A "Vodou" Session and Fortune Telling Experience

Here In Victoria at the Inner Harbour many First Nations people have their artwork on display, along with other vendors. Amongst these we noticed a distinctive Folk Art painting from Haiti. 
Made me travel back in time to an experience locked up in my memory cells waiting to be revisited and released.  My eighty-fourth orbit around the “Leo” Sun is coming up and this reminded me of our visit to Haiti many years ago and my first meeting with a “Fortune Teller”. We were aboard a ship going around the world (Royal Viking Line’s “Royal Viking Sky”) back in 1974. I was guest artist and lecturer.   
One of the many ports-of-call was Port-au-Prince. We had volunteered to serve as minders for a shore excursion, organized in those days, by American Express. One of these was advertised as a Vodou Ceremony.  The description said “Not for the faint of heart”. There were 15 of us on the tour. We arrived at the destination after a drive through rugged, mountainous countryside and passing some small villages. 
We were met by a local interpreter, who told us the ceremony would not be “staged”, but the real thing, which our driver had already mentioned. Three chickens were sacrificed. Whirling and high-pitched chanting brought on a trance state.  
A few of the ship’s passengers were feeling uneasy. Indeed it was not something for the faint of heart. The ceremony was eerie and mesmerizing.  Then the guide announced  the priestess had offered to tell anyone their future if they were interested. However, she only spoke Patois and French. No one spoke French apart from us, so I agreed to have my ‘fortune’ told.  Thus I found myself alone with the Vodou Priestess.
She predicted I would reach the age of 80, holding my hands with her leathery, wrinkled hands – looking me straight in the eye and repeating it twice, “Quatre-vingt ans, quatre-vingt ans.”   Almost forty years later, and approaching my eighty-fourth birthday, she was at least correct in saying I’d reach 80.  The additional years are a bonus. Following the ceremony, we started to walk towards the van parked a distance away. Suddenly we were greeted by a major thunder and lightning storm.  Thick raindrops came pelting down. 

"The Haiti Umbrella"

The locals rushed to give us each a huge banana leaf to hold over our heads.  These makeshift Haiti-style umbrellas really did the trick. We must have looked a funny sight, walking in line through the mud with the enormous banana leaves on our heads. The rain, thunder and lightning “sobered” everyone up quickly after the intensity of the ceremony, an experience that seemed “unreal”, to the reality of elemental fury and a deluge. Needless to say, those who were on this particular excursion had lots to talk about with their fellow passengers back aboard ship.  Just like us, with this blog post, sharing this unforgettable experience in Haiti after all these years.

Henri van Bentum


Gulls Forced to Nest in Downtown Victoria, British Columbia

Chased by Bald Eagles who raid their nests for eggs, chicks, and can even take a gull in full flight, that’s how powerful eagles are, our local Glaucous-Winged Gulls are being forced to nest downtown. These gulls are smart, they know Eagles don’t go into town.
So not only are the Blue Herons in peril, now it’s the turn of the Glaucous-Winged Gull (native to Victoria), to be haunted. With this exodus of gulls to downtown however, comes an increase of Guano on indiscriminate targets. 

Henri van Bentum


Tell Your Own Story, say the San People (Bushmen)

 Map showing distribution of Khoi-San languages, unique for their "click consonants" and perhaps among the most ancient of human languages
 Everything has a beginning.  Pre Big Bang.  Big Bang.  Life itself.  Likewise in storytelling.  We all like stories – fables, anecdotes, fairytales, travel tales.  Sometimes I write them too (children’s stories, or Apologues). When we were in Namibia, our guide talked about how the San people were great storytellers.  Especially the Elders, who with fervor and sometimes in dance, described encounters with wild creatures, including predators and scavengers such as lions and hyenas. Or about their gods, such as tiny but powerful Mantis. 
Here is an old photo from what must be one of the most iconic on the subject of San storytelling. The elder has his audience spellbound and in awe of his tales. The interesting thing, amongst many other things, about the San is their insight into the importance of telling stories, even in the way you lead your life. 
They would say, “What is your story? Unless you tell your own story, you will not be happy.”   How is that for a blueprint of psychology?  Sadly, the San people are now endangered.  Some of you may remember them in the film “The Gods Must Be Crazy”. In the past, they set down their mythologies on rock, in caves, now called petroglyphs and pictograms.   
From Ukhahlamba - Drakensberg Park, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000
The most famous is the Tsodilo panel named after Laurens van der Post, now a World Heritage Site. We’re told their language has no word for “artist”, but these works are  evergreen.    
 Nelson Mandela as a young man in Xhosa tribal dress. On his maternal side, Mandela has partly Khoisan ancestry
We understand Nelson Mandela is of Thembu (paternal) as well as Xhosa and Khoisan (maternal) ancestry.   So although not 100% Khoisan, his features tell us he is related to these ancient peoples. (Short, curly hair, small ears, “copper” coloured, and a gentle smile.)  Not only that, but his life is telling us the biggest story of a brave, dignified, heroic and noble life lived.  A stellar leader - such a rarity today. Now that this living legend is seeing the light of the horizon coming closer and before he "goes over that horizon", we look at the amazing story he tells the Human Family.    

The origin of the Khoi-San people is not known, but we do know they are genetically the world’s oldest people, with genetic markers that no other humans have. It's said they go back as far as 150,000 years. 

Thought we’d tell you this story.

Henri van Bentum