Ezili is the name for Guardian Spirit of the Azili (Èzili) lake located 50 kilometers east of Abomey in Dahomey, now called Benin. The association of Èzili with Dahomen is retained in Haiti where she is often called Èzili Freda Dahomey. In Dahomey Èzili is a female spirit and Patron Spirit of the lake. In Haiti, she is honored as a maternal spirit and as the Patron spirit of love. As a maternal spirit, she is called Èzili Dantò where Dan means founder and tò means country. She is regarded as the Mother of the land. This song appeals to her as the patron spirit of maternal or of parental love. In the song, Ezili is likened to both parents, mother and father to emphasize the depth of her love for her devotees. In reference to parents, the song cites mother first because both in Ginen, the west coast of Africa and in Haiti, mothers are considered the primary caretaker of children. The father's role is more distant as fathers are not considered as equal partners in childrearing. In giving supremacy to mothers, the song expresses parental love in terms of the bond between a child and mother while breastfeeding.
The song likens Èzili's devotion to parental love because it is unconditional. That is one reason why in the song Èzili is duty bound to provide assistance to the devotee. Therefore the devotee appeals to Èzili with confidence knowing that Èzili cannot ignore his or her requests. Such certainty is central to the origin of Vodou. In Dahomey, it was believed that God's first action was to create 7 spirits to assist humanity so that God could be free to focus on more celestial matters.
Èzili embodies one of the one of the foremost principles of ethics and of Vodou values, generosity. In the song, that generosity is likened to a mother nurturing a child from her breast thus giving the child sustenance from her very own body. This is the ultimate gesture of generosity which often requires self-sacrifice for the benefit of another. It is the anti-thesis of selfishness and of greed widely regarded in Haiti and in Dahomey, the land of Èzili, as among the most vile character traits.
Although those who are generous are virtuous because their generosity stems from compassion, their compassion alone does not provide them with things to give. To be able to give, you must first possess. Perhaps this is the reason why the word generosity comes from the word gene, the information that we inherited that makes up our bodies. Formerly in Europe, generosity was a word used to describe members of the royal family as giving. Later, the word got applied to anyone who was charitable. In Africa, it was also recognized that those who gave charitably were those who had much in their possession to give. Haitians consider Èzili as representing one such person. Her complete name is Èzili Freda Dahomey. Freda is a Whydah-Dahomean word that means princess. She is of royalty. She is giving and has much to give.
The song's portrayal of maternal love through the act of breastfeeding is common in African art depicting generosity, and explains why Haitian people have adopted similar European images to represent their own. Africans in Haiti saw the expression of generosity in the Catholic images of Mary with Jesus on her lap next to her breast and they saw Èzili embodied in that image. This adopted European image is more conservative than African ones. Traditionally, people living in cold European climates wore more cloth to warm their bodies and that encouraged the development of taboos about exposing their breast. In the adopted image, Mary’s hand gestures at exposing the breast but does not reveal it as she cuddles her baby. In the tropical regions of Africa, the weather permitted women to stay cool and expose their breast without shame. The need for some women to fully cover their breast in public places can be a deterrent to breastfeeding on demand. This taboo is less prevalent in the countryside of Haiti, a country where its people are in a subtropical area.
The singer appeals to Èzili with confidence rooted in Èzili’s God sanctioned obligation to assist people. In Haiti, when a person approaches someone for assistance and has to walk away without getting the help he or she sought, it is shameful. To have not received the requested help means that the devotee erred in thinking that he or she had a special relationship with Èzili, a relationship where Èzili is duty bound to be of assistance. So the song says, “pa vin fè mwen wont o devan sobadji Lwa mwen”- Do not make me feel ashamed having come to your altar. As the altar is for Ezili of Dahomey, the song uses a Dahomey word for altar-sobadji.
The statement- Do not make me feel ashame- is not a plea but a demand. Haitians are demanding of their spirits because they are not seeking special favors but rather fufillment of a God-given duty for the spirits to provide humans with assistance. The devotee speaks up to Èzili to remind her of that duty and so the option of ignoring the devotees request is nonexistent.