Thursday, January 8, 2009

Healer Ingrid Llera

Many offer to perform traditional Haitian religious ceremonies but all in the know point to Ingrid Llera as the authentic “serviteur” or priestess/healer in the area. She arrived via boat by herself in Little Haiti at the age of 16 in 1980. The crossing took an agonizing 11 days but Ingrid had no doubt that she was going to make it, she “needed to make the journey to obtain the wisdom and respect for life,” that she passes to her three children and those who seek her counsel. Today she resides in Homestead (south Miami) with her husband, Ovia Alva (he arrived in 2004 also via a frightful boat trip) as the farming life and smaller community brings her “closer to Haiti” and yet she makes the hour drive to Little Haiti 3 to 4 times each week for cultural activities.

According to Ingrid, and echoed by many, in Vodou there’s no sexual discrimination – men and women are equals – racism doesn’t exist – spirits are black and white and even Indian – good and bad doesn’t exist. “Vodou is a place where people can express themselves and be respected regardless of sex or sexuality.” She visits all churches with her children, she wants them to be worldly and educated but “they know who they are.”

Amanda, one of Ingrid’s children, “has the calling” and will follow in Ingrid’s and her grandmother’s footsteps as serviteur. While chatting with Amanda she informs the visitor that her schoolmates ask her about her Vodou culture – some are afraid, some ask if it is witchcraft. She explains that it is a religion and a culture and she is very proud to be part of the next generation. Ingrid considers Vodou a “natural way of life that everyone, regardless of race or religion, has the energy inside of them,” she further states that Vodou is the religion of the “human race.”

Taking one’s nose out of the books it is back to Homestead for a ceremony in Ingrid Llera’s Peristyle (a Haitian Traditional Temple) which is located in her garage. Festooned with tributes to the spirits, the room is filled with candles, potions, scarves, paintings, fruit offerings, traditional clothing and the paraphernalia for the ceremonies. The aroma of popped corn fills the air along with roasted nuts, bread, coconut and brewed coffee. Snowflake the dog winds in and out among the legs of the family members as they move back and forth between the kitchen, the outdoors where they are collecting rainwater in a large enamel bowl, and the Peristyle preparing for the tribute to St. John the Baptist as requested by the three men who arrive bearing white rum, Jack Daniels Whiskey and cigars in homage to the spirits.

After the stage is set Ingrid, her daughters and mother – called Ya-Ya but named Suzanne – repair upstairs to change into all white for the adults and summery party dresses for Amanda and Annabelle – the four women descend barefoot– their heads covered with scarves – and invite the guests into the temple. The men, dressed in slacks and button down shirts, their blue-tooth devices blinking in their ears settle in as the candles are lit and Ingrid begins to draw an image on the cement floor with yellow powder that one later learns is farina. As Ingrid pours rum into hollowed out lemons and limes the guests are instructed to twist tuffs of cotton into points and pray for whatever we wish for. These tuffs are then placed into the lemons and limes and this is then floated in the basin of rain water and the ceremony begins in earnest.

Ya-Ya takes a low seat next to her granddaughters as they select from the toasted corn, bread and coconut, seven of each item to place in the seven cups of water that they have laid out on the floor adding coffee to each cup. White wine is then added to each and a white candle is lit and affixed to the largest of the seven cups. Ya-Ya then begins to ring a bell to invite the spirits to enter the room while singing a song in Creole that translates to “St. Pierre Open the Door.” The guests are then handed the mix of charred items to be added to the cups. Ingrid and Ya-Ya gracefully kneel down offering their hands and voices up in prayer to the four stations of the room and the young daughters follow suit. The scent of basil fragrances the room as it is added to the large basin. A brown liquid resembling molasses is drizzled around the room and the sweet popcorn is passed around among all along with small bananas – sustenance for our voyage. A bottle of rum was opened, drops poured throughout the room to appease the spirits while the guests sipped from ice cold Heinekens and penned wishes on small scraps of paper which were then burned without being read.

Anticipation is heavy in the room as rum is poured on the floor then put aflame while Ingrid and Ya-Ya wash their hands with the fire-y rum and rub it over their bodies. The guests are then invited to do the same to bring energy into their bodies. Asson (casaba gourd with bell attached) in hand, Ingrid then calls to the spirits. A subtle change occurs in Ingrid as she waves a yellow scarf around like a toreador at a bullfight and then lights a cigar evident that a spirit has entered her body. “The same way the smoke rises so do our dreams. If we believe in the spirits then we can have whatever we need in the future,” states Jean the spirit ushering forth from Ingrid. After a brief tussle of Ingrid’s spirit and the masculine one that has also inhabited her mother a shift in energy thus reveals that Ingrid is now engaged by the spirit Erzuli Freda, a purely feminine vision retiring to a throne-like chair in the corner spraying herself and the men in the room with sweet perfumes while completely ignoring the women in the room. The men paid honor to Ezili Freda by bathing her feet and sitting adoringly on the floor around her.

The spirit in Ingrid sings to each guest in the room, holding hands and sighing in Creole, “we are the same blood and cannot let each other die.” This is followed by a hug and the touching of foreheads. She moves toward one of the guests and puts ashes from her lit cigar into each of his palms and places his hands in his pockets. At this point a rash of whispering goes on where Ingrid tells him his wishes for health and abundance for his family will be granted. A wave of change flushes over Ingrid’s face as the spirits depart and the lights are turned on. Guests are invited to partake of the fruit offering and to drive home safely noting that when the water evaporates in the silver bowl the wishes will come true.

2 comments:

fonmsc said...

beautiful.

Anara said...

an interesting article and great to have information about this beautiful way of life!
Can you please give me any contact details for Ingrid Llera as I need her help and advice, or could you please pass on my contact details to her. From Amanda in the UK.
My email address is anaradancer@gmail.com
0044 7944 385515