Danballa Wedo

Tout zan’y se zan’y oh, zan’y anba se moin
Tout zan’y se zan’y oh, zan’y anba se moin
Danballa Wedo! Ayida Wedo!
Tout zan’y se zan’y oh, zan’y anba se moin

Danballa Wedo is a very important lwa in the reglemen of Haitian Vodou, and in Hounfo Racine Deesse Dereyale.  The most pure of all the lwa, Danballa is the Sky Father, and Father to all the lwa.  He was the first to exist after God, and it is from him that all life originally comes, and so in essence, Danballa is also the Father of all mankind.  He is ancient, known in some form or another in every culture in the world.

As a Rada lwa, Danballa is a cool, white spirit that comes directly to us from Africa.  His priesthood was not lost there however, and his worship still occurs to this day, with his primary temple being located in the town of Ouidah [which incidentally is where we get the surname “Wedo” from], in Benin.  There is a large temple, called the Temple of Odan or the Temple of Pythons built around a central courtyard in the centre of which is an ancient tree.  This temple is perhaps the foundation for the Haitian Lakou, where house surrounded the central temple which is covered by a tonnel.  The tree in the centre is very reminiscent of the Poto Mitan which is the Vodou Tree of Life, via which the Lwa manifest themselves in the temple.

The serpent is considered so sacred that it is said that it does not die, just as the snake sheds it’s skin, when the serpent does leave the physical body they are said to simply disappear.  If there are remains, they are burried within the sacred tree’s roots, which themselves form shrine and devotee’s of Odan leave offerings here of palm oil, eggs and sometimes fruits.  During special ceremonies the priests and priestesses of the temple make sacrifices at the base of the tree of birds and goats.  It is said that Odan lives in the heights of the tree, as serpents often live in trees, and again, it is reminiscent of the poto mitan which often has twin snakes carved or painted upon it.

The front house of the Temple is the House of Pythons.  Inside this house live the 10 sacred pythons of the temple.  They are not restricted and may come and go as they will.  Other pythons may sometimes also find their way into the House of Pythons, but none are turned away. The house is decorated with paintings that tell the history of the temple, and of the worship of Odan, and more than any other place, this really is the history of Vodou.

Danballa Wedo, just as in Benin is the great serpent, a green python that manifest in possession as a snake.  The chwal (person who is possessed) will go to the ground and move like a snake.  We immediately cover him with a large white sheet which we move gently while sprinkling Pompeii Lotion.

Danballa is such a pure lwa that his foods and offerings are also pure.  We give him the whitest of eggs on top of a mount of white flour, and salute him with Syrop d’Orgeat [sweet Almond syrup].  These are the only foods that Danballa takes, although he can be offered cakes and fruits, but he does not take these in possession.  On the rare occasion that we make sacrifice to Danballa he accepts a white rooster, but no blood is shed.  When Danballa truely takes a sacrifice it will not bleed as Danballa is a snake, and when he eats it is clean and pure.

Danballa is also associated with the colour white because of it’s purity, and the white that all initiates wear is a reflection of the purity of Danballa Wedo.  He is saluted early in the reglemen.  There can be no drinking or smoking within the peristyle during until after Danballa and his escort have been saluted.  His purity is also fundamental in the Kanzo cycle and he is seen most clearly in the Leve Kanzo ceremony, the time when the initiates are brought out of the djevo and presented to the community.

Danballa is married to Ayida Wedo, the Rainbow Serpent.  Danballa is not just associated with snakes but also with waterfalls, and the falls of Sobo are particularly sacred to Danballa.  When the Sun hits the waterfalls the light reflects into a Rainbow, showing the union of Danballa and Ayida Wedo, and that is where the title of Wade Davis famous book comes from, “The Serpent and the Rainbow”.

Danballa does not speak, but he does hiss like serpent.  This does not mean that Danballa does not communicate, as he conveys messages telepathically and with tangible sensations.  The sense of peace the Danballa brings to the peristyle in possession is undeniable, and he is very prevalent in dreams.

As patron to Hounfo Racine Deesse Dereyale, Danballa Wedo is one of the most important Spirits of our sosyete.