Friday, 30 March 2012

Belmont Rada Community Website

Check out our new Belmont Rada Community website!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Antoine Family Reunion: July 29 - August 3, 2012, RSVP by June 30

Come back to your roots in Belmont
and have
lots of fun in the sun
with all of the Antoines!

Sunday, July 29, 2012 at 9:00 am – Maracas Beach Pot Luck. Transportation will be arranged and will leave from Antoine Lane. RSVP and for further details contact Hester Millington by June 30th at

Monday, July 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm – Belmont Rada Community 157th Anniversary, Crowne Plaza, Wrightson Road. Tribute will be paid by special guests including Minister of The Arts and Multiculturalism, The Honourable Winston Peters and Dr. Hollis Liverpool. Cost: TT$300. Dress: Business formal. RSVP by June 30th

Thursday, August 2 and Friday, August 3, 2012 at 6:00 am -10:00 pm – Vodunu at Antoine Lane. Free. All are welcome.

We look forward to seeing you all in four months!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Great Gods Cannot Ride Little Horses

Great gods cannot ride little horses. This Haitian proverb means that a saint/deity/god will only descend to ride or possess the body of someone who is prepared to attain a ‘state of ecstatic union with the divine’. Similar to most spiritual practices such as becoming filled with the Holy Ghost, reaching the Buddhist state of nirvana or attaining the yogi's state of divine bliss, samadhi. The drumming and singing attempt to get the vodunsis (women who are possessed by saints) to reach higher levels of consciousness and invoke a spirit to descend and possess or ride them. But don't worry it seems that the majority of us are little horses.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Authentic African Names

If you're looking for an authentic African name for your soon-to-be-born baby (I know of at least 2 that are on the way) or in the future. Here are some names from earlier generations of Antoines or Rada community members. Male names: Abojevi, Kunu, Dewendo, Alokasu, Padonu, Achovi, Soobo, Zizu, Gangwede, Hoduno, Cocombre, Yewenu, Boko (Amora’s father and June Robinson's grandfather). Female names: Dovi, Ahoorloo, Sedende (Estalize’s aka Nennie G’s mother), Wovonde (2nd generation Baptiste).

Thursday, 8 March 2012

My Great Grandmother - Dovi

Today is International Women's Day and I'll like to pay tribute to my great grandmother. Her African name was Dovi, which means one born after a twin. She was a Mahi from Savalu, an important town in north east Dahomey. It’s believed she was captured by slave traders in Savalu and travelled the long distance by foot, chained to other captured salves to the port of Ouidah to board the slave ship. The distance from Savalu to Ouidah is 108 miles or 174 kilometers; roughly about 4 marathons! The Mahi country was frequently raided for captives. Mahi is a disrespectful term and roughly means ‘those who divide the market’ or ‘those who revolt’. During her husband’s trial on Obeah charges she was brought before the court and it was observed by one of the defence lawyers that “her face was marked in the genuine African way!” Her English name was Ellina (the spelling her son used in his notes) Robert Antoine. The photo is of a Mahi woman.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

HOW I GOT TO BE SO RADA by Christopher Starr


In 1993 one of the Trinidad newspapers had a feature article on the Hubono (high priest) of the Rada Community in Belmont, Pain of Sport. That caught my interest, so soon afterward I went looking for him. By and by, I was directed to a particular house on a hillside, went up to the porch and rang the doorbell.

It was answered by the Hubono, Sedley Antoine, himself. I introduced myself, explained that I had an interest in traditional african religions, and asked if anything was coming up soon that someone like me might attend. The timing was excellent. Rada ceremonies center around the annual Thanksgiving celebrations early in the year. Thanksgiving was just a couple of weeks away, and I was cordially invited.

The early morning ceremony at the traditional rada yard positively knocked me out. What I had not realized was that the Rada people came from Benin (Dahomey) and that their religion is the one from which Vaudou is derived. In Benin today, it is known as Vaudou and is a major, respected practice. I had been able to enter the Rada religion just by knocking on a door and expressing an interest. For a comparable entry in Haiti, I would likely have had to reside in a village for many months or at least been familiar with a facilitating vaudouisant.

I don't know to what extent the adepts were vetting me, but I evidently passed the test on that first occasion. In conversation after the ceremony, the Hubono's brother, Patrick Antoine, prefaced a comment with "Now that you are one of us ...", and as I was taking my leave the Hubono hoped that I would be back for the next ceremony that night. That was the first I knew of the second phase of Thanksgiving, and by saying that he plainly endorsed his brother's remark.

I have been Rada ever since. Just a few years after that first encounter, the Hubono announced to the community that I was to be regarded as his son. He didn't ask me about it in advance. He didn't have to. And if anyone has ever questioned it, I didn't hear of it. To the end of their days, I addressed the elder Antoines as "Dad" and "Mom". And it is understood that when my time comes I will join them and a host of other ancestors in the Rada cemetery in Belmont.

At traditional african religious ceremonies -- whether Rada or allied -- I never manifest (enter into possession). It should probably happen sooner or later, but I am in no hurry, and I am not aware that I have ever come close. Sometimes, when we have long been clapping and ululating amid

the drumming, a certain feeling starts to ease over me, but I shake it off.

In christian practice, being entered by the Holy Spirit is regarded as something to be welcomed, and I know some in traditional african practice who evidently like to manifest. Most, however, seem reluctant, and I can see why. Being ridden by a deity really takes it out of one, and those who manifest often seem quite drained afterward.

In the morning phase of the rada Thanksgiving there are always blood sacrifices. A few chickens, some pigeons, and a male goat. Early in my association, the duty fell to me to manage the goat. This makes sense, as the other able-bodied brothers were otherwise engaged, mostly in drumming.

I should note that when one is closely involved in sacrificing a goat one should be prepared to get blood on oneself. It comes with the job. One year I had to go directly from morning Thanksgiving to the university for an 08:00 class. I changed my shirt, but I hadn't thought to bring a change of pants, so there was still a bit of blood spattered below the knees. Some of the students asked me about it, and I told them that I had been in Belmont in the early morning. Then, seeing that that could be misinterpreted -- some parts of Belmont are fairly rough -- I hastily explained that I hadn't been in a fight, just at a vaudou ceremony, where we had sacrified a goat.

One muslim student looked at me in amazement tinged with horror, and I just couldn't resist. "You know" I told her, "polytheism is so cool." I'm sure she thinks to this day that I am in league with the Devil.

Another factor of note is that managing the goat is a rather demanding task. A full-grown male goat is a strong beast, and he is very definitely not interested in being sacrificed. It takes alertness and a firm hand to keep him under control, and sometimes I come away from it panting and quite worn out. I told the high priest last year that in future they should think of either getting a weaker goat or a younger man to handle him. In fact, I picked one young fellow to assist me last year, and if he stays with us I am going to ease him into taking over my job. After all, he will only get bigger and stronger as the next years pass, while I ... well, let's just say that I will be ready to retire.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Legba Amulet

There are 3 sacred altars on Antoine Lane; Sakpata (God of disease), Ogu (God of Iron), Legba (Guardian against evil). This photo is a 19th century Legba amulet (object for good luck or protection) from the Fon tribe (that’s us). It is hand-carved and made of wood; 15 1/4 inches long by 3 inches wide. I’m told that this may have been used for tribal fertility rituals. These were sometimes placed in the ground for good luck. This one is from a private collection and the owner said it can be used for personal pleasure and is willing to part with it for USD$425. Anyone interested?

Monday, 5 March 2012

Family Cemetery

There are no records to confirm when the family cemetery was originally established, but earliest found is the 1903 Legislative Council Paper list of private cemeteries. There are approximately 535 family members buried there including all hubunos (priests).

Sunday, 4 March 2012

My 4:00 am Visit to Antoine Lane

Due to a tough itinerary, I arrived on Antoine Lane at 4:14 am a couple Sundays ago. As I exited from the car, I couldn’t help but wish for the dirt laneway that I ran up and down thousands of times. With my left hand I touched the brick wall of the tent, however, it seems smaller to me. I do remember when we had two rows of benches on each side, now it’s just one row. Where did the kitchen, with the large fire pit go? Where are the huge, large pots that produced the best coo coo on the island? The coo coo that was stirred with the largest swizzle sticks by every available hand – male, female, young and old.

I miss the chaos at Mammie’s house that was so central to all activities at the tent. We were in and out of the house, greeted by the kitchen with the dirt floor and that too large of a sink for a house so small. In the name of progress, the latrine (under the chennette tree) is gone. Mammie depended on both the chennete and tamrind trees to support her family and they are also no longer there.

My early morning visit is interrupted by what seems like all the dogs in the neighbourhood barking. Someone (maybe Korey) tried to silence them but to no avail. Okay I get the message, I’ll be back in August!
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