Showcasing the art and ritual of the African and African-diaspora religions

Libation Bottle for Gede/Bawon Samdi

Catalog Number: A007


unknown Haitian artist


31.5 x 10.2


12.4 x 4


Religion and Denomination: Sèvi lwa/Vodou (Haiti, Ewe-Gen-Aja-Fon)
Transatlantic Family of Religion: Vodun
Country of Origin: Haiti
Ethnographic Origin: Haitian
Materials: Cloth
Usage: Ritual (used)
Detailed Description of Significance:

This bottle is for the Gede divinity known as Bawon (Baron) Samedi.  Gede is a particular nation (nachon), or denomination, of spirits within Vodou. These spirits are  associated with death and fertility; they work to remind worshipers to embrace life with exuberance. The lwa divinity Bawon is one of the Gede divinities. In contrast to most Gede spirits, who are playful tricksters, the Bawon spirits are regal and serious. Whereas most manifest Gede spirits laugh, joke and gyrate, the Bawon spirits typically lie down stiffly like corpses in rigor mortis. In any given Haitian graveyard, the graves of the people first buried there are treated as altars to the Bawon spirits and the occupants of those graves are equated with the Bawon spirits.

Bawon has three forms, one of which is Bawon Samdi (in French, Baron Samedi). This particular form of Bawon is said to be the head of the Gede spirits. Bawon Samdi is usually associated with magic, ancestor worship, and death. His colors are purple, black, and white. Bawon Samedi can be represented by Saint Gerard of the Roman Catholic tradition. Saint Gerard Majella was an Italian man known for his service and self-mortification in honor of Christ. This saint is also the patron saint of expectant mothers, which could explain his ties to Bawon Samdi: this lwa is related to fertility.

Catalogued by Annabelle Yang:

The bottle would contain rum for the Gede, infused, as they like it, with 21 scotch peppers. 


At the center is an image of a Catholic saint clutching a cross – this is Saint Gerard Majella, who is identified with Bawon Samdi. The saint is shown serenely, a holy halo around his head and a crucifix with an image of Christ upon it clutched close to his breast. Strikingly, Saint Gerard was born frail, and was even refused acceptance to the Christian Capuchin order twice due to his poor health. This Bawon spirit, similarly, is often shown thin with a white face – though he is far from frail, his face is that of death. Saint Gerard also has a reputation for assisting in childbirth, and is thus popular as a protector of mothers. This matches with the Gede, who are recognized as lwa of fertility in addition to death. One dance for the Gede, for example, is the Banda, which utilizes hip gyrations to acknowledge their role in sex as a natural part of life.


Like Bawon Samdi himself, the saint image on the bottle may also be associated with the Roman Catholic saint San Martín de Porres.


To Christians, the crucifix is a sign of the saint’s piety. Bawon Samedi, too, is often associated with the cross found on tombstones. In fact, he is also responsible for digging graves when it is time to die – but he will not dig a grave unless it is indeed one’s time, and can even help the sick. Karen Brown reports one priestess, Mama Lola, explaining that Bawon Samedi is tasked with helping the sick with any affliction.


This particular image lacks a skull – however, Gerard is also frequently shown with one, symbolizing the fleeting nature of life and readiness for death. Certainly, Bawon Samedi and the Gede prepare us for death. Manbo Maude Evans notes that we are dying from the moment we are born. However, death is unknown to us, and so we fear it – however, as Gede, death wants us to know him, and he teaches us about him through his humor. Thus, when they mount their devotees, the Gede spirits run riotously. They sing obscene songs, make lewd puns, and lie shamelessly.


Furthermore, Manmi Maude adds that death is not the end – beyond it lie reincarnation and other forms of life, and the realm of Afrik-Ginen.