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Haitians Trek to Sacred Waterfalls in Voodoo Festiva

Haitians Trek to Sacred Waterfalls in Voodoo Festival
By DAVID MCFADDEN, ASSOCIATED PRESS
SAUT D'EAU, Haiti — Jul 16, 2016, 7:37 PM ET
Haiti Voodoo PilgrimageThe Associated Press
A voodoo pilgrim bathes as he prays in a waterfall believed to have purifying powers during the annual celebration in Saut d' Eau, Haiti, Saturday, July 16, 2016. After bathing, voodoo pilgrims throw away the dresses they wore to the site, and don new clothes for good luck.

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Some carrying candles or calabash bowls with offerings of goat meat, thousands of Haitians made a Saturday pilgrimage to bathe in sacred waterfalls and pray for everything from a good harvest to an end to Haiti's chronic political dysfunction.

A mix of Voodoo and Christian faithful along with a cohort of young, hard-partying revelers gathered in the rushing waters of Saut d'Eau, where they scrubbed their bodies with aromatic leaves and soap. It was the final day of this year's annual three-day festival.

A number of impoverished Haitians made long treks by foot, motorbike or crammed into the back of pickup trucks to reach the 100-tall foot falls, surrounded by white candles placed in moss and tree stumps.

A group of subsistence farmers from the coastal town of Arcahaie spent their meager savings to travel to the falls clad in their best clothes for Voodoo rituals: purple dresses with a red collar for the women and white shirts and pants for the men.

"I've come to put my sickness in the water and gain fresh luck," said Dieudeaue Beauvil, who says she's been struggling with a mysterious malady.

There were no shortage of younger Haitians who came mostly for a good time, drinking shots of homemade moonshine and flirting in the waters.

But many took their prayers seriously, tossing their soaked clothing into the water in a symbolic shedding of their old self. Some shook spastically when the spirits overtook them.

Haitian-American social worker Andrea Bellevue was lured from Boston to seek help from Erzulie, a spirit god of love in Voodoo, or Vodou.

"Whenever you come to her and ask her for something you shall receive," said the Boston resident as she and many others stripped to their underwear and scrubbed their bodies with leaves.

In the nearby town of Saut d'Eau, pilgrims converged on the local church to pray to the Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, closely associated with the Voodoo goddess of Erzulie. Saut d'Eau's mystique owes to a 19th century legend that an image of the virgin appeared in the waterfalls.

Voodoo evolved in the 17th century from African slaves. French colonizers forced them to practice Roman Catholicism, but many remained loyal to their African religions in secret by adopting Catholic saints to coincide with African spirits. The Voodoo religion has long been central to Haitian life.

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AP videographer Pierre-Richard Luxama and AP photographer Dieu Nalio Chery contributed to this story.

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David McFadden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dmcfadd

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