Bonswa, everyone; it’s your friend Manbo Mary. Today we’re going to talk about Vodou parties, or “fets”, as they’re called in Kreyol.
A fet is simply a party for one or more spirits, or lwa. Each Vodou sosyete has several fets per year, but each house may have different spirits that they honor. In my house, Sosyete Nago, we have about 3 fets per year: one in March for Papa Damballah, one in May for Kouzen, and one in November for Gede. This is for us in Boston. Our brothers and sisters in Haiti will have a couple more fets than we do. Sometimes we’ll add a fet to our schedule up here; it really depends on time.
Let’s say you’ve been learning about Vodou. You’ve gotten to know a Haitian person and/or someone affiliated with a house. You may politely enquire as to when a fet will next happen. So you get invited. Woohoo!
Here are some guidelines for being a good guest at a fet and to help you get invited back J
- Wheaton’s Law is the first thing to remember: Don’t be a dick. If you were going to a non-Vodou party at someone’s house, you wouldn’t act like a dick, now would you?
- Find out the time to arrive. Haitians tend to be flexible with time. If they tell you to show up at 9pm, the party won’t probably start till around 11pm. Still, try to be there as close to the time they give you.
- Dress appropriately, for the love of God. You are not going to the club to sip some bub. This is a religious ceremony. You don’t have to wear a suit or anything like that, but looking nice and dressing a bit conservatively shows that you have respect. If you can wear all white, that’s great. If you don’t have white clothes, don’t stress. Just wear something other than black or purple (unless you’re going to Fet Gede, where those colors are appropriate). Ladies, it’s not required that you cover your hair but it is an additional mark of respect. Bring a headscarf and we’ll show you how to tie it if you don’t already know.
- Get someone to introduce you to the head manbo or houngan. Thank them for allowing you to attend their party. Again, it’s about respect.
- Bring a little something. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. You could give $20 to help pay the drummers. You could bring a bottle of rum for the table. You could bring a bit of fruit (any kind is acceptable EXCEPT lemons or limes). Again, it’s not required that you bring something, but it’s a nice gesture and if it’s your first time in this community, it will establish your reputation.
- Turn off your cell phones/pagers/little electronic doo-dads during the opening prayer! The opening prayer, or “priye Ginen”, takes about an hour to complete and someone’s cell phone going off playing “Anaconda” as the ringtone will not help the mood.
- If you are menstruating, or have an open wound, try to stay away from the altar during the first half of the party. It’s not that blood is “impure” but some of the Rada spirits (who are saluted in the first part of the party) don’t like the smell of blood. Also, in the same vein, avoid sexual activity 24 hours prior to coming to a fet.
- Just enjoy the experience. It will be very different from any party you’ve ever been to, but we’re there to worship and enjoy the spirits. It’s supposed to be fun!
And now for the DON’TS:
- Don’t bring along extra people without asking the priest or priestess. Always ask first.
- Don’t take pictures or video without asking first. Some people in the community are not “out” about Vodou to their family, friends, or employers. It wouldn’t be good to have someone get in trouble because your pics wound up on Facebook.
- Don’t come stoned or drunk. Seriously, I’ve seen this happen. You won’t be able to control your actions and you’ll behave badly which will make you a dick, and you remember Wheaton’s Law, right?
- Don’t use drugs or smoke cigs during the party. If you have to smoke, do so outside. Some of our spirits don’t like smoke.
- Do NOT get in the way of any possessions that may occur. The first time you see a possession, it may scare you. That’s OK. You can just watch. But don’t try to stop one or touch the horse (the person being possessed).
- If a spirit comes to you and wants to speak, do NOT be disrespectful. Flag someone in the house down to translate for you; the spirits speak Kreyol when they come. The spirit may give you advice or warnings. After the party, you can discuss this with any of the priests/priestesses of the house.
- Don’t touch any of the food on the table until you’ve been given permission to do so. We set out food for the spirits for them to feed off the spiritual energy. After the party is over, usually we can eat the food and it’s OK. But during the party, it’s a huge no-no to touch it.
Follow these guidelines and I guarantee you’ll have a safe and memorable time!