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1 From Mothers to Little Mary: Depictions of Women in J.L.s songs Emily Harris University of Florida Vodou songs are an important art form in Haitian culture, and an essential part of Vodou ceremonies.1 Some families pass down collections of songs that honor lwa and some Vodouists even write their own.2 While Haitian immigrants are not afraid to incorporate aspects of other cultures into their lives, songs are significant to Haitian refugees and immigra nts because they help keep the roots of their religion and culture alive.3 The collection of songs by J.L., a seventeen year old Haitian refuge living in the United States, is not only a remarkable collection of pe rsonal and familial Vodou songs. These songs also possess a psychological aspect; the reader is provided with insight into this young males perspective of the world, and we are given a more individualistic view of Vodou. J.L.s commentary and portrayal of women is also incredibly diverse, and adds an intriguing splash of color to the portrait of his religion and life provided by these songs J.L. speaks of great compassion for his mother, yet also makes uncouth sexual references, and doesnt speak so highly of other women. The Virgin Mary is prai sed and zili (mostly zili Dant ), a female lwa who takes many forms, is spoken of as strong, powerful and awe inspiring, but also portrayed as dangerous and unpredictable. These songs about the female influence in J.L.s world seem to display conflicting feelings. In some, women are everything, and in others, women are not to be trusted. One theme consistent throughout J.Ls songs seems to be feelings of loss and love for his mother. In J.L.s collection, mother has a higher, almost saintly overtone and appears to be separate from women. There are nine songs that mention J.L.s mother, and even more that recognize mother as a sort of status, but may be referring to the Virgin Mary, or mothers of the world. The huge impact of the loss of his mother on J.L.s life is expressed in these songs. What you did for me, mother, I am unfortunately never going to finish repaying you for that .4 As made evident in this line J.L. is incredibly grateful that his mother brought him into this world, but these songs express that J.L. is not done dealing with the loss of his parents, especially his mother. Oh mother, you put me on the Earth and you left me .5 Lines like this display the grief and strife J.L. has faced since his mothers death. Wherever you are, y ou can hear my groaning, I f eel as though I cant stand it.5 The torment of surviving while your parents have been taken by death is a difficult issue for anyone to comprehend, especially a young person. Through these songs, insight is brought to us about this teens grieving process and emotional trials. In contrast to the praise, love, and heartache J.L. displays when discussing his mother, in other song s J.L. refers to wome n only as slut .6 In another, J.L. warns young men to never take a woman and make a habit of it, that young boys must be careful in the company of these women .7 There is one song where J.L. mixes Vodou, women, and sex. He is speaking to Little Mary, in a sexually explicit way.8 He declares that it is Gede, the lw a whom he acquired from 1 Wilcken, p.195 2 McCarthy Brown, p.13 3 East Georgia Gazette 4 Hebblethwaite, p. 159 #62 5 Hebblethwaite, p. 158 #59 6 Hebblethwaite, p. 152 #25 7 Hebblethwaite, p. 152 #24 8 Hebblethwaite, p.161 #73

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2 his mother, that taught him his sexual ways. He then asks Mary where her sexual ancestors are. It is curious to note that even when discussing sex very frankly, and quite vulgarly, J.L. still mentions his mother. We must keep in mi nd that J.L. is only seventeen. These songs allude to J.L,s inexperience with the opposite sex. This is a young man who is still developing his opinions and has much to learn about the world and his commentary on these issues brings us descriptions from t he eyes of a youth. On the same page as the somewhat derogatory songs, J.L. tells young men not to mistreat women because they are more than our mothers .9 It is interesting that J.L. does not want to mistreat women, but does not make the connection that referring to someone as a slut could be considered mistreatment. The mystery of J.L. s collection is his use of keen phil osophical statements and high praise for his mother juxtaposed with songs where he refers to women in derogatory ways or as sexual objects. zili, is the female lwa who takes many forms and embodies not just femini ni ty, but creativity, maternity, sexuality and pleasure.10 A significant portion of J.L.s song collection is about zili, specifically zili Dant zili Dant is the side of the feminine ideal that is the mother. She is a mother who has lost her child and had her tongue removed; she has suffered It is interesting that J.L. praises zili Dant the more intense zili, as opposed to zili Freda, the flirtier lwa of beauty a nd love. The fact that J.L. praises zili Dant the hurt mother, may be because he identifies with her because of his own pain, and possibly because she can be his own spiritual mother even though his earthly mother is gone. It is in the songs about zi li that the dichotomy between woman and mother is pronounced. J.L. initially speaks of a woman being his lucky woman, and then refers to her as the mother of his woman.11 Woman takes on an e arthly tone in these songs, and by referring to zili as the mother, her status is elevated. She is number one .12 In one song, zili Dant is portrayed as a bit dangerous.13 There is reference to her eating people and that she is a woman who is criminal and a woman who is all lit up.14 Although J.L. speak s of her intense side, there seems to be respect and admiration for zili Dant and it may be in part because J.L. identifies with her and envisions her as his lwa mother. The collections of J.L.s songs portray a complicated young man dealing with pers onal strife. J.L. appears to be quite inexperienced in dealing with women other than his mother, and is not yet prepared and able to understand the complications of romance. J.L. makes the connection between mothers and women in some songs, but in general, the word mother is given a high status; mother is above all else in J.L.s literature. J.L. speaks of masculine lwa but his father is relatively absent in his songs. He praises the male lwa as a good Vodouist would, but there is more of an emotional c onnection displayed with zili mostly zili Dant the pained mother. There are moments when J.L. connects zili, mother, and women all as one, but the dichotomy between being a woman and being his mother is quite intact and is very real in J.L.s world. 9 Hebblethwaite, p.152 #23 10 Tinsley, p.1 11 Hebblethwaite, p. 180 #74 12 Hebblethwaite, p.180 #74 13 Hebblethwaite, p. 170 #117 14 Hebblethwaite, p. 169 #115, p.170 #117

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3 Bibliography Brown, Karen McCarthy, and Learned Societies American Council of. Mama Lola [Electronic Resource] : A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn / Karen McCarthy Brown. Updated and expanded ed. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. University of Florida Library Catalog; Mango Discovery; East, Georgia. "Haitian Americans Reconnect through Vodou." Sunday gazette mail (2009): A.13. Web. Hebblethwaite, Benjamin, and Joanne Bartley. Vodou Songs in Haitian Creole and English = Chante Vodou an Krey ol Ayisyen Ak Angle [Electronic Resource] / Benjamin Hebblethwaite ; with the Editorial Assistance of Joanne Bartley ... [Et Al.] Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 0000. University of Florida Library Catalog; Mango Discovery; http://uf.catalog.fcla.edu.lp.hscl.ufl.edu/permalink.jsp?20UF005533907 Web. Tinsley, Omise'eke Natasha. "Songs for Ezili: Vodou Epistemologies of (Trans)Gender." Feminist Studies (Univ.of Maryland, College Park) 37.2 (2011): 417. Web. Wilcken, Lois. "The Sacred Music and Dance of Haitian Vodou from Temple to Stage and the Ethics of Representation." Latin American Perspectives 32.1, Religion and Identity in the Americas (2005): pp. 193210. Web.


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Title: From Mothers to ‘Little Mary’: Depictions of Women in J.L.’s Songs, Emily Harris
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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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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From Mothers to "Little Mary": Depictions of Women in J.L.'s songs
Emily Harris, University of Florida

Vodou songs are an important art form in Haitian culture, and an essential part of Vodou
ceremonies.1 Some families pass down collections of songs that honor Iwa, and some Vodouists
even write their own.2 While Haitian immigrants are not afraid to incorporate aspects of other
cultures into their lives, songs are significant to Haitian refugees and immigrants because they
help keep the roots of their religion and culture alive.3 The collection of songs by J.L., a
seventeen-year old Haitian refuge living in the United States, is not only a remarkable collection
of personal and familial Vodou songs. These songs also possess a psychological aspect; the
reader is provided with insight into this young male's perspective of the world, and we are given
a more individualistic view of Vodou. J.L.'s commentary and portrayal of women is also
incredibly diverse, and adds an intriguing splash of color to the portrait of his religion and life
provided by these songs. J.L. speaks of great compassion for his mother, yet also makes uncouth
sexual references, and doesn't speak so highly of other women. The Virgin Mary is praised and
Ezili (mostly Ezili Danto), a female Iwa who takes many forms, is spoken of as strong, powerful
and awe-inspiring, but also portrayed as dangerous and unpredictable. These songs about the
female influence in J.L.'s world seem to display conflicting feelings. In some, women are
everything, and in others, women are not to be trusted.
One theme consistent throughout J.L's songs seems to be feelings of loss and love for his
mother. In J.L.'s collection, "mother" has a higher, almost saintly overtone and appears to be
separate from "women". There are nine songs that mention J.L.'s mother, and even more that
recognize "mother" as a sort of status, but may be referring to the Virgin Mary, or mothers of the
world. The huge impact of the loss of his mother on J.L.'s life is expressed in these songs. "What
you did for me, mother, I am unfortunately never going to finish repaying you for that.4" As
made evident in this line, J.L. is incredibly grateful that his mother brought him into this world,
but these songs express that J.L. is not done dealing with the loss of his parents, especially his
mother. "Oh mother, you put me on the Earth and you left me.5" Lines like this display the grief
and strife J.L. has faced since his mother's death. "Wherever you are, you can hear my groaning,
I feel as though I can't stand it.5" The torment of surviving while your parents have been taken
by death is a difficult issue for anyone to comprehend, especially a young person. Through these
songs, insight is brought to us about this teen's grieving process and emotional trials.
In contrast to the praise, love, and heartache J.L. displays when discussing his mother, in
other songs, J.L. refers to women only as "slut.6" In another, J.L. warns young men to never take
a woman and "make a habit of it," that young boys must be careful in "the company of these
women.
There is one song where J.L. mixes Vodou, women, and sex. He is speaking to "Little
Mary", in a sexually explicit way.8 He declares that it is Gede, the Iwa whom he acquired from

SWilcken, p.195
2 McCarthy-Brown, p.13
3 East Georgia Gazette
4 Hebblethwaite, p. 159 #62
5 Hebblethwaite, p. 158 #59
6 Hebblethwaite, p. 152 #25
7 Hebblethwaite, p. 152 #24
8 Hebblethwaite, p.161 #73









his mother, that taught him his sexual ways. He then asks Mary where her sexual ancestors are.
It is curious to note that even when discussing sex very frankly, and quite vulgarly, J.L. still
mentions his mother. We must keep in mind that J.L. is only seventeen. These songs allude to
J.L,'s inexperience with the opposite sex. This is a young man who is still developing his
opinions and has much to learn about the world and his commentary on these issues brings us
descriptions from the eyes of a youth. On the same page as the somewhat derogatory songs, J.L.
tells young men not to mistreat women because they are "more than our mothers.9" It is
interesting that J.L. does not want to mistreat women, but does not make the connection that
referring to someone as a "slut" could be considered mistreatment. The mystery of J.L.'s
collection is his use of keen philosophical statements and high praise for his mother juxtaposed
with songs where he refers to women in derogatory ways or as sexual objects.
Ezili, is the female Iwa who takes many forms and embodies not just femininity, but
creativity, maternity, sexuality and pleasure.10 A significant portion of J.L.'s song collection is
about Ezili, specifically Ezili Danto. Ezili Danto is the side of the feminine ideal that is the
mother. She is a mother who has lost her child and had her tongue removed; she has suffered. It
is interesting that J.L. praises Ezili Danto, the more intense Ezili, as opposed to Ezili Freda, the
flirtier Iwa of beauty and love. The fact that J.L. praises Ezili Danto, the hurt mother, may be
because he identifies with her because of his own pain, and possibly because she can be his own
"spiritual mother" even though his earthly mother is gone. It is in the songs about Ezili that the
dichotomy between "woman" and "mother" is pronounced. J.L. initially speaks of a woman
being his lucky woman, and then refers to her as the "mother of his woman."11 "Woman" takes
on an earthly tone in these songs, and by referring to Ezili as "the mother," her status is elevated.
She is "number one."12
In one song, Ezili Danto is portrayed as a bit dangerous.13 There is reference to her eating
people and that she is "a woman who is criminal" and a woman who "is all lit up."14 Although
J.L. speaks of her intense side, there seems to be respect and admiration for Ezili Danto, and it
may be in part because J.L. identifies with her and envisions her as his Iwa mother.
The collections of J.L.'s songs portray a complicated young man dealing with personal
strife. J.L. appears to be quite inexperienced in dealing with women other than his mother, and is
not yet prepared and able to understand the complications of romance. J.L. makes the connection
between mothers and women in some songs, but in general, the word mother is given a high
status; "mother" is above all else in J.L.'s literature. J.L. speaks of masculine Iwa, but his father
is relatively absent in his songs. He praises the male Iwa, as a good Vodouist would, but there is
more of an emotional connection displayed with Ezili, mostly Ezili Danto, the pained mother.
There are moments when J.L. connects Ezili, mother, and women all as one, but the dichotomy
between being a woman and being his mother is quite intact and is very real in J.L.'s world.





9 Hebblethwaite, p.152 #23
10 Tinsley, p.1
11 Hebblethwaite, p. 180 #74
12 Hebblethwaite, p.180 #74
13 Hebblethwaite, p. 170 #117
14 Hebblethwaite, p. 169 #115, p.170 #117









Bibliography


Brown, Karen McCarthy, and Learned Societies American Council of. Mama Lola [Electronic
Resource] : A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn /Karen McCarthy Brown. Updated and
expanded ed. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. University of Florida
Library Catalog; Mango Discovery;

East, Georgia. "Haitian-Americans Reconnect through Vodou." Sunday gazette-mail (2009):
A. 13. Web.

Hebblethwaite, Benjamin, and Joanne Bartley. Vodou Songs in Haitian Creole and English =
Chante Vodou an Kreyol Ayisyen Ak Angle [Electronic Resource] /Benjamin
Hebblethwaite ; i/i/ the Editorial Assistance ofJoanne Bartley ... [Et Al.]. Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 0000. University ofFlorida Library Catalog; Mango Discovery;
http: /ufcatalog.fcla. edu. lp.hscl. ul. edu/permalink.jsp ?20 UF005533907. Web.

Tinsley, Omise'eke Natasha. "Songs for Ezili: Vodou Epistemologies of (Trans)Gender."
Feminist Studies (Univ. ofMaryland, College Park) 37.2 (2011): 417. Web.

Wilcken, Lois. "The Sacred Music and Dance of Haitian Vodou from Temple to Stage and the
Ethics of Representation." Latin American Perspectives 32.1, Religion and Identity in the
Americas (2005): pp. 193-210. Web.