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Reviewed by:
  • Nan dòmi, le récit d’une initiation Vodou by Mimerose Beaubrun, and: Nan Domi: An Initiate’s Journey into Haitian Vodou by Mimerose P. Beaubrun
  • LeGrace Benson
Nan dòmi, le récit d’une initiation Vodou. By Mimerose Beaubrun. Preface by Madison Smartt Bell. Paris: Vents d’ ailleurs, 2010. ISBN 9782911412783. 320 pp. €21 paperback.
Nan Domi: An Initiate’s Journey into Haitian Vodou. By Mimerose P. Beaubrun. Preface by Madison Smartt Bell. Translated by D. J. Walker. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2013. ISBN 0872865746. 280pp. $16.95 paperback.

Nan dòmi in ordinary Kreyòl means “a state of sleeping,” but as Mimerose Beaubrun elucidates in her instructive lexicon, it is “a second level of attention. One enters into a state that permits one to see abstract things unknown until then. A lucid dream state” (276). Her book is the narrative of her journey into discoveries of the nature of this state, the disciplines and sacrifices that it requires, and the revelations about Self, other selves, and the universe that are the reward. She notes the necessity of a spiritual mentor, in this case the deeply wise manbo, Aunt Tansia. Her acknowledgements page is a tacit recognition that both the book and her journey begin and end with lakou—lieu de vie pluridimensionnele,” “site of many-dimensional living.” She thanks the people of her own lakou, especially her mentor, Aunt Tansia, then ends the section with Aunt Tansia’s transposition of the poem of the Taino Queen Anacaona: “We need / Dance, Poetry, / Sounds, music, / Dreaming to nourish / Our bond of communication / With the Unknown” (9).

A report of a spiritual journey requires a special command of language and translating the original French and Kreyòl into English presents a special challenge. D. J. Walker has preserved the nuances and subtleties, his own skills taking advantage of close collaboration with the trilingual Beaubrun.

Of the many insightful concepts in this book, two seem especially fundamental: first, the problematic of putting rich personal experiences into a common language, and second, the notion of lakou, significantly different from Western notions of family, society, and religion. Expressing remarkable experiences in language and the special conditions of lakou are at the heart of discoveries “nan dòmi.”

Beaubrun underwent the difficult, dangerous quest to get beyond words and concepts to bring the reader news of self, others, and universe. Her books make evident that one does need the spiritual mentor and the lakou. She quotes often from Aunt Tansia, and thus her astute teacher [End Page 225] becomes in some degree co-author. Her sense of lakou expands. It is not simply the extended family living in proximity or the spiritual congregation in which they all participate. Lakou is ancestral tradition coexistent with mythology when myth is understood holistically. To quote a majestic figure from one of Beaubrun’s dreams: “All the personages who form the base of a culture, its foundations, are mythological. All the entities that lend it dynamism, enrich it and embellish it so that it may live” (147). Later she learns from Aunt Tansia that “the structure of the lakou is designed in accord with the state of consciousness of the founder, that it is based on direct rapport with the unknown world” (176).

Nan dòmi reads as securely localized in Haiti, yet its universality, like that of Buddhism or Hinduism or any of the enduring religious worldviews, becomes apparent from Beaubrun’s instructive guidance into this transcendent territory. She directly confronts the same questions that arise in every worldview, every philosophy, every religion, and every science. Paul Gauguin posed it in the painting he considered his most important: D’où venons nous? Que sommes nous? Où allons nous? Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? Vodou Ginen deals with these questions as radically as any religion. As in any worldview with associated rites and sacred materials, followers participate in varied ways and to different degrees.

Beaubrun’s chapter “The Eye of the Water” takes readers along a Vodou path comparable to those taken by mystics of all ages and places. She presents those friends who will assist...


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pp. 225-227
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