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7989: A Lave Tet - An important Haitian Vodou Ceremony (fwd)
What is a Lave Tet?
A lave tet (from the French laver tete, to wash the head), is just exactly
that, it is a ceremonial washing of the head.
The purpose of a lave tet is to spiritually cleanse the head. This may be
done in order to make possessions easier and less violent for an uninitiated
person who has lwa, it may be done during a kanzo ceremony at the end of the
cycle to cleanse the head after all the sacrifices that have been made and
all the ceremonial activity directed at the initiates' heads, it may be done
for a person, initiated or not, who has in some way offended their lwa, or it
may be done for any person who merely wishes to "refresh" their head.
A lave tet in and of itself is not an initiation and it does not make a
person a member of a peristyle or a Vodou society. Only initiation can do
that. A person may in fact have a lave tet from one Houngan or Mambo, and go
on to initiate in another society with another Houngan or Mambo. Also, lave
tets are sometimes performed by "kwakwa" practitioers, "Houngans djakout",
who are traditional practitioners who are nevertheless not initiated.
A lave tet is generally performed in the following way - early in the morning
the person is taken to the peristyle, where water with certain herbs and
other substances has been prepared and consecrated. The ingredients of the
water may vary from house to house and are usually considered the
professional secret of the Houngan or Mambo or kwakwa practitioner in charge.
The person is seated, as are the Houngan or Mambo and any assistants, on low
chairs characteristic of Vodou service. At some time the Houngan or Mambo
The Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Apostles' Creed are said. The
Priere Guinea is recited, often with particular emphasis on the Rada lwa. Of
course a kwakwa practitioner may be less fluent in the Priere than a Houngan
or Mambo asogwe, but not always!
The person's head is then washed. The person may be dressed in white, or in
old clothes, or they may be naked to the waist. (In Haiti women may expose
their breasts in certain contexts in the same way that men remove their
shirts - when bathing, when doing laundry at the river, and so on.) However,
nakedness is never a pretext for sexual behavior,which is strictly prohibited
during the lave tet, the night before, and the night after.
The person's head may be washed once, three times, or seven times, depending
on the house and the degree of cleansing considered to be required. The last
washing may take place at the Cross of Baron in order to invoke the
assistance of the ancestors and the magical power of Baron.
After the washing, if the person is not dressed in white already they are
then so dressed, and their head is wrapped in a white kerchief. They are
made to lie down and rest on a mat covered with a white sheet, and should
remain in the peristyle for the remainder of the day. They should not be
permitted to kiss, embrace or shake hands with anyone to avoid contamination
and malevolent magic.
The person is then put to sleep in the djevo on a white bed or a white mat.
Sometimes a white chicken is sacrificed for the person, and the meat of that
chicken fed to the person and the lwa, along with other typical food
offerings including yams, sweet potatos, rice and beans, and boiled bananas.
A "perpetual lamp", a wick floating in oil, is illuminated, and the person
sleeps in the djevo alone, although sometimes guarded by peristyle members.
The next morning the person is free to put on normal clothing and go about
their usual activities, although sexual abstinence is encouraged and
sometimes required for three or seven days following the lave tet.
Following a lave tet a person very often recieves a "garde", a magical work
which invokes the protection of a particular lwa and involves the person
either drinking certain magical substances or undergoing light cuts on the
arm into which powdered magical leaves and other substances are rubbed. A
"garde" is done with Petro ritual, red clothes are worn, and so forth, so a
garde is never performed on the same day as the lave tet.
During the January 2001 Kanzo, Houngan Salbadja Menfo prepared for the
initiates a "gad vant", a "stomach garde". This garde was drunk rather than
rubbed into the skin, and was made under the patronage of the lwa Kanamayen,
a Baron which Houngan Salbadja serves and whose point is given to Roots
Without End End Society Members when they return to feed their kolye, the
sacred necklace they make and wear during their initiation ceremonies and for
forty-one days after. I had not received this garde, and was very glad to
drink it! According to Houngan Salbadja, the garde provides protection
specifically against poisoning, and if any of us eat or drink any poison, we
will immediately vomit it back up so that it can do no harm. I hope that
Houngan Salbadja will return from the Dominican Republic in time to make this
garde for the members of the July 2001 Kanzo!
Peace and love,
Bon Mambo Racine Sans Bout Sa Te La Daginen
"Se bon ki ra" - Good is rare
The VODOU Page - http://members.aol.com/racine125/index.html