Several weeks ago in Haiti, Evangelicals, and missionaries attempted to stop Haitians from conducting traditional Vodou ceremonies for the dead.
Some of the same evangelicals have desecrated shrines erected for those who died in the earthquake.
Some of those same missionaries have withheld food and aid supplies to any Haitian who practices the traditional faith of a majority of the population.
Vodou is the religion of the masses in Haiti, along with Catholicism, and recognized by the government.
I find it particularly disgusting that these Bible toting folks would persecute a people who have suffered so much, in the name of Jesus.
“There’s absolutely a heightened spiritual conflict between Christianity and Voodoo since the quake,” said Pastor Frank Amedia of the Miami-based Touch Heaven Ministries who has been distributing food in Haiti and proselytizing “We would give food to the needy in the short term but if they refused to give up Voodoo, I’m not sure we would continue to support them in the long term because we wouldn’t want to perpetuate that practice. We equate it with witchcraft, which is contrary to the Gospel.
Every culture in the world has rites and rituals for the dead. Haitian practitioners of the ancient faith of Vodou are no different.
I will quote Ezili Dantò:
To Honor Quake Victims.
“Over 300,000 Haitians gone in 33 seconds at 4:53 on the 12th of January. Pour libation. Beat the drums, beat the drums. Louder please. Louder for those alive and living under sheets, tarps, tents and old cardboard. Suffering still. Endlessly before January 12th. Unimaginably after. Our blood and suffering waters the Haitian soil, 517-years still…Never felt so much pain…Si kriye te leve lanmò, manman nou tout t ap la – If crying could raise the dead, every mother would still be alive…Jete dlo, jete dlo, jete dlo. Into the Ancestors’ hands we place all our souls… Legba ouvri baryè a pou nou. Pitit Ginen, the next part is left to us. Gade byen wa wè. Nou la. Zanset yo e Timoun yo vini. Our love is stronger and survives every energy transformation. We Are The Haitians. Nou fè yon sèl kò.” – Ezili Dantò of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network
The Miami Herald reports:
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Several hundred Vodou practitioners gathered at a public plaza in downtown Port-au-Prince Sunday to bid farewell to the souls of victims of the Jan. 12th quake that claimed more than 200,000 lives. Typically held in private temples, the service sought to serve as a reminder of the influence Vodou wields in the Caribbean nation. Scores of men and women donning white outfits and colorful beads beat drums, prayed, sang, and danced in honor of the dead.
“Without Vodou, Haiti cannot advance,” said Loudy Fils-Aime, 30, who lost his house to the quake.
The ceremony — led by Haiti’s supreme leader of Vodou, Max Beauvoir — came several weeks after an angry crowd of Evangelicals crashed a similar service when they started throwing rocks at Vodou practitioners in Cite Soleil, a sprawling seaside slum in Port-au-Prince. The clash highlighted religious tensions that have been mounting in the aftermath of the earthquake. Since then, religious groups such as Baptists, Protestants, and Scientolgists have descended en masse to Haiti to distribute humanitarian aid and preach to Haitians.
A clip of the ceremony:
The sea is sacred to Vodouisant’s. It is also part of the funerary ritual, because the spirits of the departed go to sea and are then reborn.
“For nine days we grieve the person, meaning we invite the community to come around to celebrate the departure of the person,” Beauvoir says. “So in fact, people are gathered together night and day, they eat and drink together, they chant, they pray. Enemies are also invited, as well. All that bridges the wound that existed between families. And after nine days we do the funeral.” The soul stays underwater for a year and a day, he says, after which time another ceremony is held to pull the dead from the water. Then the reborn spirit goes to live in a big tree, a grotto or some other place to await its reincarnation.
Helping The Dead Move On
Mimerose Beaubrun, the musical partner of the Haitian roots musician Lolo Beaubrun, is a Voodoo practitioner and researcher. She worries that with the sudden and violent deaths of so many, the living are unable to hold the normal ceremonies to help the spirits of the dead move on.
“They have to hold a ceremony to help them,” Beaubrun says. “In Creole, the name is dessonet, to let them go through it and accept that the spirit must get out of the body. It’s sad because all those people that died, their spirit is still there in their bodies.”
is a Haitian biochemist and houngan. Having graduated in 1958 from City College with a degree in chemistry, he studied at the Sorbonne from 1959 to 1962, when he graduated with a degree in biochemistry. In 1965, at Cornell Medical Center, he supervised a team in synthesizing metabolic steroids. This led him to a job at an engineering company in northern New Jersey, and later to a period as both a professor at Tufts University and engineer at Digital Equipment Company in Massachusetts. The death of his father led him to move back to Haiti in January 1973, while his interest in steroids led him to experiment with hydrocortisone synthesized from plants.
In 1974, he founded Le Péristyle de Mariani, a Hounfour in his home (which also served as a village clinic) in the village of Mariani. He had a troubled relationship with the ruling Duvalier family. While he urged that the do more to meet the medical needs of the poor, his status as a houngan kept him from being subjected to much of the wanton violence exacted by the Tonton Macoutes against critics. During this period, he founded the Group for Studies and Research on the African Tradition (French: Groupe d’Etudes et de Recherches Traditionnelles, GERT) with a group of scholars, and later founded the Bòde Nasyonal in 1986 to counter the effects of the post-Duvalier dechoukaj violence which had targeted both Vodou practitioners and the Tonton Macoutes paramilitary, both of which had been used by the Duvalier regime to oppress the Haitian people.
There are many critics of Beauvior. He was not a supporter of Aristide. He is cited as a head of Vodou – but Vodou really has no head, no Pope, no supreme chief.
On the other hand Ezili Dantò, (Marguerite Laurent) calls for Aristide’s return.
Marguerite Laurent, known as Ezili Dantò, is a Haitian woman inspired, guided, and directed by the strength, legacy and visions of the Haitian warrior goddess, Ezili Dantò.
She is an award winning playwright, a performance poet, political and social commentator, author and human rights attorney. She was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and raised in Stamford, CT. She holds a BA from Boston College, a JD from the University of Connecticut School of law, and, attended the Hartford Conservatory for Ballet, Jazz and Modern while studying Haitian dancing at home and with countless Haitian dance experts in the field.
But this is not about either position really. Or about leaders.
In the end, it will be the will of the Haitian people, who have kept their faith alive since throwing off the yoke of slavery, which will prevail.
No matter who attempts to stop or repress their beliefs, no matter who proclaims themselves a leader, no matter the earthquake, the deaths and the suffering, Vodou will continue to sustain Haiti and Haitians.
For a background on the religion please read:
Haitian Voodoo, by Ojibwa, at Street Prophets.
Note from me:
I just returned from a trip to Puerto Rico. While there I saw a clip on Spanish television of the ceremony in Haiti, on the nightly news. I don’t think it got much coverage here, which doesn’t surprise me.
I was pleased that the Miami Herald did cover it, but that makes sense since there is a large Haitian community in Miami, and they even spelled Vodou correctly, and did not use “Voodoo” which is the spelling used here. Since Miami is also home to many practitioners of a related Afro-Cuban faith of Lukumi (Santeria) they have more practice getting things right.