Voodoo Practitioners Mark Day of the Dead With Rum, Loud Music, Lewd Behavior at Haiti Cemetery
The Associated Press

Passing under a crumbling archway that reads “Thou Art Dust,” voodoo practitioners flocked to Haiti’s largest cemetery Saturday to honor the guardian of the dead with rum, thunderous music and lewd behavior designed to awaken mischievous spirits.

Followers visit the tombstones of relatives and pay their respects to Baron Samedi, the god of the dead, and to his lascivious, sardonic offspring, Gede. To show they are “possessed,” followers often rub hot pepper juice on their bodies. Some hold swearing contests steps away from the gates of the capital’s sprawling municipal cemetery.

Two-thirds of Haiti’s 8 million people are said to practice voodoo. Earlier this year, Haiti’s government officially sanctioned the faith as a religion, allowing priests to legally perform baptisms and marriages.

“The Gedes helped us win our independence,” said voodoo priest Desaville Espady, 38, dressed in a white robe with a silver cross on a thick chain hanging from his neck. “We pay homage to our ancestors, and they cure us of our ills.”

Gede was the name of a West African tribe that disappeared during the slave trade.

Voodoo followers integrated some Christian rites into their practice before Haiti won independence from slave-holding France in 1804. The slaves, forbidden from practicing their African rites, disguised their gods in the trappings of Roman Catholic saints. The Catholic church frowns on voodoo and, in the 1940s, tried unsuccessfully to eradicate it.

Practitioners believe in a supreme god and spirits linking the human and the divine. Many believe their spirits will return to Africa when they die. The bodies of slaves were buried without ceremony.

Men and women say they are possessed by Gede. Dressed in mauve kerchiefs, white pants and white or violet dresses, they wander in a mystic trance through the cemetery, spouting obscenities and asking for money.

“The cult of the dead is one of the first steps of resistance against slavery and a foundation stone of voodoo,” Haitian sociologist Laennec Hurbon said.

Encumbered by political problems, Haiti’s economy has been in a slump since 1980. The poorest nation in the Americas, the Caribbean country’s population has declined for two years, and life expectancy dropped from about 53 years in 2002 to about 49 years in 2003. Most people survive on less than $1 per day.

Because of deepening poverty, voodoo which often requires pricey offerings of alcohol and food to the spirits has lost some followers. One-third of Haitians are Protestants.

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