Did you know kélé ceremonies were reportedly still performed in Aux Lyons in 1955, in Soufriѐre in 1980 and in Wézina (Babonneau) in 1957, 1973, 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1986?
Did you know the kélé ritual was more elaborate than koutoumba and is better documented?
Kélé is reminiscent of the Shango ritual found in Trinidad, the Big Drum Dance in Grenada and Carriacou and other possession cults found in the Caribbean and South America.
However, unlike these groups, kélé contained no Christian elements. Kélé was a syncretization of two Yoruba cults: Shango and Ogun. In fact, kélé was a ceremony given to ask the African ancestors of present devotees for protection in all matters of importance – good crops, good health and good fortune. During the ceremony, ancestors are thanked for past favors,
Did you know kélé participants communicated with their ancestors through the ceremonial use of thunder stones/pierres tonnerre?
Pierres tonnerre are smooth stones that were believed to have fallen from the sky during a storm when there were loud claps of thunder and blinding flashes of pronged lightning.
These stones were called Shango/Chango and symbolize African ancestors and interestingly, the stones used during the kélé ceremony in Babonneau had been identified as Amerindian axes.
During the ritual, a high priest would place several stones on the ground in a semi-circle or a cross shape and then invite the male participants to add their own stones, agricultural tools and personal items symbolic of their requests for good fortune.
After drumming, dancing and singing, the stones are washed and buffed, and the high priest makes a speech in which he asks the ancestors to intervene with a higher power on behalf of the person sponsoring the event. This is followed by more drumming, dancing and singing.
The men then retire to a private location where they wash the legs of a ram and kill it with one quick stroke. The high priest and the participants drink some of the ram’s blood, the priest then sprinkle some blood on the Shango stones, the tools and the ground; this serves to make the stones more powerful and the tools more productive and safer for the users.
The women sing and dance in a separate room, where they ritually cook the ram with ground provisions. This special recipe is used with white rum and water as offerings to the deities and sustenance for the devotees.
In the final stage of kélé, the priest carries a calabash filled with a mixture known as ‘djinification’ into the circle of devotees and crashes it into pieces into the ground. This is intended to dismiss the leading evil spirit known to the devotees as ‘Akeshew’.
Did you know kélé ceremonies were habitually held on the first Sunday of the New Year, the Sunday before Lent, the first Sunday in October and the last Sunday in November?
Anybody could call a kélé, but only a high priest can officiate.
Since kélé requires the sacrifice of a mature ram, offerings of ground provisions and drinks for all participants, it is a costly ritual. The ceremony and the role of the high priest have been handed down from father to son for generations.
Source: A History of St. Lucia by Harmsen, Ellis & Devaux – 2012
This feature runs every Tuesday and Thursday. It is compiled by daughter of the soil Anselma Aimable, a former agricultural officer and former correspondent for Caribbean Net News, who has a deep interest in local culture and history. Send ideas and tips to [email protected]