EWE SLAVES AND VODOUN ("VOODOO") IN AMERICA

 

Uncovering America's Hidden Afro-Spiritual Heritage



By
Mama Zogbé, Hounon-Amengansie, M.Ed. (formerly: Mamaissii Vivian)


"Paw" Mami Wata & Vodoun Priest.(Tohossou)
Maternal great-great grandfather of Mama Zogbé (formerly: Mamaissii Vivian) (author)
Maternal Great-great grandfather


"Paw use to take us across this small bridge that he'd built. For years, we'd track on across that bridge, and never thought nothing of it.

It was not until later that we realized that it wasn't no bridge at all; but a great-big-ole-serpent!

You see, in those days, before the White man started clubbing and shooting them to death, they [the serpents] use to grow that big!"

-[Mama Zogbé 's-lore about "Paw"
passed down from great-grandmother.-Paris,Louisiana



EWE [ev-way] SLAVES IN AMERICA:
An Anecdotal Journey


Papaws or Popos

[The] "Papaws or Popos were the largest group of Africans exported and enslaved [in America] in the early eighteenth century. They were speakers of Ewe and in this language there is a word dzon'ku ' a sorcerer's name for himself and the world -nu meaning man. Put together the words mean a sorcerer man or witch-doctor."

Iren Smalls. The Johnkankus: Roots of An African American Christmas

African descendants in the New World, owe much to Haiti, an independent, proud republic since 1804. As a result of their victory, Haitian Vodou, having its ancestral roots in many West African indigenous religions, is the most widely known African religion to have survived and flourished in the New World.

However, though always mis-credited by western historians and New Age converts, Haiti is not where the Vodoun religion was born, nor is it where it reached its highest pinnacle of philosophical, ritual and theological development. The Vodoun religion is estimated to have existed for more than 10,000+ years, having its ancient roots in Egypt, East Africa and in ancient Afro-matrilineal Ionia (later known as "Greece") where the African, Queen mothers established their powerful temples and theocratic empires long before the Dorian (white) Greek invasions. The Vodoun religion was also one of the major religions practiced all throughout the ancient world.

Additionally, in more recent times, what is not widely known nor extensively researched is Vodoun's history in America, more specifically, among the Ewe and other West African groups enslaved in America who brought the Vodoun religion directly from West Africa. It had been assumed because the Africans enslaved in America were not as numerous as those in Brazil or the Islands, that somehow their family spiritual lineages died out when the religions were violently suppressed.

The "Ewe-speaking peoples [A West African nation from which many slaves came to America]* . . . all make offerings of food and drink-particularly libations of palm wine and banana beer upon the graves of the ancestor. It should be noted that in America that the spirit always give a pint of good whiskey. He is also frequently paid for his services in cash"

(*Footnote pg 234) Zora Neale Hurston: Of Mules & Men

It is widely acknowledged that the Vodoun religion is largely the result of the importation of Africans mainly from the West African Kingdom of Dahomey, (present day Benin to include Togo). Namely from the Ewe [ev-way] and Fon groups. The Ewe are the major group 1 (the Fon, Mina, Adja, are subgroups) who reside primarily in Togo, southern Benin, southeast Ghana, and scattered all throughout West Africa, were brought to America's shores in the early 1800's via Louisiana.

With them came the Vodou religion which underwent the same religious persecution as the Congo and Yoruba groups, forcing it underground as it had existed until recently. Many priests and priestess [especially those who were prosperous] were murdered and forced off of their lands2. Many born to serve their divinties and ancestors found other discreet ways to manifest their spirits.3 Many out of fear simply "forgot,"- triggering furture generations on their own ancestral quest to seekout its spiritual source.


"Thousands of negroes from these serpent worshiping tribes
were at this time sold into slavery..... They bore with them
their cult of the snake. At the same period these
Ewe speaking slaves [emphasis mines] were taken to Louisiana."

Newbile Niles Puckett
"The Magic and Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro."

The Vodou religion is estimated to be as old as 10,000 years, and is the official religion of Benin where thousands flock to her shores from surrounding nations to attend its annual festivals, and partake of its ancient rituals and ceremonies.

Contrary to popular belief, Vodou is not a monolithic religion. Though the official religion of Benin it is not the only country where Vodou is practiced. Many nations and regions throughout Togo, Ghana, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Nigeria and other West African nations practice different variations of the Vodou, that is ethnically, culturally,and ancestrally distinct and indigenous to their own group. They are not imports from Benin.

Pay du Vaud (Home of Vodou)

That the term vodu should survive in Hayti and Louisiana and not in the British West India islands, will surprise no one who is acquainted with the history of the slave trade. The Tshi-speaking slaves, called Coromantees in the slave-dealer's jargon,was not admitted into the [Louisana] French or Spanish colonies . . . the [Louisnana] French and Spanish drew their chief supply from the Ewe-speaking slaves exported from whydah (Ouidah) and Badagry.

A.B. Ellis. The Ewe-Speaking Peoples of The Slave Coast of West Africa (1965 pg. 30).

Indeed, folk magic that is known in the America's as Hoodoo, contrary to what is being promoted as an exclusively Congo import, also was a fully developed tradition in Dahomey, and was also brought over to the America's on the slave ships by the Ewe groups. As the magic and beliefs of the common people, consider the quote below, extracted from an 1890 expedition by A.B. Ellis of the "Slave Coast". During his visit in Togo, Ellis observed and commented:

Amulets, Omens and Various Superstitions Among the Ewe

"Since the name even of a person, should fall into bad hands, may be used to the detriment of the bearer, of course anything that has belonged to a man, especially anything that has formed part of or has come out of his saliva, or the feces, can be used for a similar purpose.

Some nail-parings that belonged to a man recall that man to the mind of the native; and the subjective connection, which was terminated when those parings were cut, is still also unbroken; and that anything that is done to them will be felt by the body to which they belongs. Hence, it is usual for pieces of hair and nails to be carefully buried or burned, in order that they may not fall into the hands of sorcerers; and even the kings' saliva is carefully gathered up and hidden or buried."

Magic powders are very numerous. One kind when blown against a door or window, causes it to fly open, no matter how securely it may be fastened; another, when thrown upon the footprints of an enemy, makes him mad; a third, used in the same day, neutralizes the evil effects of the second; and a fourth destroys the sight of all who look upon it.

A.B. Ellis. The Ewe-Speaking Peoples of The Slave Coast of West Africa (1965 pg. 94:99).


Though most of the records regarding the exact number of the many ethnic groups of Africans enslaved in America is not (nor will be fully) known. Anecdotal records, slave journals, biographies, Wills, and federal census records etc., do exist as to specific ethnic enslaved populations and their approximate geographical locations.

History of Stagville [North Carolina]

slave12.gif

"The slaves who were brought to America, and whose descendants labored at Stagville,[North Carolina] were generally of West African origin. Slaves generally came from agrarian societies including the Ibo, Ewe . . . peoples, societies that were predominantly family-based socially, politically, and economically

Slave Life In Stageville

What exist here is simply a few historical anecdotal records of Ewe slaves and the recognition and validation of both their significant numbers enslaved in the U.S. during the early 1800's, and their contribution to the Vodou religion in the lineages of their descendants in America.

African Origins of Gullah People

Tuner's groundbreaking research in the thirties found words in the Gullah vocabulary from the following langauges : . . . Wolof, Malinke, Mandinka, Bambara, Fula, Mende, Vai, Twi, Fante, Ga, Ewe, Fon, Yoruba, Bini, Hausa, Ibo, Ibibio, Efil, Kongo, Umbundu, And Kimbundu.

Gullah Words

"Da (dada)" - mother, nurse, or elder woman (Ewe)

The Water Brought Us," by Muriel Miller Branch

"Mama"- grandmother (Ewe)

Language Guide (Ewe verison): Bureau of Ghana Languages, Accra



ANCIENT ORIGINS OF THE EWE & FON GROUPS
An Anecdotal Journey


The Ewe are the major groups, and the Fon, Mina, Adja others are subgroups. However, they all descend from a common ancestor in the "East," meaning the nation of Ketu, [now Benin of Nigeria] which they claim as their birth home. Ketu is known as Amedzofe or Mawufe to the Ewe and Fon and the Ga-Dangme ( the Ga-Dangme later to be known as Akhan).

Oral accounts tell of their existence in Ketu since the 11th century, long before the expansion of the Oyo empire. The Vodou religion existed in this region for well over 300 years. It was after the expansion of the Oyo empire when tension led to conflicts and the progressive migration of the Ewe, Fon and the Ga groups south.

"Melrose's Story of Land and Slaves

On January 8, 1736, Francoise (a slave belonging to Chevalier Louis Juchereau de St. Denis) and Marie Francoise were married in Natchitoches, La. The only clues indicating the origins of this African couple are the names of four of their children: Dgimby, Choera, Yandon and Coincoin. These names can be attributed to the Ewe linguistic group of the Gold Coast-Dahomey region of Africa. The pronunciation of Coincoin is close to that of Ko-kwe, a name given to all second-born daughters by those who speak the Glidzi dialect of the Ewe language".

Landmarks: The Louisiana Metoyers:
Melrose's Story of Land and Slaves
Author: Mills, Elizabeth Shown. American Visions.
June 2000. pg. 40-41

The Ewe are also found in many other countries off the Gulf of Guinea, including Sierra Leone and Gabon. Their eighth and last common settlement was at the beginning of the 17th century in Notsie, a town located in the present Republic of Togo. Their language is called Ewegbe, literally "Ewe language", and consists of more than 35 different dialects.

The Ewes

The Ewes moved into the area which is now Togo from the Niger river valley between the 13th and 14th centuries. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Portuguese explorers and traders visited the coast. For the next 200 years, the coastal region was a major raiding center for Europeans in search of slaves, earning Togo and the surrounding region the name "The Slave Coast."

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of African Affairs October 1997

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


LINKS


Voodoo: The Religion of Southern Slaves
The African Origins of "Voodoo": About.com Interview with Mamaissii Vivian
Common Misconceptions About "Voodoo"
"Voodo" Comes Alive in the African-American Diaspora
Slavery & American Restitution
Pope Apologizes for Centuries of Demonzing African Religions
Jewish Roots in Africa
Invisible Culture: Hoodoo Culture in Georgia and South Carolina
The African Origins of Hoodoo: About.com Interview:
Superstitions & Folklore of the South
The Religion of the Slaves
Dahomean Vodoun Culture of the Ewe & Fon
Library of Congress Changes the Way it Classifys African Reliigons
Slavery and Religion in America: A Time Line 1440-1866
A Slave In Brooklyn: Archeologists Uncover Ritual Artifacts
Plates in Graves: An Africanism?


GENEAOLOGICAL RESOURCES

Howard University geneticist working on DNA tests to trace African heritage
Howard University - National Human Genome Center
Genealogy.com: African-American Research
Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society
Christine's Genealogy Website


©2002-2006. Mama Zogbé (formerly: Mamaissii Vivian) . All Rights Reserved. Permission required to duplicate, copy, distribute, or quote.

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NOTES

1. E. Ofori Akyea. EWE. The Rosen Pub. Group., New York, 1998.

2. See AP: Blacks Forced off of Land

3. See: The Malignment of African Traditional Religions



RECOMMENDED READING


1. Mama Zogbé (formerly: Mamaissii Vivian) Mami Wata: Africa's Ancient God/dess Unveiled. Mami Wata Healers Society.

3. Frederick Barth, Ethnic Groups and Boundaries. (Bergen, 1969).

4. John and Jean Comaroff, Ethnography and the Historical Imagination. (Boulder, Col., 1992).

5. John Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1680.

(Cambridge, 1992). 6. Joseph Harris, Global Dimensions of the African Diaspora, Washington, 2nd ed., 1993.

7. Colin Palmer, From Africa to the Americas: Ethnicity in the Early Black Communities of the
Americas,
Journal of World History, 6, 2, 1995, 223-36.

8. Stephan Palmie, Ethnogenetic Processes and Culture Transfer in Afro-American Populations,
in Binder, ed., Slavery in the Americas, 337-63.

9. Richard Walser, His Worship the John Kuner North Carolina Folklore Journal 19 (1971) 160-172.

10. Zora Neale Hurston: Mules and Men. HarperCollins Publishers, Incorp. January 1992.

Bancroft, Frederic.Slave-Trading in the Old South. Baltimore, 1932.

11. Ajayi, Ade, J.F. & Espie , Ian, A Thousand Years of West African History, Great Britain, University of Ibadan, 1967.

12. Alapini Julien, Le Petit Dahomeen, Grammaire. Vocabulaire, Lexique En Langue Du Dahomey, Avignon, Les Presses Universelles, 1955.

13. Argyle, W.J., The Fon of Dahomey: A History and Ethnography of the Old Kingdom, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1966.

14. Chesi, Gert, Voodoo: Africa's Secret Power, Austria, Perliner, 1980.

15. Decalo, Samuel, Historical Dictionary of Dahomey, (People's Republic of Benin), N.J., The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1976.

15. Ellis, A.B., The Ewe Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa, Chicago, Benin Press Ldt, 1965.

17. Le Herisee, A. & Rivet, P., The Royanume d'Ardra et son evangelisation au XVIIIe siecle, Travaux et Memories de "'Institut d'Enthnologie, no. 7, Paris, 1929.

18. Rosenthal, Judy, Possession Ecstasy and Law in Ewe Voodoo, Virgina, University Press of Virginia, 1998.

19. Warren, Dennis, D., The Akan of Ghana, Accra, Pointer Limited, 1973.

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