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1 Powerful Priestesses: A Look at Equality in Leadership in Vodou Megan Raitano University of Florida Women have taken on a variety of roles within Vodou. Though these roles have changed throughout history, their defining characteristics have not been lost. Be ginning in the seventeenth cent ury with the influx of West African slaves being brought to Haiti, Vodou emerged from its African origin Vodun. Addit ionally, creolization took another form in New Orleans, Louisiana where Voodoo formed from the marriage of African Vodun and European and Native American elements Vodou and Voodoo, both descendants of African Vodun, share a view of women as equal leaders to men This view is exhibited in Cecile Fatiman in Haiti, Marie Laveaux in New Orleans Mama Lola in Brooklyn, the status o f women as priestesses, and the existence of powerful female lwa in Vodou. Cecile Fatiman Cecile Fatiman is one of the first Vodou priestesses or manbo, to be documented in Haiti. As a manbo, she is theoretically equal in power and action to a male priest or oungan (Glassman 2000: 20) She served as a manbo at the Bwa Kayiman ceremony that helped spark the Haitian Revolution in 1791 (Hebblethwaite 2012: 223). During the ceremony, Fatiman was possessed by zili Kawoulo and slaughtered a hog. H is blood was consumed by all present as a covenant to fight to the death for freedom from slavery (Hebblethwaite 2012: 223). Though Bwa Kayiman is normally attributed to the oungan, Boukman Dutty, Fatiman s role in this Haitian Vodou ceremony is remembered vividly and has been passed down through oral tradition for centuries. Marie Laveaux Voodoo in New Orleans has not been responsible for any uprisings. However, it has been at least partially responsible for preserving the identity of the African peoples of New Orleans. Ina Fandrich (2005: 20) hypothesizes that New Orleans Voodoo evolved as a way to keep African traditions and values alive by merging them into their new environment in New Orleans Fandrich (2005: 19) also observes that Marie Laveauxs practice of African religion helped to preserve the African identity for people that had been torn away from their roots. Marie Laveaux is notable for a plethora of reasons, mainly because despite being an illiterate black woman practicing a relatively obscure religion in a land dominated by white, Catholic, welleducated mal es, Laveaux was widely known and respected as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans (Glassman 2000: 53). In the United States, queens are the priestesses of Voodoo and they are prevalent. According to Anthony Pinn (1998: 39) the majority of Voodoo practitioners in the United State s are women. Pinn (1998: 4041) also talks specifically about Laveaux s abilities to secure clients, deal with opponents, create gris gris (magical charms), and promote the survival of Voodoo under Colonial pressures. Glassman (2000: 53) and Fandrich (2005: 152) concur with Pinn on Laveauxs status as the most powerful and influential of all of the Voodoo queens of New Orleans. Today, Laveauxs spirit carries on as a lwa and a crucial com ponent of New Orleans history. As a lwa s he can be called for healin g or for empowerment in Vodou (Glassman 2000: 52) and her legend can be found in any of the old jazz clubs in New Orleans as song after song is sung about the great Voodoo Queen (Fandrich 2005: 181). Marie Laveaux was the most influential figure in Voodoo practice during her lifetime and she continues to be today. Mama Lola

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2 Mama Lola is one of the most prominent manbo living in the United States today. She has been the subject of a book, multiple articles, and has appeared on television. As Haitians continue to immigrate to the United States, many bring their religious beliefs with them. When Karen McCarthy Brown wrote her semi biographical book of Mama Lola, 450,000 Haitian immigrants were living in New York City ( Brown 1991: 4). Of all of the oungan and manbo practicing Vodou in the United States oungan mainly hold large, grand ceremonies in contrast to Mama Lolas in timate ones ( Brown 1991: 4). Despite drawing a much smaller crowd, Mama Lola is well known for her honesty and skill, which has resulted in her being uniquely revered and internationally recognized ( Brown 1991: 4). Of all of the Vodou practit ioners in the United States, Mama Lola, a woman and a manbo, is the most widely recognized. Most of what can be said about manbo and queens has already been established in the introductions to these women. Manbo have been around as long as oungan. Queens are more prev alent than kings in Voodoo. Manbo and oungan, queens and kings, are all equal. In Haiti, New Orleans, and Brooklyn, priestesses are perceived as being just as powerful as priests. In fact, throughout history, the Vodou and Voodoo leaders that have been widely known and respected have been just as frequently female as male. This equality may be attributed to the mythology of Vodou spirits or lwa MawouLisa, the Bondye ( God ) of Vod ou is a divine spirit pair that is both male and female (Hebblethwaite 2012: 266). Both parts are equal in strength and they complement each other. The lwa include both male and female spirits that may inhabit the bodies of practitioners of either gender. This equal treatment from the lwa complement s gender equality structures for Vodou leaders. Vodou and Voodoo do not discriminate against people. This has enabled women like Mama Lola and Marie Laveaux, who are normally disadvantaged in the United States f or not only their race but their gender as well, to be equal to men in their religions. Fatiman showed that women have been powerful in Haitian Vodou from the beginning of its documentation. Laveauxs legacy indicates her excellence as a queen and as a socialite in c olonial New Orleans. Mama Lolas popularity indicates the growth of Haitian Vodou within the United States. All of these womens stories show that women, manbo, and queens are just as powerful as their male counterparts. This formation supports Vodou mythology and mirrors the spiritual hierarchy of Vodou.

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3 Bibliography Brown, Karen McCarthy. 1991. Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. Berkeley: University of California Press. Fandrich, Ina Johanna. 2005. The Mysterious Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveaux: A Study of Powerful Female Leadership in NineteenthCentury New Orleans New York: Routledge. Glassman, Sallie Ann. 2000. Vodou Visions: An Encounter With Divine Mystery New York: Villard. Hebblethwaite, Benjamin. 2012. Vodou Songs in Haitian Creole and English. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Pinn, Anthony B. 1998. Varieties of African American Religious Experience Minneapolis: Fortress Press.


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Title: Powerful Priestesses: A Look at Equality in Leadership in Vodou, Megan Raitano
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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Powerful Priestesses: A Look at Equality in Leadership in Vodou
Megan Raitano, University of Florida

Women have taken on a variety of roles within Vodou. Though these roles have changed
throughout history, their defining characteristics have not been lost. Beginning in the seventeenth
century, with the influx of West African slaves being brought to Haiti, Vodou emerged from its
African origin, Vodun. Additionally, creolization took another form in New Orleans, Louisiana,
where Voodoo formed from the marriage of African Vodun and European and Native American
elements. Vodou and Voodoo, both descendants of African Vodun, share a view of women as
equal leaders to men. This view is exhibited in Cecile Fatiman in Haiti, Marie Laveaux in New
Orleans, Mama Lola in Brooklyn, the status of women as priestesses, and the existence of
powerful female Iwa in Vodou.
Cecile Fatiman
Cecile Fatiman is one of the first Vodou priestesses, or manbo, to be documented in
Haiti. As a manbo, she is theoretically equal in power and action to a male priest, or oungan
(Glassman 2000: 20). She served as a manbo at the Bwa Kayiman ceremony that helped spark
the Haitian Revolution in 1791 (Hebblethwaite 2012: 223). During the ceremony, Fatiman was
possessed by Ezili Kawoulo and slaughtered a hog. His blood was consumed by all present as a
covenant to fight to the death for freedom from slavery (Hebblethwaite 2012: 223). Though Bwa
Kayiman is normally attributed to the oungan, Boukman Dutty, Fatiman's role in this Haitian
Vodou ceremony is remembered vividly and has been passed down through oral tradition for
centuries.
Marie Laveaux
Voodoo in New Orleans has not been responsible for any uprisings. However, it has been
at least partially responsible for preserving the identity of the African peoples of New Orleans.
Ina Fandrich (2005: 20) hypothesizes that New Orleans Voodoo evolved as a way to keep
African traditions and values alive by merging them into their new environment in New Orleans.
Fandrich (2005: 19) also observes that Marie Laveaux's practice of African religion helped to
preserve the African identity for people that had been torn away from their roots. Marie Laveaux
is notable for a plethora of reasons, mainly because despite being an illiterate black woman
practicing a relatively obscure religion in a land dominated by white, Catholic, well-educated
males, Laveaux was widely known and respected as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans
(Glassman 2000: 53).
In the United States, queens are the priestesses of Voodoo and they are prevalent.
According to Anthony Pinn (1998: 39) the majority of Voodoo practitioners in the United States
are women. Pinn (1998: 40-41) also talks specifically about Laveaux's abilities to secure clients,
deal with opponents, create gris-gris (magical charms), and promote the survival of Voodoo
under Colonial pressures. Glassman (2000: 53) and Fandrich (2005: 152) concur with Pinn on
Laveaux's status as the most powerful and influential of all of the Voodoo queens of New
Orleans.
Today, Laveaux's spirit carries on as a Iwa and a crucial component of New Orleans
history. As a Iwa, she can be called for healing or for empowerment in Vodou (Glassman 2000:
52) and her legend can be found in any of the old jazz clubs in New Orleans as song after song is
sung about the great Voodoo Queen (Fandrich 2005: 181). Marie Laveaux was the most
influential figure in Voodoo practice during her lifetime and she continues to be today.
Mama Lola









Mama Lola is one of the most prominent manbo living in the United States today. She
has been the subject of a book, multiple articles, and has appeared on television. As Haitians
continue to immigrate to the United States, many bring their religious beliefs with them. When
Karen McCarthy Brown wrote her semi-biographical book of Mama Lola, 450,000 Haitian
immigrants were living in New York City (Brownl991: 4). Of all of the oungan and manbo
practicing Vodou in the United States, oungan mainly hold large, grand ceremonies in contrast to
Mama Lola's intimate ones (Brown 1991: 4). Despite drawing a much smaller crowd, Mama
Lola is well known for her honesty and skill, which has resulted in her being uniquely revered
and internationally recognized (Brown 1991: 4). Of all of the Vodou practitioners in the United
States, Mama Lola, a woman and a manbo, is the most widely recognized.

Most of what can be said about manbo and queens has already been established in the
introductions to these women. Manbo have been around as long as oungan. Queens are more
prevalent than kings in Voodoo. Manbo and oungan, queens and kings, are all equal. In Haiti,
New Orleans, and Brooklyn, priestesses are perceived as being just as powerful as priests. In
fact, throughout history, the Vodou and Voodoo leaders that have been widely known and
respected have been just as frequently female as male.
This equality may be attributed to the mythology of Vodou spirits or Iwa. Mawou-Lisa,
the Bondye (God) of Vodou is a divine spirit pair that is both male and female (Hebblethwaite
2012: 266). Both parts are equal in strength and they complement each other. The Iwa include
both male and female spirits that may inhabit the bodies of practitioners of either gender. This
equal treatment from the Iwa complements gender equality structures for Vodou leaders.
Vodou and Voodoo do not discriminate against people. This has enabled women like
Mama Lola and Marie Laveaux, who are normally disadvantaged in the United States for not
only their race but their gender as well, to be equal to men in their religions. Fatiman showed that
women have been powerful in Haitian Vodou from the beginning of its documentation.
Laveaux's legacy indicates her excellence as a queen and as a socialite in colonial New Orleans.
Mama Lola's popularity indicates the growth of Haitian Vodou within the United States. All of
these women's stories show that women, manbo, and queens are just as powerful as their male
counterparts. This formation supports Vodou mythology and mirrors the spiritual hierarchy of
Vodou.









Bibliography


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

Fandrich, Ina Johanna. 2005. The Mysterious Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveaux: A Study of
Powerful Female Leadership in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans. New York: Routledge.

Glassman, Sallie Ann. 2000. Vodou Visions: An Encounter With Divine Mystery. New York:
Villard.

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

Pinn, Anthony B. 1998. Varieties of African American Religious Experience. Minneapolis:
Fortress Press.