Haitian Creole –
Mesye la kwa avanse pou l we yo!
Maman Brigitte malad, li kouche sou do,
Pawol anpil pa leve le mo (les morts, Fr.)
Mare tet ou, mare vant ou, mare ren ou,
Yo prale we ki jan yap met a jenou.
Gentlemen of the cross (deceased ancestors) advance for her to see them!
Maman Brigitte is sick, she lies down on her back,
A lot of talk won’t raise the dead,
Tie up your head, tie up your belly, tie up your kidneys,
They will see how they will get down on their knees.
(Meaning, tie up your belly, ‘gird up your loins’ to prepare for the strain
of work, we will make the people who did this evil spell get down on their
knees to beg pardon and receive their punishment.)
The picture above is my favorite cemetery in South Florida and the one where I would leave offerings for the Orisha Oya or the appropriate lwa. It is in a warehouse district and is a poor cemetery. Floods from years past have caused many of the tombs to erupt in bizarre fashion from the ground. The stark white crosses with handwritten names have become more and more commonplace. There is no sense of well-manicured lawns and death behind mausoleum doors. This cemetery has an energy that vibrates, perhaps from it being an obvious choice as a repository for offerings to the Orishas and lwa that rule over this space and death.
Our modern society has become removed from death. Wakes and funerals are held in impersonal funeral homes and many choose closed casket services that whisk the body from funeral home to interment in a few brief hours to most people’s relief. Considering that death is one of the few things that we know is coming in this life, we spend little time in consideration of the event or the preparations for it.
Maman Brigitte is the Mother of the Dead, a Voudoun lwa, wife of the Baron Samedi (Head of the ancestral lwa), and a tough-talking, formidable Goddess of cemeteries and death. The first man and first woman buried in any cemetery are consecrated to Baron Samedi and Maman Brigitte. Offerings to Maman Brigitte are left at this particular gravesite. The spirits of the dead are called Ghede (and there are many lwas that begin their names with Ghede), but the Baron is considered to be Death itself. He and Maman Brigitte rule over the dead, the ancestral lwa, the Ghede, and are the Lord and Lady of the cemetery.
Maman Brigitte is an in-your-face lwa. From her suggestive banda dances to her consumption of pepper-laced rum and tough talk, Maman Brigitte will not be ignored. She brings death right to our door and makes sure we cannot look away. She reminds us that death, like life, can be messy, emotional, celebratory, tragic, and intense all at the same time.
The Ghede, the dead, and the rites of Baron and Maman infuse Haiti. The national anthem begins with the line “For Haiti, the Ancestors’ Country, We must walk hand in hand …” and each stanza after begins “For Haiti and the Ancestors …” (See full translation here). Funeral practices are extensive and are held at the time of death and a year and a day after the death as well. Ancestors are attended for various reasons throughout the year and at Fet Ghede (All Soul’s Day, November 2) which is like the Haitian Day of the Dead.
Standing in my cemetery, I feel the presence of Oya at the gates, watching over all the comings and goings. The Baron and Maman Brigitte are having a champagne picnic under one of the trees and the denizens of the cemetery are invited to sit and partake. There is a sense of crowded and noisy space sometimes, even though it is silent except for the occasional car passing.
I imagine that those who “rise” in this graveyard are embraced by Maman Brigitte as the Mother of the Dead. She wipes their tears, introduces them around, and gives them purpose in the transformation to Ghede. Trumpets and music blare as the Baron and Maman lead their ragtag parade amongst the graves, leaving only a trace of shouts and laughter on the wind.
Do you spend time in cemeteries?
Is there a deity that you believe will greet you and “transition” you?
**Maman Brigitte is one of the 9 Goddesses featured in Meeting the Dark Goddess on Mystery School of the Goddess. This course is moderated and available on demand. Registration is open through Winter Solstice 2016.