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#3543: Culture Vulturism: another view (fwd)
Here is my two-cent worth of thoughts to help in the "challenge" of figuring
out "the real from the crap" in Vodou even though the last sentence of your
post showed that you have already weeded out lots of the crap.
I, personally, do not know of any bogus Manbo or Hougan in the Rada-Kanzo
tradition which main bastion is Port-au-Prince. It's important to realize
that there are many different traditions in Vodou and that the titles of
priests and priestess as well as initiations are different in many places.
Some "Hougan Djeg" also called "Hougan Makout" who have no formal training
but have received their revelations through dreams or family teachings are
quite adequate in what they do in their society but might not be so in other
societies and therefore might not be what you are looking for.
I will speak about what I know of the Rada-Kanzo tradition which is the one I
have been initiated into.
I repeat that I did not know of any bogus Manbo or Hougan for the simple
reason that we form a very close-knit association. The ason is given to
qualified initiates in the presence of several Manbos or(and) Hougans
("lasanblé dé Hougan é dé Manbo") from different Hounfň who will always be
able (if necessary) to testify of the validity of one's title. It is
understood that the young ones do not have the same knowledge and experience
as those who have practiced for many years but no one can ever claim to know
everything. "Djakout konesans pa janm plen" (the bag of knowledge is never
full) confirms that reality.
It is not easy to judge the real value of any Hougan or Manbo but it is
proper to search for the one who is most likely to fit one's need. Most of
them have secretaries and translators and if they don't, they can fetch them
from another hounfň down the street or down the road in the countryside. This
wide variety gives an appearance of looseness to our Religion but it's only
superficial, in reality it has ensured its perpetuity through millennia.
Is a Manbo who is also a lawyer to blame for asking $400 for a reading? Those
who consult her might very well need her knowledge of laws as well as of her
spirituality. Who am I to judge her for the amount she asks?
Money is always a touchy subject in this society. It is probably why when a
family or an individual belongs to a church here, they are supposed to
declare their revenues and give one tenth of it divided in weekly
installments at the Sunday services. In Vodou, it's different and there is no
set price for anything. There is no special price for foreigners or Haitians.
The spirits are usually the ones to decide how much one should pay or not pay
for whatever services are needed.
Public services are many but all those who assist as participants or
spectators are expected to contribute in some ways. As the "pitit fey"
(initiates) make the ceremony happen and bring their offerings, spectators
should offer at least a bottle of rhum as he or she introduces himself to the
officials of the temple. If there is a sacrifice, the whole assembly is asked
by song to "payé san" (pay for the blood) which entitles them to share the
spiritual benefits as well as the cooked meal. The Haitian norms of
hospitality are understood by those within the culture and never spelled out,
but those (even foreigners) who do not conform are quickly noticed and
Just a few words about initiations: they are costly. The prices vary
according to very many factors and they are never spelled out since, like I
said before, they are set by the Spirits. Furthermore reputable hounfň aren't
marketplaces and there is no bartering; the same applies when shopping for
sacrificial animals or any ritual objects. In my understanding, Hougans and
Manbos never work for their families and close friends and there are
spiritual reasons for that. Those are well-established traditions that fit
I would like to repeat that the nationality, the color of the skin, the
knowledge of creole are no factor in setting up prices and qualifying someone
in a spiritual quest. As a matter of fact, I know of an American individual
who was initiated twice in Haiti and never paid a penny. Of course, the
person got (not) what wasn't pay for!