Dressed in a carefully tailored black suit, a boy walked slowly and sedately into the auditorium at the West Oakland Youth Center to the sound of Haitian drums and Kreole chants.His face painted to resemble a skull, wearing a top hat, sunglasses and walking stick, he was Baron Samedi, the Vodun avatar of Death, leading the lively Gede, spirits of the honorable ancestors.
A national holiday in Haiti, Fet Gede is a festival that honors and revitalizes ancestral spirits. It turns the somber view of death on its head, laughing at it, accepting it as part of life.
In the same sense that the second-line of the New Orleans jazz funeral is upbeat, so is the Fet.
“It’s a party that is unusual,” coordinator Colette Eloi says. Westerners see the dance, with its immoderate hip movements as sexually provocative, but there’s more to it than that.
“The dance of the Gede is very pelvic-oriented. It’s the sacred portal, the source of life,” and Gede acknowledge it by poking fun at it. “When you see the dance, it looks freaky,” she says.
The WOYC Fet on Sunday, Oct. 30 was the culmination of Eloi’s Roots Culture Clinic, where young people attended a set of holistic classes emphasizing the healing value of music, dance and art as well as nutrition and meditation.
Wearing the celebration colors of purple, white and black, Oakland native Nefertina Abrams co-signed Eloi’s statement that the reverence is for ancestors who accomplished something.
“This is for our benefit,” Abrams said. “The ancestors want us to learn from their mistakes and build on their triumphs.”
Another Fete Gede, sponsored by the dance troupe Rara Tou Limen, will be held on Sunday, Nov. 6, from 2 p.m.-7 p.m. at Humanist Hall in Oakland.
The entry fee is $20.
There will be singing, dance classes, prayer and then “we will eat together as a community,” said Artistic Director Portsha Jefferson.
Because she “likes to stay current” Jefferson’s dancers wear Black Lives Matter’ as part of their costumes, an acknowledgment that those victims are also ancestors now.
For more information see Rara Tou Limen on Facebook.