Congo Square

It was common practice for slaves to receive Sundays off from their work. On this day they gathered in the only place that remained legal for them to dance, sing, set up market, share their foods and practice their native religions and arts-Congo Square.

Townsfolk gathered to watch the 500+ "savages" dance and sing. The slaves arms and legs adorned with ribbons, tiny bells, and shells that whirled and rattled with their rythyms. Musical instruments ranged from everything from long drums, rattles, gourds, violins, reed pipes, and tambourines. NOLA residents believe this place was the foundation for New Orleans Jazz.

Vodou is called "The Dancing Religion" because each particular rythym signifies the entry of a new spirit. Spiritual possession happens during these dances as manipulation of the body and instruments signals the invocation and embodiment of a particular spirit. Spirits are attracted to the experiencs that humans can have but they can not; dancing, singing, eating, drinking, sex, and music making. The spirits called are repayed for their power and blessings by experiencing these human indulgences for a time.

As a new spirit is called, or arrives, a new layer of rythym and step is added, as well as chanting or singing. This results in a deep, colorful tapestry which often sounds choatic to the non-devotee.

As a devotee of Marie Laveau, this place is among my top two places to visit in NOLA. The feeling of this place is enough to physically shake you from your own roots and there in the 18th and early 19th century. To step foot in the ONLY place our slave ancestors were allowed to hear and sing their own songs and words. To eat their OWN food and hold their OWN rituals-when all had been stolen from them. Sheer magic is an understatement. 

I could feel the rythyms in my feet, hear the songs in my ears, smell the food and sweat. I felt the spirits in my veins. I can honestly say, a bit of my heart remains in Congo Square.

As I took a moment to lay down on the pavers and stare up at a magnificent tree, I was overwhelmed with emotion. What had this tree seen? The amazing, rich history of cultures, religions, celebrations and the birth of a new people. The unparalleled culture and feel of New Orleans.

How I wished to be that tree for a day during those times.

I was sad to finally notice I was the only person in the Square except for a few folks resting on the benches. I had imagined young and old folks alike, enjoying the Square... the weather, the history, the space, the trees.

I suppose the Square is no longer as useful and certainly does not hold the purpose it once did, but people to congregate for drum and singing circles once in a while...

Just often enough to keep the spirit flowing in the veins of that sacred ground and trees. Just often enough to keep the spirit of our slave ancestors alive.



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