Celebrating Agwe: Paying Homage to the Vodou God of Water in Brooklyn by Garry Pierre-Pierre
Central Library, Grand Lobby
In this exhibition, Pulitzer Prize-winning, multi-media, and entrepreneurial journalist Garry Pierre-Pierre features 20 hauntingly beautiful photographs of Haitian immigrants in Brooklyn practicing their spirituality in their adopted homeland. The images give viewers an inside peek into the African religion that has remained a source of mystery and misunderstanding.
This exhibit aims to shed light and understanding of Vodou, a religion brought to the new world by African slaves and is widely practiced in Haiti, Cuba and Brazil. For the last couple of years, I’ve been photographing Vodou ceremonies in Brooklyn to provide a glimpse of the somewhat secretive practices. While I’ve photographed many ceremonies, this exhibit will feature photographs of the Agoue ceremony held for the past seven years during the Labor Day weekend at Jacob Riis Park’s beachfront. Agoue, is the Vodou Lord of the Sea. The ceremony is held to pay respect and homage to the god.
Garry Pierre-Pierre, a Pulitzer Prize-winning, multi-media and entrepreneurial journalist, is the executive director of the Community Reporting Alliance and founder of the City University Graduate School of Journalism ‘s Center for Community and Ethnic Media. He is also the co-host of “Independent Sources” on CUNY TV. He is the founder of The Haitian Times, and spent six years as a staff reporter at The New York Times. A native of Haiti, Pierre-Pierre is the author of 30 Seconds…The Quake that Destroyed Haiti, a book of photography that illustrates the wreckage of the January 2010 earthquake across Haiti.
Agwe is the Loa of direction. His territory is the winds and the currents, waves and depths of the oceans. Agwe rules over the sea, fish, and aquatic plants, as well as the patron loa of fishermen and sailors. He helps sailors find their bearings when lost at sea. He provides inspiration and guidance whenever an individual needs them in times of turmoil, loss, or indecision. He lives in a glorious palace under the seas.
He is considered to be married to Erzulie Freda and La Sirene. He goes by several titles, including Shell of the Sea, Golden Shell, The Angel in the Mirror, The Eel, and The Tadpole in the Pond.
His colors are blue, white, and occasionally sea green or brown. His veve (ritual symbol) is a boat with sails. His symbols are painted shells, painted oars, and sea life like the Seahorse and Starfish. He is syncretized with the Catholic Saint Ulrich of Augsburg and occasionally the archangel Raphael, both of whom are depicted holding fish. His holy day is Thursday.
He is saluted or signaled with blowing on a conch-shell and/or volleys of gunfire. When he possesses a devotee he often pushes himself around the temple on a chair (his boat) with a cane (his oar), shouting naval commands and saluting members of the congregation.
Small offerings to Agwe are poured or dropped overboard in deep ocean water. Large offerings to Agwe are left on constructed rafts, which are floated or towed out, to sea. If the raft sinks, it is accepted; if it returns to shore it is rejected. After the offering is left, the supplicants cannot look back at that place or it will anger Agwe.
His offerings include:
• Beverages: champagne, naval rum, or anisette. Coffee with sugar and cream.
• Items: mirrors, a telescope, toy ships or scale ship models, oars or paddles, seashells, turquoise beads or jewelry, fish-shaped sculptures or jewelry, fish hooks and nets, nautical uniforms or medals.
• Food: Savory exotic foods, melon, boiled cornmeal, rice cooked in coconut milk, rice cooked with lima beans, boiled or fried ripe bananas, white cake, cane syrup, almond oil, olive oil.
Saturday, May 14 from 4:30 - 6:00 pm:
Garry Pierre-Pierre in conversation with Mambo Kerma Jean-Marie.