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Fete Gede, also known as the Festival of the Dead, is a key celebration in Haitian culture. It’s a national holiday centered around Voodoo culture. Haitians across the country join each other in song and dance to celebrate lwa or spirits of Voodoo.

What’s Fet Gede?

Fet Gede (also knows as Fèt Gede or Fète Gede) is like its Haitian celebrators: joyful, resilient, and unordinary. This celebration offers time not only to celebrate death but to face it. Let’s take at the origin of Fet Gede and why it’s important.

Origin

Fete Gede isn’t just a celebration of spirits; it’s also an ode to Haiti’s endurance. Fet Gede originates from the long-standing history of slavery in Haiti.

Before 1804, Haitians were enslaved under French rule. Haiti, or Saint-Domingue as it was known back then, was a violent place for slaves. They lived in dirty conditions and were often mistreated.

Voodoo was an outlet for slaves to stay emotionally healthy and remember their homeland. The practice of Voodoo stems from West Africa and started as far as 6,000 years ago. It‘s an ancient religion that centers around ancestral beliefs.  Enslaved Africans often masked Voodoo rituals under the disguise of Catholic traditions.

In fact, Haitians believe Voodoo is the reason for their freedom. It served as an inspiration for Enslaved Africans to rebel against the French. In a now-famous ceremony called Bois Caïman or Alligator Woods, thousands of Enslaved Africans came together in a Voodoo ritual against the French.

During the ceremony, EnslavedAfricans  leaders were possessed by the lwa spirits. Everyone danced, sang, and prayed that the white men would be defeated. Ultimately the ceremony was successful, as

Haiti is one of the few colonies that won its independence thanks to its slave rebellion.

Voodoo left a significant impression on the Haitian culture. It’s not a surprise that Fet Gede continues to be the most important religious holiday on the national calendar. It brings the community together to bring the dead alive again.

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Significance

As mentioned before, all followers of Voodoo in Haiti celebrate Fet Gede. In Voodoo, it is considered to be an honor to communicate with spirits. The spirits follow and guide followers throughout life.

The significance of spirits is especially crucial for Haitian funerals, and like funerals, Voodoo priests and priestess perform special rituals to summon the spirits.

During Fet Gede, Houngan (priests) or Manbo (priestesses) perform rituals as well. Spirits “mount” or possess followers. There are hundreds of spirits or lwa in Voodoo.

However, Fet Gede is a celebration of the Guédé (Ghede or Gede) family—spirits of the dead.

Date

Haitians celebrate the Gede spirits during the entire month of November. Many cultures consider the early days of November to be the most sacred. Then, the spirits of loved ones can return earthside and advise their family and friends. All Saints’ Day is a Catholic celebration in November to remember the dead, just like Fet Gede.

Fet Gede falls on the same day each year, as people take to the streets on November 2nd to connect with the dead.

Music and dance

Both music and dancing are important expressions of devotion in Voodoo. For the gede to fully possess worshipers, the houn’torguiers or Voodoo drummers play intense music. The fast-paced music and dancing allow the worshipper to lose control of their body. Participants may scream and flail or even faint.

The possessed person can bless the people around him or her. They can connect with the dead, share their stories, or even reveal how they died. Without Voodoo rhythmic dance and beats, the ritual is impossible.