JUSTIN ALAPAKI FERNANDEZ
HE WA‘A NO LEGBA – BOUTEY VODOU –2017
Glass bottle, burlap canvas, rope string, mirror, cork
This piece explores and celebrates similarities between the island cultures of Haiti and Hawai‘i through the idea of traversing the vast ocean. Every journey has its beginnings and endings, and end of these points is a gateway to another chapter of life. The ocean and mirrors on the bottle serve as a reminder of both the reflection between the cultures as well as the gateway between us and the world of our ancestors’ spirits.
This project is an art piece called a Boutey Vodou, which in Haitian Vodou is a symbol that relates the owner of the bottle to certain aspects of a spirit, or lwa. The decorations on the bottle are especially important in that they invoke certain aspects of the spirit in question as well as other overarching aspects of Vodou. The bottle can be made with a few different purposes, whether it be work or worship, but the ideas about the gathering of materials and symbolism of the materials is especially important
My particular bottle is dedicated to the Haitian lwa Legba, who governs aspects about gateways and thresholds, and can be seen as a wise advisor and family leader. He is generally depicted as an old man with an iconic cane, and these aspects of him are represented on my bottle. The presentation of my bottle however, brings under consideration the relationship between Haitian vodou symbolism as well as Hawaiian cultural symbols, drawing connections between historical context and religious symbolism.
The materials used in making the bottle involve mirrors, burlap cloth, rope, corks, and some glitter, although the glitter is hard to see in the image. As material choice is important in construction of the bottle, I chose materials that fit with the voyaging theme in Hawaiian culture, being the sails and binds that allow a canoe, called a wa‘a in the Hawaiian language. The title of the bottle translates to, “Legba’s Canoe” as the concept of a voyage includes both beginnings and ends, endpoints which serve as a gateway between chapters in a person’s life. The bottle invokes Legba as he relates to the idea of a voyage by seeking protection and guidance when crossing through the many gateways in the voyage of life.
The voyage is depicted on one of the burlap cloth strips in the form of a silhouette of a canoe. In addition to this canoe, there is a small piece of whittled cork floating in the water, which is also representative of a canoe in mid-voyage. The voyaging theme is explored further in that the glitter that shimmers on the surface resembles the stars used for navigation reflecting on the ocean’s surface at night, especially when viewed through the dark colored glass of the bottle. On the other strip of cloth there is an image that is traditionally associated with Legba, featuring designs involving crossing patterns, as well as the iconic cane. The crosses on the image are symbolic of the intersection between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
This division is not only represented in crosses however, as the mirrors located on the top of the bottle are another symbol of the gateway to the world of the dead. Practically the mirrors will reflect any dangers that could cause harm during the journey. The main symbol of this bottle however, lies in the idea that the ocean itself is the worlds largest mirror, and it is the ocean that separates the living from the dead in vodou. In Haitian vodou, there are spirits whose origins can be traced back to Africa, effectively making them akin, or in some cases, literal ancestors of the people worshiping them. Therefore, the ocean is the gateway between the living and the origin of their ancestors.
Interestingly enough there is a similar and equally powerful idea in Hawaiian culture, in the concept of “Kahiki.” In Hawaiian culture, Kahiki is the world beyond the horizon, and is also where the gods and spirits reside. For historical context, Kahiki is just another way of saying Tahiti, which is where the ancestors of the Hawaiian people came from. Therefore in Hawaiian culture as well as Haitian culture, the ocean separates the people from their ancestors. On the bottle this is represented by the water being exactly in between the two cloths that depict the two cultures. The water in the bottle is the ocean that represents the largest mirror. As such, the ocean exists where it is a mirror that reflects the depictions of the two cultures, as their stories are very much reflective of each other in a way that speaks to ideas about life, death, family, and identity.