The Miami Herald
Mon, Apr. 12, 2004

Vodou rite touched by politics

A Vodou pilgrimage to the village of Souvenance takes on political meaning as Haitians ponder the healing of their country after a recent rebellion.

Associated Press

SOUVENANCE, Haiti - Haitians celebrated one of the year's most important Vodou pilgrimages on Sunday, an event marked by drumming, sacrifices -- and discussion of whether Haiti's new government can heal a country still reeling from a bloody rebellion.

Carrying a heavy political significance this year, the pilgrimage drew hundreds to Souvenance, a village 90 miles north of Port-au-Prince, where followers made animal sacrifices to the West African warrior spirit Ogoun and danced to dizzying drumbeats.

Founded by former slaves from the kingdom of Dahomey, now Benin, this dusty village fringed by cactus trees hosts the ceremony each year during the Rara carnival, when costumed drummers and dancers roam the countryside.

Wrapped in white satin scarves, initiates chant and dance throughout the night to beckon spirits as onlookers gather. Rum, cane liquor and herbs are offered to appease a pantheon of spirits.

Vodou is one of Haiti's three constitutionally recognized religions, along with Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Under President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the government sanctioned Vodou marriages, baptisms and other rites.

''Vodou is all about unity,'' said George Fernand, 63, a Vodou houngan, or priest. ``We're hoping the new government will help bring us unity.''

''The country needs security, and it needs leaders who can help stop the hunger that so many of us have,'' said Roget Biename, 54, of Souvenance.

Some of the rebels who staged the revolt that ousted Aristide on Feb. 29 held Vodou ceremonies at the launching of their insurgency. An offering to the Vodou god of war burned in Gonaives.

''It's our culture,'' said Rodney Jean-Louis, 43, a Haitian American who came from New York to participate in the ceremony. ``Whether I'm in New York or anywhere else, the drums are going to beat in my blood.''