“I’m going down to Louisiana, get me a mojo hand.” —Muddy Waters
They call me the Gris-Gris man
Got many clients
Come from miles around
Running down my prescription
I got my medicine, to cure all your ills
I got remedies of every description
—Dr. John, “Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya”
gris-gris (gree gree): a curse, hex; a spell to secure good luck, strength, or protection, or to acquire wealth or love; an amulet used for the casting of such a curse or spell, usually a small bag filled with specifically prescribed ingredients such as roots, herbs, coins, animal bones, and carvings. In the southern U.S., some common synonyms for gris-gris are mojo, mojo hand, conjure hand, trick bag, and root bag.
The gris-gris originated in western Africa as a blend of tribal religious beliefs and Islam, then traveled via the slave trade through the Caribbean, combining with elements of the indigenous Arawakian religion and Catholicism, before reaching Louisiana. Taking on different meanings and uses in each new context, the gris-gris is a versatile tool, a shape-shifter. In African Vodun, gris-gris are employed to ward off evil spirits and attract good luck. In Haitian Vodou, gris-gris serve as a positive means of accessing the gods. In Louisiana, slaves used gris-gris to put curses on their masters, Cajuns used gris-gris to chase off despised neighbors, and Creoles used gris-gris to charm the marriage bed.
We see the gris-gris as a rich symbol of creative cultural borrowing and blending, an emblem of the unique mix of cultures that have shaped southern Louisiana. The gris-gris shares the root inspiration of the creative arts: the casting and the breaking of the spell.
Housed at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana, Gris-Gris: An Online Journal of Literature and Culture exists through the joint effort of faculty and staff in the Department of Languages and Literature.
Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Negritude” (Issue 2, Spring 2013) was published in The Best American Poetry, 2014.
*So how do you pronounce Gris-Gris anyway?