Practicing Vodou in a Metropolitan area can be challenging. There is so much misunderstanding when it comes to Afro-Caribbean practices as all of them tend to be seen from the Christian point of view as cults for ignorant people. That is one of the challenges practitioners face, particularly those who live in the Bible Belt of the United States where I was invited to participate in a Sèvis Lwa to Dambalah. My husband and I showed up dressed in the appropriate color: White. We came bearing appropriate gifts to be placed at Damballah’s altar in honor of a lwa associated with purity and wisdom and represented by the snake.
After I handed to the Houngan the white flowers and the white cooked rice in coconut milk I had made, we took seat nearby to watch him draw expertly the sacred veve of Damballah. The place was buzzing with energy and laughter, folks were busy about in the kitchen, others were greeting guests and making feel welcomed. We were happy to be there, happy to come and join our hearts and spirits with this community and praise a powerful Lwa.
We had taken care of parking on assigned areas, not blocking driveways, coming in quietly as not to cause commotion in the neighborhood. But still, when we started our chants and music, the neighbors did call the police on us. It was early afternoon, anyone could have had a backyard party with loud music and no one would have minded. However, in the neighbor’s minds, “those devil worshipers” where at it. Their strange chant and drumming was a sign that something must be wrong with them. Thirty minutes into the ceremony we had cops showing up with tough macho attitudes, no respect at all observed. Would the house of a Christian be invaded thusly if they were praising Jesus and singing hymns?
Suddenly one of the cops who first entered the altar area jumped horrified, eyes wide open in horror, his right hand making the sign of the cross over and over again. I was looking all over to see if Damballah had materialized in front of the poor man. But no, he had just realized the stepped all over the carefully drawn veve Damballah and he was terrified. The hougan stepped in to calm him down and to explain no harm would come to him. The cop quickly apologized for the interruption, told us to carry on and not to be bother about the neighbors and left faster than he had come in with his partner.
Police officers should be better trained before sent out to the streets, it is not all about good guys and bad guys. It is about serving communities and communities cannot be divorced from beliefs and religious practices. Perhaps police departments across the nation should train their officers in religious practices in America and the World. Understanding can be better than learning a thing of two about vodou by stepping on the wrong place.
If you have had a ceremony interrupted by the police, drop me a note. I am curious about your experience.
Oní Yemayá Ashagbá