More than 150 visitors gathered to pay homage to one of Haiti’s most sacred nations, Nanchon Nago, on Saturday, July 23rd. The festival included spiritual, culinary, musical and artistic Nago traditions, originating from the Yoruba and Dahomey kingdoms and ancestors who lived along the Ogun River in present day Benin and Nigeria.
The 1.2-acre Wyckoff-Fidler Park, which houses New York’s oldest structure, the Wyckoff House Museum, was transformed by visual artists with sacred veve designs; Mahalia Stines crafted a 100-foot denim mural with painted veve symbols to provide a backdrop for the altar, while veve master Gran Bwa (Deenps Bazile) drew sacred symbols in sand (veves) throughout the grounds, paying homage to the 1791 Bwa Kayiman meeting, in which enslaved Haitians crafted a plan to revolt against their French slave owners and honoring the sacred land originally inhabited by the Canarsee tribe of the Lenape Native People.
Vodou High Priestess Sirene Dantor Rene led more than a dozen drummers and singers festooned in vibrantly colored costumes, in paying tribute to the Nago ancestors. Ancestors like Dutty Boukman, whose iconic prayer calls to “Listen to the voice of liberty that speaks in all our hearts.” Sirene led a procession of people carrying votive candles toward a bonfire to celebrate the Nago element of fire and strength.
Nanchon Nago celebrates the power of collective spirit and struggle which guided Haiti’s revolution to become the first Black Caribbean republic to win independence in 1804. Sirene iterates that the “Nago spirits, who connect us with our roots and the ancestors who planted and protected them, remind us that today we must continue to fight for, rather than with each other.”
Among diverse attendees, Councilwoman Farah Louis and State Senator Kevin Parker participated in the festivities. As an initiated Yoruba Priest, Senator Parker discussed his shared Yoruba roots and with Sirene. Haitian-American Councilwoman Louis honored the festival with a City Council Citation, recognizing its impact and service to the East Flatbush community.
Visitors enjoyed the ceremony accompanied by traditional Haitian food such as Tamn Tamn and Pork Griyo, which was prepared by a renowned culinary team including Rose Sainvil, Guyvenson Rene, Joel Finesse and Pierreline Finesse. As the event closed out, visitors gathered around the colorfully crafted altar (Repozwa), overflowing with fruits, libations, cakes, Haitian drinks and vegetables, including bounty of corn, tomatoes and bitter melon grown at the museum’s farm by our teen Gareden Apprentices.
Courtesy of the Wyckoff House Museum
Photo Credit: Claire J. Saintil