Voodoo alive and well
By Marie Arago
There is much beauty in Haiti. There are mountains, the countryside, the sea and beaches, but what I find most beautiful is the culture of this country. There are many elements that contribute to Haiti’s rich culture and Voodoo (also spelled Vodou and Voudou) is definitely one of them.
This past week I spent three days documenting the annual Voodoo festival at Souvenance, a small village outside of Gonaives. Souvenance was formed by escaped and freed slaves from Dahomey (present day Benin) about two hundred years ago. During this week at Souvenance all of the Rada Iwa, or Voodoo spirits of Dahomey origin, are honored through different ceremonies, song and dance.
The first day begins with a ceremony that leads into a dance for the lwa, or spirit, named Legba. The dancing is led by three drums and the song lyrics are a mix of the Kreyol and Dahomey languages. These songs and dances have been passed on for generations and, judging by all of the children who were singing along, the traditions are not in danger of being lost.
The second day at Souvenance was of various ceremonies that included dancing and the sacrifice of goats, a bull and a chicken, and visits to two trees. One of the trees, called the “Sèp” tree, is where people entangle themselves in the roots to ask for forgiveness for their wrongdoings.
Later in the day there is a cleansing bath, followed by dancing.
I feel a little uncomfortable with my pictures related to the killing of animals because I think the images could be misunderstood by people. It’s not an easy thing for me to see in any context, but it made a difference for me to know that the animals sacrificed during the ceremonies were later used to feed the community.
When I think about the way that many people consume meat that has been pumped with hormones and shipped from one place to another to be purchased from the meat section of a grocery store, the idea of taking the life of an animal from the land where you live and offering it to the gods that you believe in, before using the meat to feed your community, makes sense to me.
The third day at Souvenance was perhaps the most beautiful. In the morning there is a procession to two trees. The tree where the dances and ceremonies are held that day is a ceibo tree called “Lisa,” sacred in the Voodoo religion.
In the morning the men and women dress in white, and in the afternoon they change into bright colors. I was told that this day represents the journey back to Africa.
That day, with people dancing and singing under Lisa, was stunning and perhaps one of the most beautiful sights I have seen in Haiti. I felt that I was witnessing the preservation of Haitian culture.