How Fet Gede Is Celebrated in Haitian Culture

Published February 26, 2021
Fet Gede Celebration

Fet Gede is a Haitian festival celebrated during the month of November. It is often compared to the Catholic celebration of All Souls' Day and the Mexican Festival of the Dead. Fet Gede is often called the Voodoo (Vodou) version of these holidays.

Fet Gede November Celebration

The observance of Fet Gede is a month-long celebration. However, most of the larger celebrations occur during the first days of the month.

Purpose of Fet Gede

The Fet Gede is a celebration honoring the dead, but participants hope to gain from their connections with spirits. While the gifts of food, flowers, and drink are freely given, there is an expectation that the spirits will reciprocate by protecting them throughout the year.

Drinks and Foods in Celebration of Fet Gede

Rum is the main alcoholic drink served during Fet Gede. Coffee is another drink that is popular. Some of the foods that families fix for a Fet Gede celebration include spicey pickled slaw (pikliz), diri ak pwa (rice and beans), tasso cabrit (fried goat), banan peze (twice-fried green plantains), and bonbon siwo (molasses cake).

How Does Haiti Celebrate Dia de Muertos?

Haiti's celebration of Fet (Festival) Gede (Sacred Dead) is similar to the Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration with altars and offerings of food and drink. The Haitians celebrate Fet Gede by dressing in costumes and taking to the streets in a boisterous, fun night of revelry reminiscent of a New Orleans's Mardi Gras celebration. This is where the similarities end, since Fet Gede is more celebratory with sacred drumming and dances.

Fet Gede Dances and the Gede

The music, drumming, and dancing are invitations to the Gede to join in the celebration. During the dances, the Gede often possess the dancers or ride on their backs. The possessed often act irrationally and erratically under the possession of these spirits. They say and do things the possessed person never would under other circumstances. The spirits also partake in the foods and drink (coffee, rum) while celebrating with the dancers.

Fet Gede Dances

Fet Gede Costume and Colors

Red is one color you won't ever see at a Vodou funeral or Fet Gede. The color red is rumored to be a bold declaration of responsibility for the deceased person's death. In a notice about a Fet Gede's celebration, the event itinerary reminds attendees to wear headscarves. The bulletin suggests participants wear white and purple or black and purple headscarves. These are touted as the Gede colors. Funeral colors are white, purple and black, the same colors Papa Gede wears.

Who Is Papa Gede?

One main Gede of the Fet Gede celebrations is the first man to have died, Papa Gede. This often comical and sometimes grotesque acting character is the spirit that emerges to guide the dead to the afterlife.

Description of Papa Gede

Papa Gede is said to be crude. He is characterized as a short man who wears a top hat and enjoys the pleasure of life. He is depicted as eating apples and smoking cigars. His twisted sense of humor pokes fun at preconceived ideas about life and death. He has a truly irreverent attitude about death, rebirth, and sex that can embarrass and confuse people.

Protector and Guide to Afterlife

All that said, Papa Gede is the father who watches over and protects his children, the Haitian people. It is believed that he hears the prayers of the dying. He is believed to be a just and faithful father and only comes for you when it is your time to leave this life.

Churches Are Part of Fet Gede Celebration

Vodou practitioners often hid their rituals within the Catholic religion they were forced to practice in the days of colonization. During Fet Gede, the churches are filled with burning candles, music, dancing, and a great feast. Over the course of the celebration, rituals, sacred songs, music, drumming, and dancing are performed. The spirits of death and the spirits of fertility are just a few of the Gede family of spirits invited to partake in the celebration.

Haitian Fet Gede Street Celebration

The Haitians also take the celebration of Fet Gede into the streets with music, drumming, and dance. The dancing is considered to be a sacred communion with the ancestors. Eventually, the celebration ends up with a procession to the cemeteries. The revelers take food and drink to their deceased loved ones and honor their spirits the same way as a Dia de Muertos celebration.

Haitian Fet Gede Street Celebration

Fet Gede Procession to Feed the Dead

Often referred to as the procession to feed the dead, the Fet Gede celebration eventually leads the participants to walk in the procession to the cemetery with their food, drink, tobacco, and other gifts for their deceased loved ones.

Request Permission to Enter Cemetery

When the procession arrives at the cemetery, the group must ask for permission to enter from the guardian of the cemetery, Brave Gede. He is the watchguard of the cemetery. Brave Gede's job is to prevent the dead souls from leaving the graveyard and keeping the living out of the cemetery.

How Haitian Fet Gede Is Celebrated

There are many ways that Haitians celebrate Fet Gede with their families and friends. In the Vodou religion, Fet Gede is a sacred celebration of the dead.

How Fet Gede Is Celebrated in Haitian Culture