A Conversation for Fugu Fish

What is an Houngan?

Post 1


The use of Houngan in this article is an understandably incorrect assertation. In Haiti, zonbi (or zombies) are not ritually created by Houngans. Well, that is to say not all Houngans create zonbi. Houngan is a term describing a man who is in devoted spiritual service to the Lwa or mystery spirits of Haitian Vodun (Vodou, Voodoo), a vodou priest if you will. Their feminine counterpart is known as a Manbo or Mamnbo (ie. priestess). The creation of a zonbi, or more accurately the rendering of a person into such a state is perceived as a vile and base act against nature and holds a tremendous deal of fear over faithful vodouissants (vodou practitioners) as a severe method of punishment for some social crime or stigma. How does this relate to the houngan/manbo? Simply put it doesn't, well, not all the time. Haitian Vodou is a complex and broadly variant system of faith and worship. Houngans and manbos fulfill much the same rolls as would priest(ess)s or holy persons to other faiths, being a source of spiritual guidance and counselling, not to mention other normal duties such as marriages, funerals and the like. To render someone a zonbi is not chiefly amongst their lot of responsibilities, although at times certain individuals might be called upon to perform such a task. To understand this, one must first understand what a zonbi is in Haitian culture. Zonbi's are slaves, first and foremost. The state of living death that they may or may not appear to be in is largely irrelevant to the accuality of its parallel social phenomenon. So why do such person inspire a sense of dread in the hearts of faithful vodouissants. Simply the existence of a such a miserable soul represents the diametric opposite of the core of their faith. Haiti, formerly a french colony called St. Domingue, was born of a slave uprising in 1791 and a massive resistance movement that followed. Haitian culture grew to perceive slavery as the most contemptable ideal they had ever known, and steered their course violently away from it, becoming the first independent slave born republic in existence. The swore they would never be slaves again, and the slavery began to grow into a heinous taboo. A taboo which would later be used by select individuals to enforce their will upon those that feared and loathed enslavement more than anything they had ever known. Some of these people were houngans and manbos, but more importantly, individuals connected with such action as the creation of a zonbi were called Bokor, whichmost similarly translates as sorcerer. Such people were practitioners and prolificators of a much darker an grim pattern of belief, designed to control and manipulate the public to act in accordance with the will of the community around them, lest they be stripped of their "soul" and enslaved as a "zombie". A Bokor is one who assumes the mantle of such tasks, for a fee or for a favor, but largely for some degree of personal gain. Thus the true creator of a zonbi in Haiti, is the fear of what a zonbi represents: slavery in a culture where slavery is abhorred above all things. For further information on the subject, seek out the writings of Dr. Wade Davis, whose exploration into Haitian culture and the "ethnobotany of the zombie" have done much to eclipse a largely racist view on a very beautiful faith and people. His account as recorded is "Serpent and the Rainbow" is an excellent place to start.


What is an Houngan?

Post 2


I've seen the Serpent and the Rainbow - although I don't believe everything I see in the cinema, it's a good movie.

Thanks for the info, it's good to see that people are still reading, even years later.

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