This song proclaims that we are all destined to join the spiritual realm. To accomplish this, the song uses the European term "Angels" interchangeably with the African term "Lwa" to describe various Spirits. The word Lwa appears to be a variant of the Nago word Lawo or Awo for mysterious entities. The only Lwas cited in the song are Danbala and Ayida and they are mentioned so as to establish that all humans are destined to reach great spiritual status. This is said in the song as nou tout se zanj o, we are all angels.
By one Dahomean account, Danbala and Ayida were the first entities created by God. These spirits then assisted God during Creation. For this reason, Danbala and Ayida are considered Patron Spirits of Creation. Their pre-eminent role in creation makes them the most distinguished spirits that God ever created. It is flattering for the song to compare us to Danbala and Ayida. As great a compliment as that is, the song does not go so far as to say that we will be Spirits like God. Such a statement would be disrespectful to God. In West African Tradition, God is apart and above all things. Nothing can ever rival God. It is a common theme in African creation stories that the creation of the universe, the first thing that God did was to create the Spiritual world. Afterwards, God created people and gave us the means to later join the spiritual dimension. Since one’s life on earth is brief in comparison to one’s longer existence as a spirit, the singer finds that it is simply best to describe himself or herself as the angel on earth and says: zanj anba a se mwen.
Anba means below and in this song, it means earth as a body below the heavens, the place where spiritual entities reside. Anba can also have a slightly different meaning. It can mean the underworld, Anba Dlo, a place believed to be inhabited by the spirit of the Ancestors. This latter notion is most associated with Kongolese beliefs. This song does not site any Kongolese Spirits. It only cites Danbala and Ayida who are spirits served in Allada-Dahomey, also pronounced as Rada-Dahomey and is located in the country now called Benin. The citing of these two Lwas allow musicians to know that the song has to be played on traditional beats that honor the people of the Rada-Dahomey region. The song is from the Dahomean or Rada religious tradition and it speaks of a universe composed of sky above and earth below.
The song refers to the Lwas as Angels meaning messengers of God. Angels are commonly depicted with pigeon-like wings. This depiction predates Christianity and comes from the Middle East where pigeons were first domesticated about 5 to 10,000 years ago. In that region, pigeons were recognized for their ability to travel back home from distances even greater than 1,000 kilometers. These birds were used to carry messages from nearly any destination back to their place of birth. For this reason, Angels were depicted with pigeon-like wings and like this bird, they carry messages only one way. Angels are entities who are believed to come to earth to relay messages from God. One European Christian song, now popular in Vodou Services, begins with the statement The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary…(L'anje du Seigneur dit a Marie). Despite the fact that this latter song is lenghty, nowhere in it does it say that Mary gave the Angel a return message for God. Like pigeons, Angels carry messages from the sender only. They do not carry messages from humans to God.
By creating the world of spirits first, essentially, God created the world of the Ancestors first. This is why to numerous Haitians, the Ancestors are second only to God in importance in the universe. This is commonly said tersely as, “Apre Dye, Ginen yo” meaning after God, our Ancestors. In the Dahomean story of creation, after God created the first seven set of major Lwas, they were each tasked with the duty to assist people in their daily lives. The Lwas were sent to earth to perform functions given to them by God. As an agent of God, the term Lwa is true to the meaning of the European word Angel but it embodies more than just the meaning of that word. The term Lwa also incorporates the European notion of saints. Saints are respectful spirits who were once human. The point of the song is to make it clear that the people residing on earth are spirits to be. A corollary of this is that those who preceded us are now spirits. In other words, almost all the Lwas were once humans. They are the Ancestors. This is the essential message of the song and is the reason why in Haiti the Lwas are called Les Saints, Les Anges. These two French terms are synonymous with the African word, Lwa. As former Ancestors, the Lwas are commonly called Ginen yo, a name given to them from their territory of origin, the West Coast of Africa, called Guinea before the 18th century. Commonly many African Ancestors honored as Lwa in Haiti are sited in the Ginen Prayer. One version of this prayer is recited in the book, Remembrance.
There are other Vodou songs proclaiming that we are spirit becoming. One such song states that various Lwas are like saints who have reached their final status, whereas, we are still on earth and God has not yet fulfilled our destiny.
E a Agasou
Sen dyo do ko wa gwe**
E a Agasou
Lavi n nan men Bondye o sen an.
As for the first King of Dahomey
He is a saint who has reached his destiny
As for the first King of Dahomey
Our destiny is still in the hands of God, o my saint.
*The words “anba a se” are very close in pronunciation with the term anbarase, meaning entangled. To preserve the meaning of the song, it is vital that care be taken to articulate the creole words properly. Otherwise, the song can be easily misinterpreted as “zanj anbarase mwen.”
**The meaning of this phrase is derived from meaning of these words using two Gedevi-Dahomean dictionaries. Djò or jo means spirit. Do means to be. Ko means accomplish, already, arrive, family. Wa means to come. Gwe is the Haitian pronounciation for the Guedevi-Dahomean word Gbe meaning person or being.
Bookmanlit is thankful to Gordie Simon for the photograph