On Haiti's Grand Lakou Gonaïves
By Sokari Ekine
Tuesday, September 29, 2015.
Lakou Badjo, the oldest of the three spiritual compounds [Lakou Ginen] in Gonaïves was founded in 1792, 12 years prior to independence in 1804. The founder, Badjo Pady, was born in Haiti and came with his mother and father, Azo Pady, to the area which is now the Lakou. Little is known about Azo Pady except he was born in Yorubaland and was captured and enslaved, brought to Haiti and escaped with his wife and children to join the revolution. The people of Lakou Badjo believe both Badjo and Azo Pady were present at Bwa Kayiman on the 14th August, 1791 and it was almost a year later when they crossed the mountains and arrived in what is now Gonaïves.
The Lakou is a spiritual and communal compound either of an extended family or a group of families related by common heritage and spirituality, Vodoun. The Lakou forms the foundation on which Vodoun philosophy and way of being is sustained. The integration of the spiritual with nature and community each interdependent on the other, both the living and the dead, the present and the past, the human and the spiritual are present in the Lakou. Even our relationship with the Lwa is mutually dependent; we cannot exist without the other. Put another way Vodoun is the ‘unity of all things’ [which] translates into an overarching belief in the sanctity of life, not so much for the thing as for the spirit of the thing. The cosmological unity in Vodoun further translates into a vaunted African humanism in which social institutions are elaborated and in which the living, the dead and the unborn, play equally significant roles in an unbroken historical chain’* [*Patrick Bellegarde-Smith in “Invisible Powers“].
There is however another dimension to the Lakou. Its so-called present day realities. The Gran Lakou of Badjo is not in a great place at this time. Badjo’s milk factory has not worked for over a year due to needed equipment repairs and now the farms are dry due to lack of rain. In only a few months between January and August the number of productive farms has halved. The Lakou has an excellent irrigation system however without the rains and without at least a couple of water pumps things might only get worse.
Support from the government has been minimal considering their spiritual necessity and historical significance of the Lakou. The ‘aid’ industry, charities, NGOs, missions etc... are not willing to provide financial or material support for agricultural and enterprise development in the Lakou. On the contrary, charities and missions in particular, are invested in destroying Haiti’s cultural and therefore spiritual heritage.
The idylic and the reality are constantly shifting and bending on each other. The community of belonging is living and present. It’s also ancestral and ancient but the push of poverty is foreboding. Access to healthcare is minimal and the one room school is education at its most basic. The path of most resistance, hidden behind the ‘mythos’ [the compendium of national myths that help define Haiti*] are the day to day struggles of living which are gendered as elsewhere. By far the majority of the Lakou are women and the Manbo out number Hougan not just in Badjo but in the country.
Ultimately Vodouisants seek to find a balance in relationships with others, nature, ancestors and with all cosmic entities** [**Claudine Michel]. Vodou origins stretch far into the past of African and Taino people. It survived the violence and horror of enslavement and struggle for freedom. Accepting that the cosmic world is in constant motion has meant finding ways to adapt to new formations and environments whilst at the same time maintaining the ‘balance’ necessary to ensure everyone’s survival.
Sokari Ekine is a human rights activist, writer and an award-winning blogger. She blogs at http://Blacklooks.org and at http://sokariekine.me