Voodoo and Haiti; they go together like a horse and carriage. There is another term that goes with it – Fete Gede.
If Halloween to you means traveling to explore the world’s scariest places, it is time to include Haiti in your bucket list. Voodoo, black magic, potions, and living-dead zombies are just a few of the supernatural things that can make this place a wonderful destination for the courageous explorers of this world.
What is November 1 like in Haiti?
Despite the voodoo culture, however, know that its people don’t celebrate Halloween. Instead, they commemorate a tradition referred to as “Fete Gede.” According to Haiti Observer‘s blog
“… they have their own version of the holiday. It is called the Haitian Voodoo, a tradition wherein tributes are paid to dead ancestors on November 1, which is referred to as Fete Gede. It is believed that voodoo god Baron Samedi, who is always depicted as a man donning a black coat, a bowler hat, and a pair of eyeglasses with only one lens, always appears on that day. His wife Gran Brigitte holds the highest authority over cemeteries in Haiti.”
On November 1 when they pay tribute to their dearly departed Haitians visit to cemeteries bringing flowers, food, flowers, and spicy rum infused with chili peppers, which Gran Brigitte (symbolized by a black rooster in cemeteries) is said to drink to honor their dearly departed.
Voodoo or Vodou is one of the two dominant, but often misunderstood religions of Haiti. The practices and imageries used in movies gave Voodoo a spooky reputation, not the empowering belief that successfully quelled Napoleon’s oppression and gave Haiti its independence.
Even the author of the BBC blog How Voodoo is Rebuilding Haiti, Tim Johnson expressed fear when he inadvertently bought a voodoo talisman of Erzili Dantor, which he thought was an image of the Black Madonna. It was an irresistible souvenir priced for just less than two dollars (100 gourde). “The unique and easily packed souvenir quickly became a firm representation of all (Johnson’s) nightmares.” He writes, “I immediately gave it to a friend – one with fewer hang-ups about voodoo – but I would soon learn that my angst was wholly unnecessary.”
A Second Look at Voodoo
If Haiti is in your destination this Halloween, check out of Johnson’s blog where he shares his impressions of Haiti and voodoo in the beginning and how it changed with a “little education” with one of Haiti’s successful artists – Jean-Baptiste Jean Joseph. He is a “houngan (priest), peristil (the Vodou equivalent of a church) doubles as an art studio – displaying beautiful Vodou-inspired tapestries.” Jean Joseph, who grew up a Christian, changed faith when “Erzili Dantor came to (him) in a dream, a spirit of love and sharing, and now (he) have that same spirit.”
A brief tour of the peristil and a ceremony later using the rum they brought in for the offering, Jean Joseph asked the spirits for a general blessing for them. At other times, he explained, he also asks for “healing, restoration or even good grades on an exam.” Unlike in the movies, there was no sacrifice” made and there were no pincushion dolls. “Vodou should not be seen as an evil force.” He said, “Vodou helps you thrive, work, prosper. The goal is joy.”
How Voodoo is Rebuilding Haiti
The biggest twist to the impression is the realization that voodoo is helping this Caribbean country recover from the damages of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck hit it last Jan 12, 2010, killing over than 160,000 and dislocating nearly 1.5 million Haitians.
Voodoo’s messages of “joy and cooperation promote renewal among locals.” It has greatly influenced Haitians to improve their lives as a nation. In fact, Haiti’s cultural traditions, which are influenced by voodoo, is improving its tourism and bringing in dollars to the earthquake-devastated areas like Jacmel, a coffee-based community. Now, it is a haven for artists where handcrafted items are made and sold, and where art and culture tours are being conducted regularly.
Nothing can be more fitting when Jean Cyril Pressoir, part-owner of Tour Haiti, said, “Vodou permeates every single aspect of Haitian art: whether it be painting, contemporary sculpture, music or dance. Vodou has helped define and style it, consciously or unconsciously… If we as a country capitalize on our cultural traditions we will owe a great deal to Vodou, which has brought them to us.”
Seeing Haiti’s Voodoo with a New Eye
The brief sojourn in Haiti changed Johnson’s impressions of Voodoo and the people embracing it. Now, he sees the message in a new light when he visited Atis Rezistans, a “series of open-air art studios and co-operatives” in Port-au-Prince, and when he sees an artwork of real human skulls. These are reminders of “death” that make you understand and enjoy “life.”