This post is also available in: Kreyol
Woy Magazine had the pleasure of speaking with Sophia Fecu, manbo and occasional Woy Magazine contributor about her upcoming book Mon Héritage.
You love me? Ayibobo for you. You don’t? Ayibobo for you, as well!
Tell us a little bit about this book. What will we learn through its pages?
I start the book by telling my family’s story, and the story of our compound. I tell about the moment I accepted to receive Vodou as my heritage, and carry this duty on my shoulders. Anyone who doesn’t know anything about Vodou can gain understanding of what Vodou and Ginen are if they read my book. It will also help those who tend to generalize everything about Vodou become more nuanced in their point of view.
Why did you choose this moment in your life to tell your story?
Throughout my life as a manbo, I often come across young people who are also heirs. This means that they have been claimed, but they are having trouble finding their way. Their lives are filled with bad luck, they are suffering because either their mother, father, or grandmother used to serve Vodou and have stopped. Now, the weight has fallen on them, and they don’t know how to shoulder this burden. Many of these people end up in the wrong circle because as they are looking for guidance, they may end accepting the first person offering help.
I remember going through the same thing when I was first starting out. I had my own life before that. I had friends that I knew would turn their noses up at Vodou. I knew I would be looked down upon. So, I searched for means of controlling the “lwa” that were haunting me everywhere I went. I fell into the wrong circle, with people who were not genuine. Today, I choose to tell my story to help young people who are thinking about making that choice; to put them on guard and to also make clear that even if you have had a bad experience, that does not mean Vodou as a whole is bad. It is time that we, Vodou practitioners, start telling our own stories.
In an article you wrote for Woy Magazine, you said “it’s like society has its own dictionary with its own definition of manbo.” Does that sentence describe your motivation for writing this book?
Yes, it is one of my motivations. It was important for me to speak to those who hold prejudices against Vodou to help them not lump everyone together. It is true that there are those involved in the mystical realm who want to manipulate people for money. But, that is not who I am. It is important to clearly establish that difference.
I am a part of what we call “heirs” in Vodou. A “manbo” or a “ougan” who has been claimed, who has decided to be initiated, is oftentimes someone who did not choose this path. I, myself did not choose it. I did not aspire to be a manbo. In fact, I am a skeptic and never believed in stories regarding being possessed by spirits. But the spirits began manifesting themselves to me, and it became important for me to learn how to control them, and to figure out whether this was something positive or negative. A family may have 100 people who wish to serve the spirits, yet here you are, the one who never wanted any of this, you are the one the spirits decided to have lay claim to.
I decided that it was time for me to tell my story. And hopefully through my story, others who are struggling in their initiation because their friends and family are calling them devils, or because they have fallen prey to con artists, will understand that everything is difficult at the beginning. It is your determination that will make a difference and will ensure you are successful.
Did you write this book for a specific audience? What kind of people do you hope your message will reach?
I did not write this book for a specific group of people. I would like for anyone, no matter their religion, to read it. It is not a book of magic spells and secrets. It is a book that is available for anyone who wants to learn more about the life someone like me lives. This book does not offer the shocking images many might be looking for, nor does it include any rituals. Anyone can understand it, no matter their religion. I did not want to write a book that only Vodouisants like myself would be able to understand.
Do you think that your popularity on social media has helped more people better understand manbos and Vodou in general?
There are some people who think I don’t belong in this space. I may be tweeting like any other person, and someone will say, “what is this manbo doing here? Doesn’t she have a Lwa to go call on?” When I see these, I laugh. A person capable of such discrimination is small minded. But little by little, people have come to realize who I really am.
I think that I have paved the way for any other young lady who is a manbo to not be afraid to say so on social media. Many people are afraid to say that they are manbo, but you have to stand in your truth. You cannot hide who you are from others. It wasn’t very hard for me. I am a 32 years old young woman who stands in her truth. I always say that I am a woman who doesn’t make any explanations for her choices. You love me? Ayibobo for you. You don’t? Ayibobo for you, as well!
What is at risk for Haitian society and culture if people remain ignorant about this facet of our roots?
The danger is already here. We are a self-hating people. And by hating ourselves, we have become a dog-eat-dog society, because we do not know where we come from. We are in constant contradiction with ourselves and with who we are. The people who hate Vodou are usually the same people who, on August 22nd, write proud statements like, “The ceremony of Bois Caiman, the movement that spearheaded Haitian independence!” Do these people know that the ceremony of Bois Caiman was a Vodou ritual? We can talk about the ceremony of Bois Caiman, but we can’t talk about the ceremony that happened at a manbo’s house last night? Meanwhile, the ceremony of Bois Caiman was a ceremony where an actual pig was sacrificed. So many people are proud to speak about the ceremony of Bois Caiman. So many scholars, professionals, who are not Vodou practitioners, speak with pride about the ceremony of Bois Caiman. But these same people who speak so proudly about Bois Caiman, won’t talk about a ceremony at a manbo’s house with the same pride. Heritage, wherever and whenever it happened, remains our heritage. We cannot assume our identity while we have such contradictions. And until we can assume our identity, until we know who we are, we will not advance. Because we do not know who we are.
Where can we find this book?
My first book signing will be Friday, April 29th. After that, I hope to have books available in bookstores soon. For people who are not comfortable reading French, people of the diaspora, the book will be available in English this summer, along with a tour to present the book in various states.