[The Guardian] Vodou is elusive and endangered, but it remains the soul of Haitian people
Vodou is elusive and endangered, but it remains the soul of Haitian people
The Guardian, Nov 17, 2016
Haiti, the saying goes, is “70% Catholic, 30% Protestant, and 100% Vodou”. Vodou is everywhere in the Caribbean nation, a spiritual system infusing everything from medicine and agriculture to cosmology and arts. Yet it is almost nowhere to be seen: ceremonies are not just expensive, but targets of hate crime. Nowadays, some say, Vodou is in danger.
In the heart of remote Île-à-Vache of Haiti’s southern coast, however, the religion is alive and well. Completely off the grid, the island has only two medical clinics for 14,000 residents and so Jeom Frichenel Sisius, the island’s principal Vodou priest, is a spiritual leader, doctor and midwife all at once.
His remedies, which he claims can fix everything from diseases and haunted houses to career and love problems, are kept in a carefully locked shed in a room adorned with skulls and an nzambi (zombie) painted on the walls.
“If someone has a headache and the doctors cannot heal it, I can,” he explains, taking swigs of herbal rum from a gigantic bottle as he speaks. “The only things Vodou can’t do are radiography and mammography.” Vodou is necessary, he stresses, and the only people who fail to understand that are the Christians.
On top of this knowledge and divine healing powers, Sisius also happens to throw the best parties.
Here, Vodou defies cliches of zombies, pins in dolls and black magic. There are none of the cornflour drawings, animal sacrifices or rattles that characterize orthodox Haitian Vodou ceremonies: just a lot of dancing and ecstasy fuelled by rum, drums and divine presence. It’s almost full moon, and lured by the music and beauty of it all, the spirits – lwas – begin to arrive.