The scene could have been derived from any suspense film. Manuel Delgado instinctively held on tightly to his television camera as we clutched our machetes. Our vehicle was being surrounded by a dozen ebony-skinned Haitians. The blancs, as they derisively call Europeans, are not welcome in Haiti and we had been warned that under no circumstances should we venture into the shanty towns outside Port-au-Prince where, we were told, "there exists a 90 per cent chance of being mugged." We ignored this sage advice, of course.
After endless minutes of waiting, our guide allowed us to emerge from the car. Monsieur Balaguer, an important bokor -- a voodoo high priest -- would allow us to visit his hounfor or temple. The hounfor consisted in a humble wooden shack whose center contained the peristyle, the indispensable central column of every voodoo ritual, by means of which the gods or loas descend to earth. A filthy light bulb and seven candles enabled us to see the disquieting form of Monsieur Balaguer, a tall man with sparkling black eyes, who covered his head with a Stetson.
While our guide stated all the arguments at his disposal in order to have Monsieur Balaguer allow us to film his "she-devil" and his "zombie", we were startled by a sudden blackout. The dirty light bulb was extinguished, plunging us into the shadows, illuminated only by the seven candles around the peristyle. Balaguer greeted his "she-devil" -- supposedly located behind a mysterious metal door -- by rapping on it a few times. From the other side, "something" responded with brutal blows against the door, causing the entire temple to shake. Suddenly we were told that the bokor had to consult the loas: we looked on as Monsieur Balaguer fell int a sort of trance, being "ridden" or possessed by Bravo, one of the loas who shares the lordship over death and cemeteries with Baron Samedi and Baron La Croix. Subjecting us to a sort of "trial," exchanging a curious combinations of handshakes to which we instinctively responded to, Balaguer drank rum through an ear as he smoked a cigarette through one nostril.
The fact of the matter is that in Haiti, Western patterns of logic become fragile in the face of the unpredictable, incomprehensible and irrational voodoo cult -- vodú in the native tongue -- which originates from the Fon language of Dahomey, meaning "deity" or "spirit." This is the precise nature of voodoo: a spirit that envelops Haiti, influencing each and every cultural or social manifestation of this small country, the poorest of the Americas. Read more
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Voyage to the Land of the Living Dead
Inexplicata contributing editor Manuel Carballal describes one of his most perilous brushes with the unknown, an encounter with Haitian voodoo.