Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Drums, Dancing, Kleren and Sodo

On All Saints' Day, my Haitian culture and Kreyol teacher Emmanuel Milien graciously took Jenn and I on a trip to Sodo, a beautiful waterfall on the other side of Mirebalais from Cange. Sodo is a Haitian Vodou site that attracts many worshipers and visitors for services around the year. Corresponding with All Saints' Day, November 1-7 is one such large Vodou celebration, and we went in pursuit of a cultural experience. Though we actually found little activity at the falls, we had a few interesting stops along the way.

On our way to Sodo, we stopped at a Vodou ceremony along National Route 3 in Corporant. There was music with the drums, singing and dancing around this colorful design on the ground. The ceremony was preparing a site for a spirit to descend that evening. The design and the colors of the powders correspond to certain loa of Vodou. You can see the houngan, or Vodou priest, dressed in black. The inner most circle of dancers, dressed in white, are the equivalent of acolytes. The rest of the people are like the congregation of the ceremony.

Once we passed through Mirebalais, we stopped at a kleren distillery. Kleren is like Haitian moonshine, and it's commonly consumed during parties, wakes, Vodou ceremonies, and other celebratory occasions. It's made from cane sugar, though is not refined like rum.

The smell was pleasantly earthy, though these barrells of the liquid during different stages of the process didn't look particularly appetizing. They did make a cool bubbling noise though. The final product is a clear liquor.
They were kind enough to give us a sample--about half of this container full. It's pretty powerful stuff. We took the rest with us in the car on our way to Sodo, then on our way back we returned the container. Public service announcement: please drink responsibly--do not drink and drive.

Sodo. During the pilgrimage events, the falls are covered in people bathing in the water.
Vodou spirits can occupy objects and trees as well. There were several such trees around the falls; it is common to place lit candles at the base of the trees.

Here are a few pictures of the village of Sodo.

The new Zanmi Lasante university hospital in Mirebalais
Once we returned to Cange, Milien took us to visit the houngan in Cange. We went up to his house after dark so I don't have any pictures from this experience. He graciously sat with us for a while answering our questions and explaining Vodou, it's presence in Haiti, the relationship with Christianity, and the nature and responsibilities of a houngan. I was originally told that only people of African descent can have Vodou spirits within them; however, the houngan told us that people without African ancestors can have them as well.

I enjoyed the exposure to this part of Haitian culture--a part that is misunderstood and unfairly stigmatized in American entertainment. My general curiosity in Vodou has provoked mixed reactions among friends here in Cange, however. Now that I know more about the religion and how it is practiced, I'm looking forward to more in depth conversations about it and how it is perceived within the culture here.

1 comment:

  1. A fascinating post Alan. I think you're right to be curious and seek to understand Vodou - it doesn't mean that you have to agree with it. But you cannot understand the culture of the people you're seeking to work with without gaining some insight into this religious practice.