This past week a friend and I drove down to Florida and all around it was a great trip. We took a day trip to Miami trying to find the Global Caribbean show “Haiti King of this World.” Well, we never found it the center didn’t respond to our email about location and hours until the next day when we were leaving Florida. Disappointed, we left little Haiti to eat at the Tap Tap Restaurant in Miami Beach. It turns out Miami is actually confusing and part of Miami is on the mainland of Florida, but Miami Beach is seperated by water. Luckily we got to the restaurant and they were just about to open, when we first arrived we thought they went out of business until we saw someone go in the back. I did not expect this place to be as amazing as it was. Not only was the food good, the whole place was covered in paintings, one of the reasons why I love Africa and the diaspora, leave no space unpainted or uncarved. The priciple lwa (god) of this restaurant seemed to be Bawon Samedi (Papa Gede) the lwa of death, life, and sexuality. He is also a counselor, healer, and lover of children. The Bawon was represented throughout the restaurant in flags and table paintings depicting his veve and characterizing objects (skull, sunglasess with one lense missing, hot peppers, black rooster, penis).
For more information on Vodou drapo here is an excerpt of my senior project:
“Drapo (Fig. 26) is a Haitian art of flag making used in Vodou ceremonies to usher in the spirits and these flags represent different lwa and the spiritual power within the ounfò (temple). Drapo are usually made of satin, velvet, or rayon with sequins, beads, or/and applique embodying a lwa. Many flags feature parts of chromolithographs of Catholic saints frequently found on Vodou altars and names of the lwa and more recently names of the artists as well. These flags are meticulously made and can use up to 20,000 sequins. Bright flashy colors and glittery decorations are prominent in Vodou art because they are eye-catching and help direct attention from spiritual beings. More recent flags have become increasingly elaborate from earlier stems from flags using two or three colors.”
Drapo was not the main art form I was focusing on in my project and was lumped with other Rara art forms in a sequins section of my project. If you’d like more detailed information on drapo read some essays by Donald Cosentino (Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou) or Robert Farris Thompson, both write a lot about both Africa and Haiti, but focus more on Haiti and the connection to Africa. If you’d like more information on how these traditions have come from Africa read Suzanne Blier who writes more on Africa and the forms traditions have taken in the Caribbean.
In case this whole time you were wondering “What the hell is a Tap Tap?” Here is another excerpt from mny senior project, if you’d like more information read Donal Cosentino (Divine Horsepower) or Robert Farris Thompson (Kia Kia, Fula Fula: The Haitian Bus in Atlantic Perspective).
“Tap-Taps are small buses used by most as a main means of cheap local transportation, some constructed from old pick-up trucks and then painted with usually a full rainbow of colors. These buses reference lwa, or aspects of Vodou, and have creative names and mottoes which have references to the self and sometimes social criticism.1Tap-tap can be traced to Yoruba (kia-kia) and the Kongo (fula-fula) who also have painted buses with names and mottoes as well as religious imagery, as well as having connections further back to Yoruba and Kongo canoes. In the Kongo people blessed canoes with a sign ( which looks like a V inside of a circle) signifying the crossroads inside the sign of life, the circle of the sun. Afterward the canoe is then smeared with the earth from the grave of a powerful leader or great hunter and palm wine for protection.2 Similar traditions of canoe purification can be seen in Yoruba history. With the advent of the car these traditions were used to ensure protection of the driver and passengers and decoration became more elaborate.
Haitian tap-tap can be see as moving canvases and are similar to Haitian paintings entering these vehicles into the canon of Vodou art because they blur the lines between fine arts (painting) and folk art bringing them together. Tap-tap painting is also an ongoing competition between drivers because the logic goes if the driver can afford to have the most beautifully painted bus then they must also keep the parts in good condition and will be less likely to break down. Owners name and paint their buses with political phrases or empowering phrases, in Fig. 21 this owner makes comment about “the elite (ypocrite) and their state of shock yo sezi) when Aristide won the election.3” This comment is enforced with another phrase in creole saying “those who fear change, don’t run, just leave period.4” This bus like many others have political messages hidden among intricate designs and other texts and images. Mixed in between messages and designs on this can be seen the names of St. Jacques (James) and Phillipe who represents spirits of Vodou associated with change and the revolution.”
Just going to this restaurant made me wish we got a chance to see that art show. I love the colorful, detailed, historic art of Haiti. I hope you learned something from this post as well. Here are a few more pictures of the restaurant. Until next time!
Erzulie god of Love or better known as Mother Mary. It may surprise you to know that every lwa has a Christian counterpart. Erzulie/Mary, Bawon/Saint Gerard, Legba/Saint Peter and the list goes on.