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1 The Religion to Beat: A Look at the Importance of Drums in Vodou Shayna Finkelstein University of Florida In Vodou ceremonies the reverberating beats of the drums help those present to let their bodies go to the rhythms and make their bodies and minds receptive to the lwa To an outsider the powerful drums might appear to cause people to dance insensibly (Wilcken 2005: 193). But to a Vodouist ritual dancing is integral to life and to be without it would be insensible. Vodoui sts exalt ounto in all meanings of the word: the drums, the drummer and the lwa that represent the drums (Hebblethwaite 2012: 34) Drums are not necessary for possession but they do provide music to dance to and get down with the spirits (Wilcken 2005: 194) Traditionally Vodou music includes percussion but for example in pop V odou music, otherwise known as rasin or root s, uses other instruments as well (Hebblethwaite 2012: 31) A lot of energy is necessary to bring forth the lwa and to allow the chwal to enter trance and the drums can help to instill s ome of this energy in the crowd (Wilcken 2005: 195) In Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn, Mama Lola tries to keep her ceremonies quiet so clapping is used for rhythm keeping (Brown 2001: 136). T hi s in no way diminishes the power of the ceremonie s. T he author Brown (2001: 61) describes a certain ceremony where Mama Lola was playing on our energies as if we were her musical instrument. Vodou rit es take place at night and can include nine hours of non stop drumming, dancing and singin g in order to serve the spirits (Landry 2008: 54) The drummers pound away and the dancers dance around the potomitan in the hopes one of them will be chosen as a chwal and mounted by the lwa (Hebblethwaite 2012:24). Each Vodou rhythm produces an anti rhythm called a kase, or break in Creole. At some point during the rite the lead drummer will begin a beat that goes against the current beat. This under cutting beat can physically disorient the dancer for a moment which can lead to mounting by the lwa (Wilcken 2005: 195). This break in rhythm is called a break instead of a pause because dancing continues on through the kase as the dancers reorient themselves. These moments of rupture in rhythm are actually more r epresentative of a change in the direction of the music and the dancer, which is why the songs seem to flow smoothly despite the breaks in rhythm. The songs progress forward in phases in a zig zag moving toward possession as the people dance in a circular motion around the potomitan (Laroche 1992:800801) The rhythm may cease but it is in these moments when human and spiritual activities intensify At every ceremony individual spirits are beckoned for by performing a series of three or seven songs in stri ct order based on what rhythms would norm ally go along with that spirit (Brown 2001: 55) The song both calls forth the specific lwa and also expresses what is desired of the lwa (Hebblethwaite 2012:31). There are different rhythms associated with Rada, Kongo Petwo rites but all of them demonstrate unique complex rhythms played simultaneously Yanvalou ( which can be associated with a group of spirits) twarigol mayi and zep l are all Rada rhythms typified by regular ongoing rhythms. Typical Rada drums are made from hard wood, with cow skin tops tied down by stakes They include the big oun or manman tanbou ( the mother drum ) the medium ounto or sego n ( second ) and the small ountoki or boula played with a curved stick and a straight stick. The deep tones of the mother drum ease tensions and allow for submission to the lwa but it is the kase that literally breaks the rhythm open so that the lwa may enter.

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2 Kongo Petwo drums are made from soft wood and goatskin and the rhythms are more fierce and stirring and consist of kita sech kita mouve boumba and kingo sosyete. In Petwo rites two drums are used: the ti baka or little goblin and the gwo baka or big goblin. In Kongo and Rada rites there are typically three drums used but for ceremonies o f mass proportions several drums may be used (Hebblethwaite 2012: 33). The drums create entrancing rhythms that give the dancer the opportunity to give into the rhythms and separate from the physical body while the noise of the shaking ason is meant to persuade the spirits into taking over the physical bodies (Brown 2001: 69) The ason is a rhythm instrument that when shaken by an oungan or manbo appeases the lwa through the sound of the porcelain beads and snake vertebrae strung together cl ashing against a calabash gourd (Hebblethwaite 2012: 32). In this way, the drums create an environment of dancers lost in the music receptive to possession; a n offer a lwa can hardly refuse (Hebblethwaite 2012: 31) The drums and the ason are both m ediums utilized by practitioners, priests and priestesses to speak to and learn from the lwa. At a ritual, Landry (2008: 54) observed the vigor of the drummers and the complexity of the rhythms they created. He describes how the throbbing drums eventually reve rberated throughout every person and item in the temple until they all moved as one being with the drums beating as the heart (Landry 2008:55) But it is not necessary for all to move as one, there is no set way to dance (Laroche 1992: 800) In Vodou, trad itions are not set in stone, they are just now being put into writing. Vodou is a religion that is open to interpretation and c reolization so the number of drums, the type of drums and other various details vary as much as the drummers who play them. But the tradition of drum playing and the use of the kase as a way to trigger possession are tradition s that will not easily be broken.

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3 Bibliography Brown, Karen McCarthy. 2001. Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. Berkely and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Hebblethwaite, Benjamin. 2012. Vodou Songs: In Haitian Creole and English. Philidelphia: Temple University Press. Landry, Timothy R. 2008. Moving to Learn: Performance and Learning in Haitian Vodou. Article in Anthropology and Humanism, Vol. 33, No.1/2, pp. 5365 Laroche, Maximillien. 1992. Music, Dance, Religion. Article in Callaloo, Vol.15, No.3, Haitian Literature and Culture, Part 2, pp. 797810 Wilcken, Lois. 2005. Sacred Music and Dance of Hatian Vodou from Temple to Stage and the Ethics of Representation. Article in Latin American Perspectives Vol. 32, No.1, pp 193210


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Title: The Religion to Beat: A Look at the Importance of Drums in Vodou, Shayna Finkelstein
Series Title: HAI3930, ANT3930, LAS3930, REL3938
Physical Description: Course Material
Creator: Raitano, Megan
Publisher: Hebblethwaite, Benjamin
Raitano, Megan
Felima, Crystal
Place of Publication: University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
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Subjects / Keywords: Caribbean Area   ( lcsh )
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Acquisition: Collected for University of Florida's Institutional Repository by the UFIR Self-Submittal tool. Submitted by Megan Raitano.
Publication Status: Unpublished
General Note: This is a collection of student essays from the Haitian Vodou class offered at the Universtiy of Florida. These essays are the results of a combination of in class material and independent research on individually chosen topics. The writing styles, citation styles, and views expressed in the essays are established by the students and do not necessarily reflect those of the professor or the Archive.
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The Religion to Beat: A Look at the Importance of Drums in Vodou
Shayna Finkelstein, University of Florida

In Vodou ceremonies the reverberating beats of the drums help those present to let their
bodies go to the rhythms and make their bodies and minds receptive to the lwa. To an outsider
the powerful drums might appear to cause people to dance insensibly (Wilcken 2005: 193). But
to a Vodouist, ritual dancing is integral to life and to be without it would be insensible.
Vodouists exalt ounto in all meanings of the word: the drums, the drummer and the lwa that
represent the drums (Hebblethwaite 2012: 34).
Drums are not necessary for possession but they do provide music to dance to and "get
down with the spirits" (Wilcken 2005: 194). Traditionally Vodou music includes percussion but
for example in pop Vodou music, otherwise known as rasin or "roots", uses other instruments as
well (Hebblethwaite 2012: 31). A lot of energy is necessary to bring forth the lwa and to allow
the chwal to enter trance and the drums can help to instill some of this energy in the crowd
(Wilcken 2005: 195). In Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn, Mama Lola tries to keep
her ceremonies quiet so clapping is used for rhythm keeping (Brown 2001: 136). This in no way
diminishes the power of the ceremonies. The author, Brown (2001: 61), describes a certain
ceremony where Mama Lola was "playing on our energies as if we were her musical
instrument."

Vodou rites take place at night and can include nine hours of non-stop drumming,
dancing and singing in order to serve the spirits (Landry 2008: 54). The drummers pound away
and the dancers dance around the potomitan in the hopes one of them will be chosen as a chwal
and mounted by the lwa (Hebblethwaite 2012:24). Each Vodou rhythm produces an "anti-
rhythm" called a kase, or "break" in Creole. At some point during the rite, the lead drummer will
begin a beat that goes against the current beat. This under cutting beat can physically disorient
the dancer for a moment, which can lead to mounting by the lwa (Wilcken 2005: 195). This
break in rhythm is called a break instead of a pause because dancing continues on through the
kase as the dancers reorient themselves. These moments of rupture in rhythm are actually more
representative of a change in the direction of the music and the dancer, which is why the songs
seem to flow smoothly despite the breaks in rhythm. The songs progress forward in phases in a
zig-zag moving toward possession as the people dance in a circular motion around the potomitan
(Laroche 1992:800-801). The rhythm may cease but it is in these moments when human and
spiritual activities intensify.

At every ceremony individual spirits are beckoned for by performing a series of three or
seven songs in strict order based on what rhythms would normally go along with that spirit
(Brown 2001: 55). The song both calls forth the specific lwa and also expresses what is desired
of the lwa (Hebblethwaite 2012:31). There are different rhythms associated with Rada, Kongo-
Petwo rites but all of them demonstrate unique complex rhythms played simultaneously.
Yanvalou (which can be associated with a group of spirits), twarigol mayi and zep6l are all Rada
rhythms typified by regular ongoing rhythms. Typical Rada drums are made from hard wood,
with cow skin tops tied down by stakes. They include the big oun or manman tanbou (the mother
drum), the medium ounto or segon (second), and the small ountoki or boula played with a curved
stick and a straight stick. The deep tones of the mother drum ease tensions and allow for
submission to the lwa but it is the kase that literally breaks the rhythm open so that the lwa may
enter.









Kongo-Petwo drums are made from soft wood and goatskin and the rhythms are more
fierce and stirring and consist ofkita, sech, kita mouve, boumba and kingo sosyete. In Petwo rites
two drums are used: the ti baka or little goblin and the gwo baka or big goblin. In Kongo and
Rada rites there are typically three drums used, but for ceremonies of mass proportions several
drums may be used (Hebblethwaite 2012: 33).

The drums create entrancing rhythms that give the dancer the opportunity to give into the
rhythms and separate from the physical body while the noise of the shaking ason is meant to
persuade the spirits into taking over the physical bodies (Brown 2001: 69). The ason is a rhythm
instrument that when shaken by an oungan or manbo appeases the lwa through the sound of the
porcelain beads and snake vertebrae strung together clashing against a calabash gourd
(Hebblethwaite 2012: 32). In this way, the drums create an environment of dancers lost in the
music, receptive to possession; an offer a Iwa can hardly refuse (Hebblethwaite 2012: 31). The
drums and the ason are both mediums utilized by practitioners, priests, and priestesses to speak
to and learn from the lwa.

At a ritual, Landry (2008: 54) observed the vigor of the drummers and the complexity of
the rhythms they created. He describes how the throbbing drums eventually reverberated
throughout every person and item in the temple until they all moved as one being with the drums
beating as the heart (Landry 2008:55). But it is not necessary for all to move as one, there is no
set way to dance (Laroche 1992: 800). In Vodou, traditions are not set in stone, they are just now
being put into writing. Vodou is a religion that is open to interpretation and creolization so the
number of drums, the type of drums, and other various details vary as much as the drummers
who play them. But, the tradition of drum playing and the use of the kase as a way to trigger
possession are traditions that will not easily be broken.









Bibliography


Brown, Karen McCarthy. 2001. Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. Berkely and Los
Angeles: University of California Press.

Hebblethwaite, Benjamin. 2012. Vodou Songs: In Haitian Creole and English. Philidelphia:
Temple University Press.

Landry, Timothy R. 2008. Moving to Learn: Performance and Learning in Haitian Vodou.
Article in Anthropology and Humanism, Vol. 33, No. 1/2, pp. 53- 65

Laroche, Maximillien. 1992. Music, Dance, Religion. Article in Callaloo, Vol.15, No.3, Haitian
Literature and Culture, Part 2, pp. 797-810

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