In a Port-au-Prince cemetery, Haitians gathered on Saturday to ask “the spirit of death” for any number of desires, ranging from housing to visas, during Haiti’s Day of the Dead.
“It’s a tradition: on the Day of the Dead, after church, I come to greet Baron,” said Fabienne, a 28-year-old participant in the festivities, which combine elements of Christianity and voodoo practices.
In the center of the downtown cemetery, where a large black cross had been installed to represent Baron Samedi, the spirit of death, Haitians presented their various needs and requests.
“Baron, you must give me a business and a visa,” Fabienne said, undeterred by the noise and bustle of the crowd of worshipers.
“I come, overloaded with my problems,” one man chanted. Another complained of not having a house, while a woman prayed for the sick she left at home.
“I want to honor and pay my respects to the dead. It’s a part of our culture,” said another follower, Guerlens, 28, as he leaned against a tomb.
Those who practice voodoo, which arrived on the island in the 16th and 17th centuries via African slaves, seek to engage with supernatural spirits who protect followers and bring them into contact with an invisible world.
Day of the Dead coincides with All Souls’ Day, an occasion to remember the deceased and pray for the souls of those in purgatory, according to Catholic tradition. It follows on the heels of All Saints’ Day, the day before.
Some people danced, some fell into trance-like states, still others brought floral offerings in memory of a deceased family member.
Plates of food were left out for beggars who also came to the cemetery, which nearly four years ago was struck by the January 2010 earthquake that killed about 200,000 Haitians.
Amid chants and incantations, the voodoo followers shared meals prepared for the day’s celebrations. Before passing around the food, the plates were placed before the cross, so as to serve the dead first.
“We are all here to ask the dead to change our life,” said Maradona Thomas, 26, a young dancer preparing to head into the streets to celebrate to the sound of traditional music. “Since I was 16 I’ve practiced voodoo. It’s a tradition in my family. My father was a voodoo preacher.”
At the University of Haiti’s school of ethnology in Port-au-Prince, hundreds follow the voodoo tradition.
“Catholic or Protestant, we are all voodooists. The other religions were imported by colonization. What connects all Haitians is voodoo, our identity, our common culture,” student Valerie said.