8. Le Traiteur

(The witch doctor)

At the end of what is now Trevor Ct. in Houma, was the little three room shotgun house of Mr. Lovance Hebert, our local Traiteur , witch doctor (in Louisiana French). The house was typical of its time, made of cypress wood, unpainted with a tin roof. On the front facing the dirt road was a small porch (la gallery) with the solid wood front door in the middle of the house; all the three rooms were in line, about 16′ square feet each, and if all the doors of the house were open one could shoot a gun through the front door through all the rooms and out the back door giving the name shotgun house. There were no houses nearby, a garden on one side, fig trees and an outhouse on the back and a cow pasture on the far side.

As one entered the house the first room was where guest were entertained, the second room was the bedroom and the back room was the kitchen, then a small back porch.

In Lovance's house the front room had an altar that was half Catholic and half voodoo; there were crosses and pictures and statues of religious figures along with skulls of various kinds of animals and old fruit jars of all kinds of animal body parts and bottles of assorted elixirs designed to cure any disease and of course voodoo dolls stuffed with Spanish moss.

Most of the year the children didn’t wear shoes and were constantly cutting or sticking something in their feet. Lovance would pray and wrap salt pork on the wound and that was supposed to draw the infection out. No one to my knowledge had any complications and all got better after the treatments.

Lovance claimed that during the Civil War as the Yankee Army was approaching Houma, my great grandfather Ruffin Barrow gathered up all his money, gold and silver and put them in a large homemade wooden box. Ruffin then had a worker dig a hole in the ground and he buried the box in the hole. The worker was his trusted man and for his life wore a key for the money box on a chain around his neck and when he was dying he gave Lovance the key and was trying to tell Lovance where the money box was hidden but he was whispering so softly that he could not be understood. On nights of full moons Lovance, claiming to have a vision of where the box was buried, led groups of people with lantern on Volumnia Farm armed with shovels on digging excursions. After digging several feet the shovels would hit something solid and the earth would tremble and lighting would strike and the ghost of the worker would appear and everyone would run home until another night.

Lovance also claimed to be a rain maker. Late in the evening he would go out into the fields, shoot at the clouds with a shotgun and curse the Devil in French and demand that the clouds rain. If it rained he would take full credit and if not he would claim that the Devil was stronger that night and that he would have to perform some rituals to weaken the Devil for the next night; sooner or later it would rain and he would claim that the ritual worked.

Of course he did all the standard voodoo hexes and talking to the departed people.