THE KANZO CEREMONY–INITIATION INTO HAITIAN VODOU
Initiation into the Asson lineage of Vodou tradition is a long process. It takes nearly two weeks to complete. Traditionally, initiation into the Vodou Tradition is done in Haiti. There have been arguments in the Diaspora about whether or not the Kanzo can be done here in the US; I am not going to get into that here. Suffice to say, there are some who say it can be done here and have done it here for years. . . whereas others who believe it can only be done in Haiti or only do it there.
I am going to discuss the Kanzo ceremony in which people are initiated from hounsi kanzo all the way to Houngan or Mambo Asogwe. A shorter version of the kanzo is done when only making hounsis kanzo. I am not going to discuss that here. You can check that out here: Simple Kanzo Ceremony — it is basically a shortened version of the following ceremony which excludes certain ceremonies which are required in order to make someone a Houngan or Mambo Sou Pwen or Asogwe.
THE BAT GE
The first ceremonies in the kanzo are known as the bat ge. Bat ge actually means “to beat a war.” This is exactly what is done too, a war is beaten to bring possession by the Mysteries to the candidates. Houses differ in the number of nights that the bat ge is done, usually it will be held anywhere from 1-3 seperate nights. The pwen, or focus, of the ritual is focused on a special Petro altar known as the bila. The Bila, which is made in a section of the peristyle, is constructed with white sheets in a tent form. Under the tent, Hounsis who are already initiated, beat upon a plates with forks, knives and spoons to call upon the Lwa.
Other ritual objects are constructed and spiritually charged within the bila to invoke the Lwa and gain their participation. In the center of the Bila, you will find a bottle with a coin at the top. On top of this coin, you will see a cork standing with the use of a needle that has two forks coming from its sides. This whole contraption spins. It is known as the nkisi. (Nkisi is a Congo language word for spirit)
During the ceremony, a very specific number of songs must be sung for each of the Lwa. To assure this, it is common to see a person marking a board with chalk as each Lwa receives it’s proper amount of ritual attention. On one of the nights of the Bat Ge, a ceremony known as the pile fey (crushing of the leaves) is done. The herbs crushed during this part of the ceremony are used throughout the kanzo. The herbs are specifically charged and empowered through this special ceremony.
Usually on another night, during the bat ge, Houngans and Mambos will tie packets in the djevo for the candidates. These pakets are made for the lwa that are designed to facilitate the practices of the individual. They serve various purposes to assist the initiate within his or her service to Ginen. In most Houses, either a standard set is conferred or it the specific pakets to be given are chosen by the Papa or Mama Kanzo considering what is and will be most beneficial for the new initiate. In most Vodou Houses or Sosyetes, Hounsi kanzos do not receive any packets, Sou Pwen initiates receive three and the Asogwe initiate will receive seven. Though this may vary.
The next step to take place are series of special baths. These baths are symbolic of the death of the candidates. Some houses do these baths for three days, some for one day, some for two. The number of baths that are done also varies from house to house. Some houses give the initiation candidate three herbal baths, some seven, some twenty-one, and some one hundred and one. The candidates are led in a procession to the Houngan or Mambo, who – along with other initiates – will bathe the candidate. The baths are done with old clothes on. These baths mark the spiritual death of the person who will later be reborn as a Hounsi, Houngan or Mambo.
After the bath, candidates are put to rest for a while, because later that same night, will come the Kouche Kanzo. On this day they are brought into the sacred djevo, where they learn all the secrets of the religion. What happens in the djevo is largely secret and known only to initiates.
CHIRE AYIZAN AND THE KOUCHE KANZO
There is a dance held, and Mambo Ayizan (the Lwa known as the patron of the initiatory djevo) will be saluted in a special ceremony known as the kouri Ayizan, or running Ayizan, and the chire Ayizan. Several things go on during this time. Initiates feed Ayizan her sacred food which is a secret known to them only. A special throne is set up for Ayizan too. Ayizan will invariably show up in possession and bless the djevo for the initiates. A large ceremonial whip is created from strips of palm frond. This is a symbol of ceremonial discipline and ritual correctness. This may be used to correct initiates, if that needs to be done.
After this, the initiates are Kouche’d or taken into the djevo. Then the person will stay in the seclusion of the initiatory djevo for a period of seven days. The djevo is where the candidate is reborn, taught the secrets of the Religion, and remade. I cannot, as an initiate, talk about what goes on in there. That is a secret. People who give away the secrets of the djevo are known to go crazy and/or die. During this time, a number of other ceremonies are administered/conducted for the candidate-new initiate. These are extremely secret.
One of these ceremonies is known as the Manje Tet. As the name states, the head of the person is fed Spiritually. It is a deeply moving and powerful ceremony. It cements the link and the bond between the individual and his or her Lwa.
During this time, Asogwe candidates go to the Suleliye, which confers upon them the Asson. Making them Houngans or Mambos Asogwe, a High Priest within this lineage.
BRULE ZEN OR BRULE KANZO
.On Saturday night, before they leave the djevo, the candidates undergo the brule kanzo. In this ceremony, the candidates grab up boiling cornmeal and also undergo tests of fire. This will prove that the initiates are strong!
When the initiates leave the djevo, known as leve kanzo (get up kanzo), they are usually led on a procession. They will be wearing all white and have straw hats on their head.
Later on that evening, they will be baptized during the baptem and then a huge party will be held in their honor.
After all this, the initiates are finally Kanzo. They have new identities as Houngans, Mambos, or Hounsis. They need to complete 41 days of restrictions to be truly finished with the kanzo ceremony. Usually, about a year later, the initiates will “dessan kolye” which means to take down the kolyes, which will truly finalize the entire cycle of initiation. The kolye is the sacred necklace of initiation.