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6: Jesus Out of Africa

Rod Davis University of North Texas Press ePub

6

JESUS OUT OF AFRICA

By now it was late spring in New Orleans. Evenings had become thick and sluggish, precursors to the long, hot summer of Southern fame. Sticky shirts and frizzy hair were the couture of circumstance. The city was a huge, inescapable greenhouse. And I was ready to move on. At the weekend I would tell my friends goodbye, take down my altar, pack my things, load up my car. I would drive off into a world without directions, without maps, without guides, and perhaps without welcome. It seemed like a good idea to go to church.

St. Lazarus offered traditional services on Sunday, but the best sessions were on Friday nights. By 7:30 P.M. I was sitting in a middle pew with a Gideon’s Bible in my lap feeling like I’d wasted time in the shower. The triplex sanctuary was air-conditioned, but the Iberville-side door had to be propped open against the sweltering night because Gary had lit too much incense and the room was choking with smoke. The cool drifted out with the sweet, thick vapors.

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12: Crossing the Line

Rod Davis University of North Texas Press ePub

12

CROSSING THE LINE

The relentless rain that had dogged me had been no stranger to Atlanta, either. A curtain of gray steam, punctuated here and there by torrential cloudbursts, almost obscured the downtown skyline as I came in from Montgomery. The Georgia capital felt much better to me than had the one in Alabama. Here, blacks had moved into positions of real power, politically and socially. Legions of unsolved problems remained, as they do in every American city, but on the whole, Atlanta was known as a progressive town, a magnet for ambitious young people, black and white. The colonial and antebellum gentility of the older parts of the city often segued into the upscale shopping villages and refurbished homes of the city’s yuppie contingents in the north and east. Along with Dallas, Atlanta was the hot place to be in the New Plantation Economy.

I had come to find two voudou priests. Not hoodoo men or root doctors. The real thing. I longed to be back among the true believers. I missed my conversations with Ava Kay Jones, priestess of Oya. I missed my visits with Lorita Mitchell, priestess of Oshun. It was time to accelerate my movement into the true world of the orisha. I wanted to know more of the complex Ifa divination system, its name derived from the god who bestowed it, of the ritual of voudou life and practice, of the intricacies of the theology. I missed the gods.

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Appendix II: The Revolution Denied

Rod Davis University of North Texas Press PDF

APPENDIX II

THE REVOLUTION DENIED

FROM ALMOST THE inception of the slave trade, kings, constitutions and legislatures codified the incubating negative ideologies about Africans into edicts and ordinances, creating a legal and rationalist framework. As early as 1493, only a year after Columbus made landfall in the West Indies, Pope Alexander

II ordered Spanish explorers to convert pagans (Indians and, later, slaves) in the New World territories. In 1685, as the French moved into the Caribbean plunder zone, Louis XVI issued the infamous Code N oir (Black Code) requiring, among other things,

Catholic baptism for all slaves (as well as expulsion of Jews).

One of the most important applications of the Code Noir, however, was its adaptation by Louisiana's territorial governors, who implemented their own Code N oir in 1724, which yielded to the Black Code of the Louisiana Territories of 1806, sustained until the Civil War. The other Southern colonies (and then states) enacted Black Codes of their own to regulate ownership, maintenance and punishment of slaves, free blacks, creoles and mulattoes.

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8: Spirit Wars

Rod Davis University of North Texas Press ePub

8

SPIRIT WARS

At a small corner grocery in Natchez the owner’s wife listened to me with bemusement while her teenage rapmaster son looked on like I was an escapee from some honky nuthouse. I wasn’t connecting, but was honing my approach. When asking around, I would only mention voudou if someone else did. If not, I would rely on a preamble about researching traditional Southern medicines and healings, and say I was seeking anyone in the area, probably an older person, who might have such knowledge or know someone who did.

People generally got the drift, but I had to be aware of another possible impediment—they might think I was a cop. There wasn’t much I could do about that one, except rely on my looks. I was white and all, but I think people know how cops look—and I don’t look like one. It wasn’t so much that a cop would be investigating voudou, but that he might be looking for drugs, or trying to bust some preacher/hustler on a minor vice rap. Who knew with what imagined social ills America’s police busied themselves?

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7: On the Hoodoo Trail

Rod Davis University of North Texas Press ePub

7

ON THE HOODOO TRAIL

In her classic 1953 study of Haitian vodun, The Divine Horsemen, Maya Deren wrote that what she had really witnessed was that which we see in every culture—the operation of a unifying myth. A myth, to Deren, was “the facts of the mind made manifest in a fiction of matter.”1 I sought both the fiction and the matter of the American voudou legacy: spirit condensed into time and place, into persons, into something I could approach.

My task was somewhat more complicated than Deren’s. Haitian vodun is more or less openly practiced, and once Deren gained the confidence of the priests, she could be relatively certain that she was studying what she saw. The seeker of American voudou has no such security of observation. Rarely is anything that which it appears to be. I had certainly encountered that phenomenon in New Orleans, but that was but one city, one mutation. In the centuries of its repression in America, voudou had taken as many guises as necessary to survive. I would have little choice but to investigate all these paths: hoodoo, root medicine, spiritual healing, ju-ju, black magic, and dozens of other euphemisms and forms.

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