NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 18 Issue 1 - Winter 2018 - Page 30

o Monique Clesca as a cowgirl for Mardi Gras. A light had gone out of my life. I was mute. I lived the wake, the funeral and the burial ceremonies, overcome with tears and overwhelmed by the pain and sadness of this definitive absence. Her rocking chair empty, the doors of her store locked — although these were material things — they were still tangible proof of her existence. No one wanted to speak, no one smiled; even the vine leaves over the porch were tired and started to fall, as if they too were grieving. Behind that name, I wanted to know who GrandAngele really was. I wanted to know more, to extricate her from the earth in which she was laid, I wanted them to give me back my grandmother who continued to exist despite her death. Years later, I became quite curious to understand why the man at GrandAngele’s wake had called her a mapou. I asked TanteYvonne, the person closest to her, to tell me about her life. My requests were met with silence, then with a faint smile, still later with a yes, said so laconically that it meant its opposite. Finally, about three decades after her death, TanteYvonne did her storytelling, as I listened with great acuity. GrandAngele was very young, a mere teenager, when her father initiated her into the Vaudou religion. He and other family members had been long-time practitioners. Papa Loko, Erzulie and General Vaval, who possessed her consciousness, were ancestral spirits who had also possessed some of her family. These invisible and mysterious spirits had made the journey on the slave ships that carried African men, women and children, victims of macabre human trafficking, to Haiti. They survived through slavery and the independence war in Charlier, GrandAngele’s village, and then to her compound in Port-au-Prince. When the drums started to speak in the Yoruba, Igbo or Kongo sounds of her ancestors, GrandAngele heard them, they resonated in her, and she sometimes responded in these other tongues. There was a bright yellow princess dress that GrandAngele so loved to wear, when she was possessed by the spirit of Erzulie, the goddess of love, originally from Guinea in West Africa. When Erzulie danced in her head, her body twirled like a young woman flirting, a seductress. She was most often possessed by Général Vaval, family name given to the Yoruba god Ogun, so close was he to them. He knew well the ways to my grandmother’s mind and body, for having inhabited them very early on from when her father transmitted his powers to her. When Général Vaval took control of her by possessing her consciousness, she became him. She was fierce with his power, carried a knife, scared all who needed to be scared, and also decoded dreams. Papa Loko, the wise old farmer who had blessed us, was also a master of her head, as spirits are sometimes called. By curiosity, I had searched the dictionary for the meaning of the word Angele, GrandAngele’s first name. It comes from the Greek word eggelos, which means messenger. I finally understood that this had been her role: messenger and that the road she had taken was written in her, before she was even born. She had indeed done her work during her passage. She had brought the past from Africa into our proximity. I confessed that for me to truly live freely, I had to carve out a small place for myself in this ancestry. A Haitian proverb says mapou mouri, kabrit manje fey li/, when the ceiba tree dies, goats eat its leaves. I wanted to be a goat eating GrandAngele’s leaves — it didn’t take much introspection to realize that I revered GrandAngele, my totem — so as to transmit that legacy to others, albeit in a small but totally different manner. TanteYvonne, in a measured tone filled with affection, shared with me GrandAngele’s words: “These are my mystères. They are the masters of my intelligence. I must celebrate them regularly.” I stayed quiet for a long time. A very long time. The silence in the room was deafening. The confidences about GrandAngele had transformed her momentarily into a lively person and made an abstraction of her absence. I felt a sentiment of invincibility, of legitimacy. And then I finally broke the silence. I told her that I now understood that GrandAngele was more than my grandmother; she was a poto-mitan, the central anchor of our family. She ultimately belonged to all, because, as a guard