The Gede in New Orleans: Vodou Ritual in Big Chief Allison Tootie Montana's Jazz Funeral

By Turner, Richard Brent | Journal of Haitian Studies, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Gede in New Orleans: Vodou Ritual in Big Chief Allison Tootie Montana's Jazz Funeral


Turner, Richard Brent, Journal of Haitian Studies


Introduction

[Vodou] rituals do, actually, work so often, for the primary effect of such ritual action is upon the doer. That action reaffirms first principles-destiny, strength, love, life, death; it recapitulates a man 's relationship to his ancestors, his history, as well as his relationship to the contemporary community; it exercises and formalizes his own integrity and personality... He emerges with a strengthened and refreshed sense of his relationship to cosmic, social, and personal elements. A man so integrated is likely to function more effectively than one whose adjustment has begun to disintegrate, and this will be reflected in the relative success of his undertakings.

-Maya Deren1

Allison Tootie Montana (1922-2005) was the former chief of the Yellow Pocahantas tribe and the most famous Mardi Gras Indian leader in twentieth-century New Orleans because of his family's significant contributions to the music, sewing, and spiritual arts of the Black Indian tradition for more than one hundred years. The Black Indian tribes of New Orleans originated in the late-nineteenth century as secret societies and Carnival performance traditions that are descended from, commemorate, and reinterpret the resistance strategies of Louisiana's African-Amerindian maroon communities during slavery. Their performance and festival parades called second lines have striking similarities to the Sequin artists and Rara bands of Haiti.2

Chief Montana died from a heart attack that happened while he testified before a meeting of the New Orleans City Council on June 27, 2005. The hearing focused on the New Orleans police department's harassment of the Mardi Gras Indians' parade on St. Joseph's night on March 19. St. Joseph's feast day is a sacred holiday for the Black Indian tribes. Montana collapsed after he told the City Council-in Kreyol-"Connugh/Fais! This [harassment] has got to stop!"3 This article is based on my photo documentation and participation in Chief Montana's wake service and jazz funeral procession in New Orleans on July 9, 2005. The research focuses on the influences of the Gede family of spirits in his funeral ritual by analyzing the historical and religious continuities between Haiti and Black New Orleans and the significance of Baron Samdi, the Skeleton Gangs, and St. Louis Cemetery, No. 2 in the six-hour second-line funeral procession. Finally, the epilogue of the article deals with the future of jazz funerals and the healing rituals of Vodou in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Haiti and Black New Orleans: Historical and Religious Continuities

Perhaps no group contributed more to the cultural development of Louisiana in the decades following the Purchase than émigré's from the French Caribbean colony of St. Domingue.

-Priscilla Lawrence4

The spiritual philosophies and rituals of Haitian Vodou that influence contemporary jazz funerals in New Orleans can be traced to the "common roots" and "ties" between Haiti and Black New Orleans that began in the nineteenth century.5 The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) produced the first nation in the modern world to come about as the consequence of a slave rebellion and influenced the Louisiana Purchase since "Louisiana was no longer needed as a warehouse and military bulwark for the wealthy [French] island colony"6 of St. Domingue. Haiti's revolutionary times resulted in the migration of thousands of slaves, free people of African descent, and white plantation owners from St. Domingue to Louisiana. These early Haitians brought their African and Catholic religious traditions, languages, music, architecture, literature, theater, and community values to New Orleans.7

The Crescent City was already the most African city in the United States and had a dynamic African and French Creole culture similar to that of St. Domingue in the early nineteenth-century. Both New Orleans and St. Domingue were the centers for Vodou in the Americas.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Gede in New Orleans: Vodou Ritual in Big Chief Allison Tootie Montana's Jazz Funeral
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?