by Claire Payton

Lakou Badjo is the lesser known of the three major Gonaives Vodou temples. Badjo maintains the Nago traditions, which are traced to the Yourba people of West Africa. The Nago pantheon is mainly the Ogou family of loa, which are known as warriors and leaders. The temple at Badjo was dedicated to Ogou Batagri. In the passage below, scholar Marie-Joseph Saint-Lot describes some of the qualities of Nago drumming and dance:

“The Nago dance is dedicated to Ogou, nèg la gè (man of war), hence its extreme vigor. This dance is noted for its pirouettes and the rapidity with with it is executed. Here, the accompaniment of the drum is as hot as the dance. This is one of the occasions when the drummer himself might reach his peak and even appear possessed.” — Vodou: A Sacred Theatre

Like the other lakou we visited, it was tranquil with only a dozen or so people walking about the courtyard. In the center of the lakou was a large empty pool surrounded by trees. Madame Michelet told me that during religious festivals the pool is filled with water for ritual baths and possessions. We were greeted by the head of the lakou, Dorsainville Estimé, who invited us inside the peristyle to offer salutations to the loa. After saluting the loa in the hounfort, we settled in the outdoor peristyle and began our interview.

When we began to talk, Estimé had a lot of questions for us about the nature of our research. As the video above indicates, he felt very strongly about the harmful misrepresentations of Vodou in popular media as diabolical and frightening. But after a few minutes he began to recount to us some of Badjo’s history. He said it was founded in 1792 by a man named Azo Badi*, who fought with Dessalines against the French during the Haitian war of independence. The lakou today is still under control of Badi’s descendants. This military heritage has remained an important part of Badjo’s identity, as is evident through the Nago traditions.

*This the the phonetic spelling of the name