Tuesday, 2 February 2010


When it happened our eyes went goopy. Poor Haiti -a land beshitted by nature and political incompetence- finally at its knees with its capital crushed by a 7.0 earthquake. They came like crusaders fighting over what was left of the airfield tarmac, whilst the Americans soon enough took over the control tower. 27 days later a man was found under the rubble of a flea market surviving on little more than water and possibly fruit. The world’s press continues to fight it out to paint the most discerning picture: The naked man walking through the shattered streets of Port-au-Prince, the little boy people stop by to listen to, singing his heart out using a 7up plastic bottle as a guitar, or the Haitian sisters snow-ball fighting in their new home in the outskirts of Syracuse.

Surprisingly the little understood faith of Voodoo, and subsequently its relationship to death hasn't been mentioned. This seems odd as Voodoo would usually be the first thing you associate with Haiti. Funeral rites are among the most sacred of all ceremonies to Haitians, who have been known to spend more money on their burial crypts than on their own homes. Death is an important factor in understanding ones lineage and future. During times of slavery, despite the tendency of the slave owners to give their dead slaves only the most perfunctory of funerary rites, slaves managed to succeed in taking over the Catholic rituals. The mass of the dead became the only means of asserting and recovering their lost human dignity. By respecting their dead, their connection to their spiritual home is not lost. Families forever stay connected to their ancestors.

Now the problem emerges, as the images soon followed the mass burials with hundreds of unidentified contorted bodies lumped together. Relatives began fast-tracking ceremonies and cracking open old tombs in the famous Port-au- Prince cemetery in order to create space. According to Voodoo credence, not being able to give an honest burial, especially following such sudden deaths, can only lead the soul to stay trapped between this world and the invisible one – as such damming future generations.

What then for the over 230,000 souls lost in-between? To best explain this quandary we got in contact with Max Beauvoir, the supreme master of Voodoo himself. An eloquent man, Max Beauvoir studied chemistry in New York and then biochemistry at the Sorbonne. His grandfather chose him, upon on his deathbed, to succeed as a grand Houngan. Not free from controversy Beauvoir is said to have profited from Western exoticism-seeking alternative tourism and is also said to be linked with Fran├žois Duvalier, or Baby Doc, the dictator who fled the country in 1986 after a popular uprising against him.

LC: How do you hope to bring peace to most of those over 200,000 souls that haven’t been given a traditional burial?
MAX DE BEAUVOIR: We are in the process of doing this. And it is set for the 12 February. All religions will come together in a communal way to bring the final rest to the lost souls, so that we may send them below water to be cleansed. So that they can come back in next life refreshed. It will be a long ritual of one year and one day. Because the soul cannot die: it is always alive even if the body is crushed.

LC: How will this extraordinary event take place? Will there be sacrifices?
BEAUVOIR: There will be no sacrifices. Just water to purify and guide the souls on their way. We hope to do it in front of the demolished presidential palace. All religions will be invited; Protestants..Catholics.. The president will be there too.

LC: But you speak of water, will that mean water will be central to the ceremony?
BEAUVOIR: You and I will not go in any water. The spirits will. The souls are everywhere, and we must guide them. You see we are connected by spirits not by people. But you know this is too difficult to explain via the phone.

LC: How can voodoo still expect to be a sort of social glue in the face of such a disaster?
BEAUVOIR: Voodoo people made what this country is. The glue is already there. The glue is our identity, we cannot question it.

LC: However many people oppose voodoo, do you think some will see this as a point to review Haitian culture?
BEAUVOIR: Many people oppose Voodoo. But nobody can alter it because it is a part of us, without it our identity would be lost. I think our identity will have to be more solid. We must look to fortify our society because it is broken.

LC: What do people need at the moment? How can they be empowered?
BEAUVOIR: Through integrity. By joining the body and soul you work to get strength. But without integrity there is no strength.

LC: What do people fear now? I have read that many fear the ‘loup-garou’ a werewolf that eats children, and that lots of murderers and other hardened criminals have escaped from prison...
BEAUVOIR: No!...Never... There have never been wolves. These are the bad things that Christians create to prevent cohesion between the Haitian people. The only thing people are scared about, and haunts them still, is another earthquake.

LC: Is there a fight for power?
BEAUVOIR: No fight. I fear people who cross the river do not change horses while in the middle of the stream. We have to support our government. We have to support the bastions of our society, because our reality cannot change.

So there you have it the archetypal purifier: water. The souls are meant to return to water so that they may return refreshed. I kept close tabs for the 12th, a month after the earthquake. The mass prayers of Evangelists overshadowed any voodoo practice. I was told voodoo believers were gathering around ponds, in processions with Simbi the spirit of rain. Now the dark nights are overfilled with the fears of unleashed daemons. Women in the makeshift camps said to keep machetes under their beds in fear of sexual predators. The random wafts of the faceless victims still under the rubble a reminder of death’s hand and the spirits consumed still in the disaster. Fear now enters at a far deeper psychological level as believers feel the lost spirits may persecute on retribution of their past, wherefrom demons take over bodies rendering them powerless. Cases are alert for paranoid schizophrenia.

appeasing the spirits - voodoo

a christian burial

No comments:

Post a Comment