Over the course of the semester, my class has been exploring Afro-Haitian and Afro-Caribbean art. One of the pieces of art we have spent a great deal of time looking at and discussing are: Boutey Vodou or Voodoo bottle. These are decorative bottles that are created and tailored specifically to different Voodoo spirits or lwa. Based on what we have learned throughout the semester, each lwa has a unique personality. This means that offerings and objects need to embody the lwa’s personality. The connection that the Haitian and Caribbean communities have with the lwa’s goes beyond just a spiritual connection, it’s very much a physical connection. In these communities, they strongly believe that lwa’s are capable of such abilities like healing the sick or giving individuals strength.
Our task for this semester, utilizing our knowledge of these communities, was to design and create our own Boutey Vodou that embodies the spirit of one of the lwa’s. For my Boutey Vodou, I chose to dedicate my bottle to the lwa, Ezili Danto. Ezili Danto is seen as a fiery and hot spirit. She is typically associated with revolutions/new beginnings. Since Ezili is a hot spirit, her objects and offerings are typically adorned in red. This is why I chose to wrap my bottle in red tissue paper.
The most prominent feature on my bottle is the image of the Black Madonna. The Black Madonna has come to represent Ezili Danto. When Europe was colonizing the West, they brought with them their own ideologies. The Europeans would force these ideologies onto the natives. The Europeans underestimated the creativity of the natives though. In order to continue worshipping their spirits, the Haitian and Caribbean communities started associating their spirits with Christian saints. Not only does this speak to the creativity of the native Caribbean communities, but also to the adaptability of Vodou. You would never see Jesus depicted as anything other than Jesus, but you can find varying depictions of individual lwa.
The rhinestones on my bottle serve two purposes. The first purpose is that they are red and symbolize the “hotness” of Ezili Danto. Next, they are shiny/reflective. Mirrors in Vodou reflect your inner self. They show you who you are. This is important because Vodou isn’t about giving someone the answer or solution, but providing them “ [an] opportunity to help yourself” (Brown 242). I have also arranged the rhinestones around the top of the bottle in such a way as to symbolize the Christian roots of Ezili Danto. Ezili is certainly her own unique self, but the Black Madonna-Ezili Danto is rooted in the Christian faith and I wanted to recognize that.
Lastly, I have utilized feathers inside my bottle. I chose to use red and blue feathers because red is associated with Ezili Danto and blue is associated with Ezili Freda. While Ezili Danto is certainly the main focus of my Boutey Vodou, she is just one facet of the spirit Ezili. Ezili Freda is the softer and sweeter side of Ezili and I think this duality symbolizes people’s personalities quite nicely. Most of us have some exterior self we present to the world, but we aren’t always that person. Ezili can be hot and fiery, but sometimes she’s softer and sweeter in nature. The feathers help to cement this duality and symbolism of one’s self.