Remembering the hubono
MONUMENT has passed from the scene of Pan-Africanism and traditional
African religion in the Caribbean. Sedley C Antoine, chief and high
priest, or hubono, of Trinidad's Rada Community, has gone to join the
ancestors. His passing on April 9, shortly before his 83rd birthday,
marks the close of an era.
The Rada Community was founded in the
mid-19th century by immigrants from Dahomey (now Benin) under the
leadership of the first local hubono. Antoine was born into this milieu
on April 30, 1918. He knew from early that he was destined to lead the
community, and in 1948 he became the fourth hubono, a responsibility
that he retained for the rest of his long and fruitful life.
1969, Antoine moved to Montreal where he worked as a cabinet maker,
while continuing as a religious leader both in Trinidad and Canada. He
returned to Trinidad every year to conduct the Rada Community's
Thanksgiving ceremony in the week before Carnival.
religious leadership was deliberately conservative. Observances were
dominated by traditional drumming, and he led the chants in the
ancestral Fon language. Visitors from West Africa sometimes remarked
that this was how their grandparents practised.
I first met
Sedley Antoine toward the end of 1995. Having read Andrew Carr's fine
short book: A Rada Community in Trinidad, and a feature article by
Kathy-Ann Waterman in the Express, I went looking for him. After some
searching I finally found the house at the end of Belmont Valley Road.
The door was opened by a magisterial old man who, despite being casually
dressed looked very much like a chief. I introduced myself and described
my interest in traditional African religion and asked if any observance
was imminent that I might be permitted to attend. Antoine invited me to
Thanksgiving, about three weeks later.
Several people have
described to me impressions from their first attendance at a Rada
ceremony. My own were much the same. I was electrified. It was serious,
intense and profoundly African. It picked me up and shook me. Although
not a religious man, I have been Rada ever since.
very long service as hubono, Mr Antoine never physically set foot in
Africa, although he very much wanted to. Early last year some of us
decided that the time had come to push for just such a pilgrimage. Under
the leadership of Orisha priest Olakela Massetungi (known as Oludari),
we constituted ourselves as the Rada Pilgrimage Committee and sought to
organise a substantial, formal visit to West Africa. During a recent
visit to Ghana, I attempted to advance the aims of the committee. To our
great regret, the Rada Pilgrimage Committee's main objective is now
Sedley C Antoine is survived by his wife of 62
years, Elaine "Dolly" Antoine, their children Francis, Henry, Hermina,
Magdalen and Veronica, 19 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren, and his
siblings Patrick Antoine, Rosita Ince and Empress
A far cry from AfricaBy MARCIA HENVILLE
AFRICANS and their descendants, namely
the Rada, Ibo, Congo and Mandingo people settled in communities in
Belmont around 1870. At that time they were practically the only
The place where the leading group of Africans,
the Radas, gathered for social activities and followed the religion of
their forefathers in Belmont was called the Compound. A Rada is a native
of the French West African Protectorate of Dahomey, which is now known
Abojevi Zahwenu, popularly known as Papa Nanee, was the
founder of the Dangbwe Comme Compound (house or place of Dangbwe, who is
the serpent god deity). Zahwenu, who was born around 1800 in Dahomey,
adopted the French name Robert Antoine in Trinidad.
housed Zahwenu's home in which he lived with his wife and one son; a
chapel aka a Vodunkwe (house of the gods); and a tent or covered shed
adjoining the house and facing the road. Drum dances took place in the
tent. Two other shrines were also built in the Compound. Many Rada
families from the district frequented the Compound, where gatherings
were often huge.
Zahwenu was a household name in his day—people
said he was a kind and selfless medicine man. He died in July 1899,
around the age of 99-—though the doctor who tended to him before his
death said he was around 108. He was buried on the Compound.
spite of the impact of western culture and religion, the Rada community
has retained a large measure of ancestral religious beliefs and rites.
Christianity is practised in conjunction with the recognition given to
the African deities, and the African gods have Christian
The Rada community performs seasonal and
non-seasonal sacrifices. For sacrificial ceremonies, called Vodunu or
Saraka, they often use three consecrated drums which have special names.
Sometimes, depending on the occasion, four normal drums are
Only devotees who are in a state of possession dance at
sacrificial ceremonies—usually women who are each mounted by one deity
only. Possession can occur at any time. The woman is called a Vodunsi or
wife of the god ("si" is Dahomean for wife). A new Vodunsi must spend
days in prayer and abstinence as part of her initiation into the new
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