceremonies is evident. The
community is a key element in Vodou ceremonies. Hebblethwaite argues that Vodou songs are
important because they are the "living memory of a Vodou community" (2012: 2). Dance holds
the same importance in preserving this "living memory." Vodou songs educate about the Iwa and
the philosophy of Vodou and they signal the transitions between phases of the ceremony. Dance
in Vodou also educates about the Iwa and philosophy and through careful study of the different
dances, one may also understand how dances change in the different phases of the ceremony.

Before getting into the study of dances, the importance of drums must be addressed.
Wilcken (2005) describes the drums as providing the fuel and guidance to the dance participants.
The different rhythms of the drums, not only signal the song that is being sung but also the dance
that should be done at that moment in time (Wilcken 2005: 195).

Dunham's ethnographic work on Vodou dance gives us an excellent account as to the
organization and form of dance in ceremonies. A Vodou ceremony has two parts in
chronological order: a Rada rite and a Petwo-Kongo rite. Dunham (1947) observes that the Rada-
Dahomey service begins with a danza zepaules, which purifies and prepares for the arrival of the
Iwa. This dance is usually accompanied by songs sung to Legba and then to the other lwa. The
rest of the dances in the ceremony are determined by the type of Iwa that are to be worshipped
that night. These dances are called rele Iwa which mean to call or summon a Iwa. These dances
are different than other dances because they are dances of possession. They symbolically reflect
the Iwa possessing the individual. (Dunham 1947: 49-50).

Yanvalou is one such dance. Dunham (1947: 50) describes yanvalou as the dance for a
general group of Iwa that include Ayida Wedo, Ezili, Saint Jacques, and Gede. However, both
Daniel and Wilcken describe the yanvalou dance as a dance that mimics a snake's movement and
is thus dedicated to "Papa Danbala" (Daniel 2005: 8-9; Wilcken 2005: 195). Dunham does make
a distinction for "Danbala" having his own dance that is stylized after him as the "snake god"
(2005: 50). However, after viewing videos of yanvalou dances on the internet, it may easily be
determined that the yanvalou dance is really for Danbala due to the movements of the body and
arms that mimic a snake (UFlibraries). Dunham gives us another example with Agwe whose
dances are in flowing movements: half-swimming, half-waves (1947: 51). These examples
demonstrate, as Daniel (2005) argues, that the purpose of ritual dance is to transform the
community in such a way that the spirits will appear.

Not only is it important for the Iwa to appear at the ceremony, it is also a reflection of the
"living memory" mentioned before. Daniel (2005) also goes into detail about "embodied









knowledge" which is comparable. Daniel's example of embodied knowledge is in the dance for
the Iwa Ogou. Ogou's dance involves "aggressive warrior stances, rigorous travelling movement
sequences, and an emphasis on slicing or cutting with a sword or some sort of metal." (2005: 63).
Through the dance of Ogou, the audience is reminded as to who Ogou is; his representation as a
warrior, and his association with iron. Brown also describes the possession of Mama Lola by
Ogou and the dance that was performed (2001: 95). She describes his gestures as elegant, which
speaks to the power that he embodied as the warrior.

The ideas of "living memory" and "embodied memory" are reflected even within the
cultural history and structure of the dances. Wilcken translates Moreau's description of the
dances as being from Africa in their characteristics (2005: 197). As mentioned before, Rada and
Petwo-Kongo are the two main parts of a Vodou ceremony. Rada is the remembrance and
worshipping of the Iwa originating in the Dahomian region. Petwo-Kongo includes the Iwa
originating from Africa in the Kongo and Angola regions. It is different from Rada because some
of the Iwa it includes also originate in Haiti. (Hebblethwaite 2012: 278, 282).

Three different dance styles make up the dances of Rada. The zepol which means
"shoulders" is a move featuring fast pushing of the shoulders back and forth. The mayi is a fast
paced three step pattern dance with agricultural influences. These two dances, along with the
yanvalou addressed earlier, make up the Rada dances (Daniel 2005: 111-112).

The Petwo dances are considered more powerful than Rada. The steps are violent and
include the thrusting of the chest and the high lifting of legs to create tense stances and fast-
paced running and jumping (Daniel 2005: 114). Dunham describes the Petwo ceremony to be
more violent and negative while the Rada ceremonies are beneficent and positive (1947: 66-57).
Though her descriptions may be extreme in calling one negative and the other positive, she does
highlight the difference between the ceremonies and the dances: the Rada dances are more calm
and orderly than the fiery Petwo dances.

Dance is an integral part of the Vodou ritual ceremony. By studying the nuances of the
dances involved in a ceremony, one may understand how the dances, drums, and songs are
interrelated. With all of these components, it becomes clear that Vodou is a layered religion in
terms of its complex history and culture.









Works Cited

Brown, Karen McCarthy. 1991. Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. Berkley:
University of California Press.

Daniel, Yvonne. 2005. Dancing Wisdom: Embodied knowledge in Haitian Vodou, Cuban Yoruba,
andBahian Candomble. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Dunham, Katherine. 1947. Las Danzas de Haiti. Article in Acta Anthropologica. Vol. 2, no.4, pp.
5-60.

Hebblethwaite, Benjamin. 2012. Vodou Songs in Haitian Creole and English. Philadelphia:
Temple University Press.

UFlibaries (2012, March 16). Dr. Elizabeth Chin demonstrating the Yanvolou Dance of Vodou.
Retrieved April 14, 2012, from http://www.voutube.com/watch?v=-CtRu-Amtp8

Wilcken, Lois. 2005. The Sacred Music and Dance of Haitian Vodou from Temple to Stage and
the Ethics of Representation. Article in Latin American Perspectives. Vol.32, no. 1,
pp.193-210.