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Terminology: Hounsi, Lave Tet

To: alt.religion.orisha
From: (Mambo Racine Sans Bout)
Subject: Terminology: Hounsi, Lave Tet
Date: 11 Dec 2001 02:27:35 GMT

I would like to address a few misconceptions I see floating
around the Vodou discussion boards on the 'Net lately.  It's
okay to be a little mixed up, after all most Americans have
not grown up in this religion and do not speak Creole, so
some confusion is inevitable.

Two terms I would like to define and discuss are "hounsi"
and "lave tet".

1.  Hounsi - a hounsi is a person who has been through the
kanzo ceremony
     (see ) 
at the lowest rank, that of "kanzo senp", or simple kanzo.
Such a person is then referred to as "hounsi kanzo".

A hounsi kanzo is like a confirmed member of a church.
During a Vodou dance at their initiator's house, they will
be present, dressed in white. They do a great deal of the
work of a Vodou service, including the cooking, the washing
of ceremonial altar cloths and so forth.  They also form the
choir, and are often chosen by the lwa to undergo

A person who is not yet kanzo, but who regularly attends
dances at a particular peristyle and appears to be preparing
for initiation is sometimes referred to as a "hounsi bosal"
(from the French bossale, meaning untamed, like an untamed
horse). This is a humorous colloquial term, and does not
refer to an initiatory rank.

Although in the Fon language the word "hounsi" means "bride
of the spirit", a hounsi kanzo is not married to a lwa. The
ceremony of marrying a lwa is different from the kanzo. More
information on marriage to a lwa is found at .

There is no such thing as a "clear-eyed hounsi", although I
have seen this term used by one misguided individual and his
acolytes.  Here is why they use this term:

When they were in Haiti and I was giving them the kanzo,
some of them did not become possessed, which is unusual. To
console them, I explained to them that there are some people
in Haiti who just never become possessed, although they may
be initiates. These individuals are said to work "zye kle",
clear-eyed. With the novice's lust for exotica, they seized
on this term "zye kle" or "clear-eyed", but in Haiti it is
not a primarily religious term.

In fact, "zye kle" taken idiomatically just means "wide
awake and in normal consciousness". For instance, if I
become possessed at a ceremony, and then the possession
appears to end, someone might ask me, "Eske ou la, Mambo
Racine?", meaning, "Are you there, Mambo Racine?" And I
might respond, "Wi, zye m kle", which literally means, "Yes,
my eyes are clear"; but in a less literal translation would
be given, "Yes, it's me here, I am here in my normal

When I wake up in the morning, the first think I do is to
"klere zye m", clear my eyes, in other words I wash my face!

There is no such rank in Vodou as "clear-eyed hounsi" and
this term is not used in this way in any house I have ever
visited anywhere in Haiti.

2. Lave Tet - the words "lave tet" mean "a washing of the
head". This service is something like a "rogacion de cabeza"
in Santeria, it is a cleansing of the head using a series of
herbal mixtures. For more detailed information on the nature
of the lave tet ceremony, see .

There is no such ceremony as a "kouche lave tet", which
would mean "lie down and wash the head". The word "kouche",
which means "lie down", is used exclusively to refer to the
kanzo ceremony, the ceremony of initiation, and never to the
lave tet ceremony. A person offering a "kouche lave tet"
ceremony doesn't know what they are talking about.

A lave tet does not make a person a hounsi -- not a
"clear-eyed hounsi," or any other kind of hounsi. A lave tet
is not an initiation and does not make a person a member of
a Vodou house. In fact, uninitiated practitioners, sometimes
referred to as "Houngan djakout", sometimes perform lave tet

A few more misconceptions I would like to clear up
concerning a lave tet ceremony:

A lave tet is NOT done to "flags, drums and other ritual
implements". Only people are given the lave tet ceremony,
not objects.

A lave tet is NOT a baptism. The person is not renamed, they
are not considered to have been reborn during the lave tet.
Baptism of people, in Vodou, is performed at the time that
an initiate leaves the djevo -- we are baptized with our
"nom vayan", the sacred name by which we are known as
Houngans or Mambos or hounsis.

A lave tet service is NOT a "service of Communion" - again,
new initiates are sometimes given a sort of "Communion"
service on leaving the djevo, complete with bread and wine,
but this has nothing to do with a lave tet.

A lave tet is conducted by a Houngan or Mambo, although
various lwa may appear throughout the ceremony, possess the
Houngan or Mambo running the ceremony or someone else, and
wash the heads of the people receiving the lave tet.

Again, there is NO SUCH THING as a "kouche lave tet
initiation", and anyone offering such a thing is either
frauding or just doesn't know any better.

A lave tet may be conducted under the patronage of several
lwa or only one. But at the beginning of the lave tet the
Priere Guinea is recited, to invoke the blessing of God, the
Virgin Mary, all the saints, all the lwa, and all the
ancestors. For one example of how a lave tet can be
conducted, have a look at the program of the lave tet
service I conducted in New Orleans -- it's found in the
"Files" section of the Vodou Arts discussion group at

Peace and love,

Bon Mambo Racine Sans Bout Sa Te La Daginen

"Se bon ki ra" - Good is rare
     Haitian Proverb

The VODOU Page -

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