- Published on Tuesday, 26 March 2013 06:01
- Written by Reviewer: Dr Glenville Ashby
The Simple Life of a Miracle Man……The miracle worker, Pa Neezer, led a life of spiritual austerity. Sound ritualistic preparation and fasting defined him as the consummate spiritual craftsman, sealing his place among the most adept occultists. Dr Henry meticulously chronicles the early life Neezer - his ancestors, his family life, and the epiphanical experience that led to his ascendancy as the premier spiritual leader, healer and miracle worker of his generation. Her historical snapshots of Moruga, his birth place, and its 19th century settlers from America and Nova Scotia, are engaging and a prelude for further anthropological research.
And true to her academic strengths, she examines the sociological framework of this intriguing movement - its structure and dynamics. The Orisha faith has evolved, or, rather reconfigured with a strong Pan Africanist, Yoruba injection that has alarmed syncretists. How would Neezer respond to this strain within the system that he had mastered? Dr Henry can only surmise, but believes that he would have rejected the Yorubization of 'his' religion.
Pa was a creolised product of Christian and Yoruba traditions, but he was able to reconcile the two into one unitary expression, finding universality in the Godhead. During his legendary feasts, he performed Roman Catholic prayers, sometimes for hours, but when the Orishas (African gods) manifested or possessed some congregants, he was equally adept at praying, chanting and invoking the gods in Yoruba.
The author’s observations are vivid, capturing the emotions, colour and tone of every spiritual event. To the disappointment of some, Dr Henry’s work is short on the fantastical and the incredulous. There are no Harry Potter-like showdowns with backoos, soucouyants or duppys; no bodily contortions and vile spewing, a la The Exorcist. This is a treatise written with deliberation and prudence. She does not labour readers with academia. Instead, the reader is guaranteed fluid indulgence.
Neezer is clothed with human frailty and vulnerability. Of his purported miracles which attracted seekers as far away as Venezuela, Dr Henry is cautious, unwilling to be beguiled by hearsay.
In fact, her seminal work is as much about the sociology of religion - the cross pollination of religious beliefs - as it is about the biographical account of a legendary spiritual personage. Neezer's charisma, his magical appeal, are evident throughout, but so too is the struggle of a people to redefine themselves after De-Africanization, and one of the most brutal chapter's in world history.
There are moments of the spectacular - spellbinding and incredulous.
Neezer is an unassuming man, physically, but is transformed into a larger than life figure—majestically authoritative during possession. Dr Henry saves her most exhilarating prosaic display for Neezer's channeling of Aba Lofa. She is understandably awe-stricken by this transfiguration, her writing edging toward beatification, if not canonisation. She describes a scene of frenetic dancing in blood soaked white clothes and billowing cloak.
She writes: “On this particular night, Pa…. sat in total silence and was completely still. It was if his spirit or his soul was already in another world. Several hours passed. Suddenly, his eyes closed and his head began to shake faster and faster almost as though it would snap out of its neck….All eyes were drawn to him as he stood there dressed all in white completely immobile. On his head balanced was a freshly killed cow’s head…His entire body shook and moved while the cow’s head, its own dead eyes still open glared at the crowed.”
As the author threads along the dangerous path of creating a cult of personality, she always recovers, presenting case after case of miraculous cures by Neezer with caveats: “Again, I was unable to determine if the cure was permanent.” But Dr Henry’s “Pa” was neither sorcerer nor avatar. Unfortunately, humankind has always readied itself for salvation at the feet of men, a sure path to disillusionment.
In reality, Neezer looked inward for spiritual understanding and was no more than a mere mortal who raised his spiritual rank through sheer work—patience, fasting, prayer, contemplation, charitable deeds, and unapologetically avoiding the dark arts. This is the essence, the very hallmark of wisdom, only realizable with utmost humility. This may well be the enduring lesson of Dr Henry’s work.
He had the Power: Pa Neezer, The Orisha King of Trinidad by Dr Frances Henry
Lexicon Trinidad Ltd
Rating: Highly Recommended