Secrets Revisted: Aizan as a model for the Secret of San Lázaro

The hidden and fundamentally mysterious nature of Babalú-Ayé is nowhere more obvious for me than at the secret of San Lázaro, planted in the house of Armando Zulueta--Omí Toké by his teacher Octavia Zulueta--Jundesi. While I have participated in the worship of the secret and Armando's people do engage it every year as part of their annual festival for Babalú-Ayé, there is little understanding of its particular use or the specific conditions that led Jundesi to mount it.

As I recently reread Herskovits's book on Dahomey, I came across his compelling discussion of the diversity of perspectives in the religious life there. He takes as one example a spirit called aizan. Some people say it is a vodou and some say it is not, but everyone seems to agree on a few ideas:
  • This translates as "mat of the earth." 
  • There are aizan for compounds, villages, lineages, markets, and vodou temples.
  • The aizan are treated like any other spirit, beseeched for support and rewarded for blessings.
The discussion continues with a man who himself "established" aizan, and his description for how to establish one of these shrines is remarkably similar to the directions for consecrating a kiti in Cuban tratados. Finally, he says the aizan for vodou temple is always honored before the vodou itself, because it represents all the ancestors who served the vodou while living (Herkovits, Dahomey, Vol. 2, p. 302). This echoes the understanding that Harvard art historian Suzanne Blier: Aizan is a vodou of markets, places, and ancestry (Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou, p. 62).

Perhaps as Jundesi prepared to join the ancestors, she remembered this tradition from her Dajomé and consecrated an aizan to make sure that she and others tied to Asojano would always be honored as part of the annual ceremonies at Armando's house.


  1. If you haven't already read it, you'll probably like the Herskovitzes' section on Aizan in Dahomean Narrative. It's in the section "Exploits of the Gods," subsection 2 "The Rule of Sky and Earth Delimited" (pp. 126-29).

    It emphasizes a different angle, detailing the Aizan as the embodiment of a treaty between Heviosso and Sagbata. It's a rich story, lots of other interesting things going on it.


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