The gris-gris consisted of a small cloth pouch filled with little objects and was supposed to have magical ingredients and powers. The small bag, which some called a joujou (a French word for doll), was used in rituals by African witch doctors. Initially the gris-gris was supposed to protect the wearer from evil.
The ingredients in the gris-gris usually consisted of odd numbered items. The most popular amounts were seven and 13 objects. Occult-meaning things were included in the pouch. The object was attached to something linked to the target (such as lock of hair, or a piece of their clothing.)
The custom was brought to Acadiana from Haiti and the Dominican Republic by slaves who believed in black magic.
Many of our ancestors, when deported from Canada, had first stayed in the Caribbean Islands prior to settling here and thus familiar with the practice.
The best known practitioner of voodoo using gris-gris was Marie Laveau. Laveau, a mixed race woman, was born in New Orleans and became known as the Voodoo Queen in the mid 1800’s.
Marie Laveau’s gris-gris is supposed to have contained some of the following: bits of bone, dried toad, stones, salt, red pepper, graveyard dust, dried lizard, a bat’s wings, a cat’s eyes, an owl’s liver, and a rooster’s heart.
When the gris-gris was hidden in the victim’s handbag or under his pillow, the unfortunate was supposed to die. Many still consider Laveau a witch, but others consider her a saint.
I remember hearing stories about gris-gris. One in particular was about an older lady who lived next door when she was first married. The woman had upset someone, and one morning she woke up with a gris-gris next to her front doorsteps. The older lady nailed shut her front door, and would only use the back door of the house.
A joke in the community was that she was scared of the jinx but couldn’t find anyone to remove it so she had her house relocated instead.
Up until recently, I had always believed that the gris-gris was used for sinister and evil purposes only. However, when the subject was recently discussed, my wife indicated that the practice was also used for lovers. Research indicates that she is correct.
Gris-gris doctors in Africa used the practice to place a curse on or to attract someone. Likewise in Haiti and parts of Acadiana, the gris-gris can be used as both a bewitching tool as well as in courtships.
If only that widow lady who is supposed to have moved her house to avoid evil had known about the different uses for gris-gris. She would have left the item and house where they were and waited for a suitor.
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