Several hundred practitioners of vodou — as “voodoo” is officially known in Haiti — wearing white clothing and black armbands, gathered in Port au Prince Sunday to honor the estimated 300,000 killed the January 12 earthquake, a public display of vodou’s beauty, power to heal and place in Haitian culture.
The religious service was peaceful — unlike last month’s ceremony which was disrupted when a crowd of Evangelicals, urged by their pastor, threw rocks and epithets at the celebrants. Max Beauvoir, the Senior Servitor of Vodou for Haiti who was educated at City College of New York and the Sorbonne in Paris, had complained to President Rene Preval about the anonymous mass burials of tens of thousands of dead, which he said went against vodou and Haitian culture, and the ceremony was arranged to bring the souls of the dead to peace.
“Olorum Papa, hear our cry to you,” chanted the worshipers. The women wore white robes, some trimmed with lace and embroidery, and black headscarves; the men white shirts and trousers, some with black hats. To the sound of rattles and drums, the celebrants held a Booroum, a voodoo ritual which they believe sends the souls of the dead “under water” so they can be cleansed and return to life as better beings. “Hounkou Bolokou Djavohoun Bohoun”, chorused the worshipers, repeating an ancient voodoo incantation intended to encourage the souls of the dead.
Vodou and Catholicism are the official religions of island nation, and voudo which is constitutionally protected, is practiced by over half of Haiti’s ten million inhabitants often in concert with Christianity. Vodou is a syncretic faith composed of diasporic West African religions brought to Haiti by slaves, who used the Catholic saints as totems for their own lwa (spirit gods). The Haiti revolution which brought the island freedom from France and the slaves freedom from their masters was inspired and empowered by vodou.
Houngan Jean Claude Bazile told Reuters:
It’s voodoo that gives us freedom.
Take that, Pat Robertson! And for the rest of us, please don’t forget Haiti! Along with Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam consider small charities like Planting Peace which has been in Haiti since 2004, caring for people and not preaching at them, or Max Beauvoir’s peristyle (temple) also a 501(c)3 non-profit, which is providing direct aid to the voudo community.