Bawon Samdi

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One of the classifications of deities in Haitian Vodou is the Gede family, or spirits of the dead. Bawon Samdi (also sometimes spelled Baron Samedi) is the father of the hundreds of Gede and Bawon (Bawon La Croix, Bawon Kriminel, Gede Nimbo, Gede Zareyen, Gede Ti Pete, and Gede Ti Pise, to name a few). Gran Brijit, Bawon's wife and mother of all the Gede and Gedelia, are some of the rare females. The Gede are viewed as Lwa Creole, who did not originate from Benin, but were instead born on the island.
Bawon is considered to be wise because he holds the knowledge of the dead and the outer world. The first body buried in a cemetery is said to become the manifestation of Bawon, guardian of the cemetery; the first female becomes the manifestation of Gran Brijit. When Bawon ventures out of the kingdom of the dead, he must wear dark or colored glasses to protect his eyes from the bright light. However, he frequently takes out the right lens to see in the world of the living while the other lens allows him to keep an eye on the realm of the dead. It is also said that with his right eye he keeps an eye on his food, as Bawon Samdi is notorious for his formidable appetite. He even makes his own liquor: a raw kleren, a form of cheap rum, steeped in 21 spices, and so spicy that no other Lwa can bear to drink it.
At times Bawon Samdi comes to Earth as a ragtag beggar, but he usually wears formal attire, which includes his top hat, tailcoat, and long black cane, complete with a skull handle. Although his dress attire may indicate otherwise, he is quite a trickster, and he spends much of his time engaging in lewd, licentious behavior as he ridicules those who take themselves too seriously. Bawon is very much a partier, and no Vodou ceremony ends without one of the Gede, often Gede Nimbo (called Papa Gede), arriving to liven things up. Bawon's presence is a constant reminder to those in the land of the living that all must succumb in the end to Bawon, ruler of the afterlife.
Bawon Samdi drinks black coffee or vodka and gin, the strongest of all alcohol, and he often smokes strong cigarettes. His favorite foods are black goats and black roosters. Like his wife, Gran Brijit, Bawon is associated with the colors black, purple, and white, and because they live in cemeteries or hidden locations, their realm is the Earth. Bawon Samdi and Gran Brijit are known to have a somewhat playful rivalry, and they try to avoid each other altogether. If they end up meeting each other, all know to steer clear because their fiery tempers might lead to long, drawn-out brawls. The Gede is its own classification, its own family, to which Bawon Samdi belongs. His symbols are a skeleton, a coffin, a black cross, and farm implements.

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Further Reading

  • Deren, M. (1953). Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti. London & New York: Thames & Hudson.
  • Desmangles, L. (1994). Faces of the Gods. Vodou and Roman Catholicism in Haiti. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
  • McCarthy Brown, K. (1991). Mama Lola. A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Métraux, A. (1958). Le Vaudou Haïtien. Paris: Gallimard.