In Haiti, rum is closely tied to local folklore and the deities that exist within the pantheon of Haitian Voudou. A symbol of strength, an offering and a form of protection, rum has many connotations, all manifested through the god Ogun. Also known as Ogou, this warrior spirit is known as the god of iron, fire metalworking and rum-making.
A manifestation of strength
Ogun’s presence is felt throughout several African religions, particularly in the Yoruba religion in Nigeria. In all his incarnations, Ogun is viewed as a powerful warrior and hunter, leading his followers to victory in times of peril.
A popular story from Yoruba religion is of how Ogun first appeared as a hunter named Tobe Ode. He was the first god to come to Earth to find a suitable place for human life. It was said that he cleared a path for the other African gods to enter the human world by using a metal axe.
During his life on Earth, Ogun ruled as a benevolent yet ruthless king who showed no mercy to the people who refused to follow him. Ultimately, he was said to have killed himself with his own sword and vanished to a paradise called Ire-Ekiti.
In physical form, Ogun is muscular, intimidating and dog-like. As he was meant to have the personality of a fierce dog, it’s no wonder that canines are one of his primary symbols. During sacrifices to Ogun, dogs are usually present, with followers offering meat and other dangerous animals such as cobras.
The rum ceremonies of Haitian Voudou
In Haitian Voudou, Ogun’s connection to rum becomes much stronger as a source of power and protection.
During Voudou ceremonies, he will take over the bodies of his followers and put them in a trance-like state. Anyone thought to be possessed by Ogun is invulnerable to harm and the god will often demand rum by shouting ‘Grn mwe fret’ which translates to ‘my testicles are cold.’ Obviously, the rum helps to warm up Ogun’s balls.
The men are given white rum to drink and in some cases it’s burned in a container, providing the opportunity for followers to prove how hard they are by washing their hands with flaming rum.
Despite his fierce appearance and reputation, Ogun is chiefly a protector spirit and is meant to lead his devotees on a path to discipline. So, next time you’re struggling to finish your next bottle of rum, remember to toast to the Haitian god of iron and perhaps he’ll give you the strength to power through.
Another god with a strong thirst for rum is Baron Samedi. Learn more about the loa of death and resurrection and which rum has been named after him.