Saturday, 30 April 2011

Happy Anniversary Robert and Helena!

This landed in the Antoine Family Reunion inbox today – a duplicate copy of the marriage license of Robert Antoine and Helena (other records listed her name as Eleanor) Sam. They were married on April 30, 1891 at St. Francois Church in Belmont by Father Simeon. Happy Anniversary!

Friday, 29 April 2011

Who did Prince Abojevi Zahwenu /Robert Antoine marry?

We have conflicting reports whether or not he got legally married in Trinidad. Nevertheless, his wife’s African name was Devi, which means one born after a twin. She was from Savalu, an important town in north east Dahomey.  It’s believed she was captured in Savalu and travelled the long distance by foot with with other captured salves to the port of Ouidah to board the slave ship. Her English name was Eleanor Sam.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

We are Rada Royal

As you enjoy the Royal wedding on Friday, remember that you are also from royalty  - African royalty. Some scholars believe that Abojevi Zahwenu/Robert Antoine/Papa Nanee came from a ‘priestly’ or ‘chiefly’ class. Furthermore, other scholars noted that he may have been called Nanee since Na is Ewe for prince.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Easter Feast: Thursday and Friday

Take yourself back several years. It’s Thursday morning of the Easter feast. Around 6 am the animal sacrifice begins. Like many ancient religious traditions, the Greeks, Hebrews, Romans and Aztecs, the Rada sacrifice animals. For Easter it’s usually chickens, calf and goats. The animals are killed for consumption and enjoyed by the family and wider community. That’s why many of us refer to the ceremony as a feast or sacrifice. Sheep and pigs were never killed nor eaten by our forefathers.
 A few of the women are pictured here cleaning the chickens.
Empress above. Patsy, Veronica and Onika below.

The drums, singing and dancing start around 6 am and finish around 9 am. Then the men and women begin to prepare for the midday and evening meals. One can enjoy cookoo, callaloo and ochroes among other dishes with the meat. The drumming, singing and dancing resume around 7 pm and ends at 10 pm.
The feast continues on Friday and the end is marked on Friday night with the singing of the Kwemi (song of thanksgiving) with just the chac chacs and iron (gan). We kneel while singing the Kwemi, once the song is finished we all leave and the tent is closed. The next feast will be in August.
The drums are laid to rest at the end of the evening.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Easter Feast

In the old days there were 5 religious ceremonies each year. The ceremonies always officially start on Thursday which was a scared day in Dahomey and ended on Friday. It occurs in a simple, covered area with dirt floor and benches we call the tent.

Today we will describe the Easter ceremony or Hwetanu.
The Easter ceremony occurs on the first Thursday after Lent and is a ceremony for the household. Consequently, it was obligatory for each member of the home to make a financial donation according to each of his/her means. Apparently one can contribute as little as 6 cents and no distinction is made between small or large donations.
Like other ceremonies, it starts on the Wednesday night around 9 pm with a vigil called Drozan. A small offering of cornmeal, olive oil and water is made to prevent evil from ruining the upcoming rites. Then 3 songs called Yavalu to all the gods followed by regular songs. There are usually no drums, just the chac chacs and iron (gan).

Some dancers may have a brief possession. The vigil is quite a happy occasion with preparations for the following day and continues until 4 or 5 on the Thursday morning.
The morning continues with an offering of olive oil, water and rum to Ogu the god of iron and war and the chief intermediary between man and the gods. The hubono salutes to the east and west (mawu and lisa) and prays to Ogu. He then throws 4 halves of the kola nut or obi on the Ogu shrine. If 2 face up and 2 face down then all is good.

Tune in tomorrow for the continuation of Thursday morning.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Rada Songs

Our Rada songs are in either Ewe (pronounced ah way) or Fon depending on the researcher. But essentially Ewe and Fon are dialects of the Gbe language which is spoken in Benin, Ghana and Togo. It is a tonal language (i.e., a high, medium or low tone can change the meaning of a word) and the language spoken by most slaves. Today it is the root of many creole Caribbean languages. Words such as susu, mumu and jumbie are ewe/fon.  We know that recordings of the Rada songs were made in 1953 but we haven’t found definitive research or translation. But the search continues.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Hubono Sedley Antoine

Who’s in charge of the ceremonies? The hubono or high priest is responsible for performing the various rituals. Uncle Sedley inherited the position in 1948. A few of the hubonos prior to him were Anselm (June Robinson’s grandfather), Soobo, Achovi and Padonu. Here’s a tribute written by Christopher K. Starr to Hubono Sedley Antoine.

Friday, 22 April 2011

The Dancers

We call our African religious tradition vodunu and as described previously there are drums, iron, chac chacs and songs in the vodunu. This will eventually lead to dancing, But the only dancers are those that are in a state of possession or have the ‘power’. The dancers are called vodunsi  (wife of god) and is possessed by one deity.  Sometimes the vodunsis dance with a symbol, such as an oar or broom that is representative of the spirit that she is possessed by. She also wears a sash in the colour of her deity.  During the possession the dancers have oracle powers and wisdom not normally seen in their regular lives.
The drummers try to induce possession by playing a song that is favoured by the vodunsi. Possession is not voluntary and the dancers have no memory of what happened during the state of possession. The transitional period when the dancers return to their normal state is called Nubioduto or Were.  The dancers are said to act very childlike or mischievously during this period.
The vodsunsis are almost always women, but there have been male dancers in the past. Two arrived with Abojevi/Robert Antoine from Dahomey;  Kunu and Alokasu who died in 1902 and 1903 respectively.
Initial possession or when someone ‘falls’ is very dramatic. The person usually falls to the ground and rolls. A special ceremony, called Desunu, is preformed approximately 3 months after the initial possession.  The new dancer participates in a secret ceremony and is given new clothes, comb, towel, goblet and basin. A thanksgiving is also given a year later.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Good Friday

Today is Good Friday and for most of us that means hot cross buns for breakfast and fish for lunch/dinner. We know that there are some excellent cooks in this family so there will plenty of full bellies and happy faces today. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Andre Antoine/Laro

Another drummer is Andre Antoine aka Laro.  Andre started with the iron as a boy then graduated to the drums. We understand that Andre’s son, Jahmo, was also learning to beat the drums. Andre and his family live on Upper Belmont Valley Road.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Vernon Baptiste

One of the few remaining drummers is Vernon Baptiste. Vernon is the son of Anthony and Irene Baptiste (photos posted on Facebook on March 18th) and brother of Vivian Baptiste (photo posted on Facebook and this blog on March 25th). Vernon lives in Florida with his wife Marion. Let’s wish him continued good health and strength so that he can join us in August 2012. He’s pictured here with his grandson Alston.

Monday, 18 April 2011

The Rada Drums

Drums are an important part of the Rada ceremonies.  There are 3. The main drum, beaten by the head drummer is called Towonde and beaten with a stick with a crooked tip and the palm of the hand. The second drum on the right of the head drummer is named Wyande and beaten with 2 sticks like the head drummer’s. These two drums are made from the zabaca (avocado), breadfruit or cedar tree. The third drum is called Hwendo-masu and made from a small barrel beaten with a pair of long, thin sticks.  In addition to the drums we have the iron and chac-chacs. And of course, there are songs.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Rada: From the World's Oldest Religion

As we start Holy Week it’s a great time to discover more about our African religious tradition.
Like many slaves, Abojevi/Robert Antoine brought his religion to Trinidad. As you read in earlier posts, we are Rada. What is Rada? Rada is part of Vodun, also known as Vodoun, Voudou or Voodoo.
But first this is not the Hollywood version of Voodoo – sticking pins in dolls, casting evil spells and other bizarre rituals.  This does not exist in reality, only in movies.
An inaccurate and sensational book written by S. St. John called "Haiti or the Black Republic" in 1884 described Vodun as an evil religion, and included crazy descriptions of human sacrifice, cannibalism, etc.Some of this information was obtained from Vodun priests by torture. This book was responsible for much of the confusion and fear that is still present today. Horror movies began in the 1930's and continue today to misrepresent Vodun. It is only since the late 1950's that accurate studies by anthropologists have been published.
Vodun was born in Africa and may be the world’s oldest religion; older than Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Some say it’s as old as 10,000 years. The name is derived from the god Vodun of the West African Yoruba people who lived in Dahomey.
Vodun, like Christianity, is a religion of many traditions. Each group follows a different spiritual path and worships a slightly different pantheon of spirits, called Loa. The word means "mystery" in the Yoruba language. There are hundreds of minor spirits. Many of you may be more familiar with the minor spirit called Shango or spirit of storms. The minor spirits which originated from Dahomey are called Rada.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Happy Palm Sunday!

Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ return to Jerusalem and is the start of Holy Week. Many of you will soon replace last year’s dry palm with the fresh, green one and prominently display it in your homes. In lieu of palm we are sending you some steelband. I hope you enjoy Phase II Pan Groove from a 2000 Palm Sunday Concert!

Piarco Doubles Man

We can’t talk about street food without mentioning doubles! It’s perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a late night snack after your fete. First item on the itinerary when we get to Trinidad is the doubles man at Piarco Airport!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Have we found THE Caterer for the Family Reunion?

Our party planner extraordinaire continues her research for a caterer for the family reunion.  Here’s one recommendation – a street vendor offering a few favourites. What do you think of this menu? Have we found THE caterer for the family reunion?

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Bizarre Foods: Maracas Bay for Bake and Shark

Here's Bizarre Foods on the way to Maracas Bay for bake and shark via San Juan market. Anyone getting hungry?  Is Richard's Bake and Shark really the best?

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The Beach or a Waterpark? Take the Poll on Facebook.

We are planning our itinerary for the family reunion and one of the activities we are hoping to offer is either a beach excursion or a day at Harry’s waterpark to accommodate the young and the young at heart. Take the poll on Facebook because we want to know what you would like to do. Click here.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Not Dahomey Amazons, but Calypso Rose

It's not Dahomey Amazons but it's Calypso Rose and Ju Ju Warrior. Ju Ju is West African magic. Enjoy this trip down memory lane!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Why are Antoine Women so Fierce?

Yesterday you read that Abojevi/Robert Antoine served in the Dahomean army under King Ghezo. Dahomey was also known for its female warriors referred to as Mino (Fon for our mothers) or Dahomey Amazons by Westerners. The Mino were recruited from the king’s wives, conscripted by their fathers or husbands because of their 'bad behaviour' or voluntarily enrolled. At one time the Mino accounted for a third of the army, approximately 4,000 – 6,000. They had semi-sacred status, due to their belief in Vodun, and were not allowed to have children; many were virgins.

The Mino trained intensely and, thanks to the slave trade, were equipped with guns, clubs and knives. They were very successful and if you were unfortunate to be captured by them, you would have been decapitated!

I think this explains why we Antoine women are strong, independent and fierce!

Take a look at "our mothers" below:

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Why Abojevi/Robert Antoine left Dahomey?

Abojevi/Robert Antoine told his children stories of serving in the Dahomean army under King Gezo and narrowly escaping death or capture on a raid. King Gezo was feared for his military power and numerous slave raids. There is also some evidence that Abojevi/Robert Antoine was transported to Trinidad as punishment for a failed military expedition; a common practice at that time.  Abojevi/Robert Antoine's first stop in Trinidad was working on a plantation near Champ Fleurs.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Diviner, Dokpwega, Dangbwe

Abojevi/Robert Antoine was described as 5’ 10” and well built. He was a Diviner and read the future like an astrologer or psychic. He knew a lot about the supernatural and herbs. He was also a Dokpwega, a powerful, hereditary position, leading burial ceremonies and funeral rites in the community. Like many in his city of Whydah, he worshiped the Serpent God or Dangbwe and it was his patron saint. Hence the compound was called Dangbwe Comme or house of Dangbwe Comme.

The Serpent God's symbol is an ornamental stick with ribbon streamers while its colours are green, red and brown. Its Christian’s counterpart is the Eternal Father

The following photo depicts a Rada diviner table.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

What was Abojevi/Robert Antoine’s secret?

It is estimated that he was born in 1800, came to Trinidad a year after the 1854 cholera epidemic at approximately 55 years old. He died in July 1899 which means he was around 99 years old. However, his doctor at the time of his death suggested that he may have been as old as 108!

Conversely, the life expectancy if you were born in 1800 and lived in the US was 39; or 40 in the UK or 31 in Benin! What was the secret to Abojevi/Robert Antoine’s long life? Maybe having 18 kids!

If you want to see more about life expectancy for various countries from 1800 click here.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Behamie Lane/Tanty Dot

One of Abojevi/Robert Antoine’s alleged children was a Behamie. The Behamies are Mandingo and Behamie Lane was named in honour of this family who owned property in that area.  One of the elder female members of the Bahamie family was known to frequent the compound and held in high regard by the Antoines. This woman was Tanty Dot’s grandmother.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Is 18 Kids Enough?

Hey ladies if you’re married to an Antoine I hope he hasn’t inherited this gene. Abojevi/Robert Antoine was believed to have left a wife and children in Dahomey. Still a mystery why he left? When he came to Trinidad he got another wife (Eleanor Sam) and had 5 children with her. Another 7 with other women that he claimed to be his own and a few even carried the Antoine name. And still he was the reputed father to another 6! That’s a total of 18 in Trinidad and a few more he left in Africa!
As reported by Andrew Carr in a Rada Community in Belmont.

Why a family reunion?

We have never taken the time to answer why a family reunion? The obvious answer is why not! But there are deeper reasons for an Antoine Family Reunion.
Top 3 reasons:
1.       We are a large family that will only continue to get larger.  I estimate at least 200 family members that are still alive.  But we don’t know each other. We sometimes meet at weddings, birthday parties, or sadly at funerals where our conversation, if any, is often over shadowed by the event.
2.       We live in different cities and countries. As far as we can tell we live in 5 countries and a minimum of 15 cities. These numbers don’t accurately reflect the distances or the cost involved in visiting.  Even our family in Trinidad are not as connected as they once were. Our lives have gotten busier and more complicated and we just don’t have the time to visit each other as we did years ago.
3.       We have a great, rich history that is researched and studied by many. We found 8 publications, with more to come, highlighting our family. The reunion is a way not only for us to get together and party but to learn more about our ancestors and their traditions, rituals and way of life.  Even if you can’t commit to being in Belmont next year, do take the time to be involved and engaged to discover your history and share with your immediate family members.
Finally, we want to connect with you now because we feel it’s best to have the ice breakers before we all gather in Belmont. Otherwise, you’ll only chat with the individuals you know. These pre-reunion connections (with photo and stories) will make it easier for a ‘real’ conversation next year. Don’t be shy!
Like us on Facebook (, follow us on Twitter ( or the Antoine Family Reunion blog (
Here are the other avenues to connect:
Skype: AntoineFamilyReunion
BlackBerry Messenger: PIN 223D2C82
Pick one or all that works for you. The only way to have a successful reunion is to have family who are ready to be reunited!
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