Haiti’s Day of the Dead blends voodoo with Christianity

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Wednesday November 6, 2013 – Haitians gathered over the weekend to celebrate the Day of the Dead in a downtown cemetery, where a large black cross had been placed to represent the spirit of death “Baron Samedi.”

Followers of the voodoo faith, which was brought to the island via the slave trade in the 16th and 17th centuries, seek to engage with spirits who protect followers and bring them into contact with an invisible world.

The Day of the Dead nevertheless combines elements of Christianity with voodoo practices and coincides with All Souls’ Day, an occasion to remember the deceased and pray for the souls of those in purgatory, according to Catholic tradition.

That, in turn, follows All Saints’ Day, now preceded by the ghoulish masks and costumes of Halloween in much of the western world.

In Haiti, it is not uncommon for participants in the Day of the Dead festivities to head for the graveyard celebrations after attending services in a Christian church. 

In Saturday’s festivities at the Port-au-Prince cemetery, some people danced, some fell into trance-like states, while yet others simply brought floral offerings to honour the memory of a deceased family member.

The voodoo followers placed plates of food before the cross to serve the dead amid chants and incantations before sharing the meals among themselves and the needy who attended the celebrations.

“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,” he told AFP.

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,” a student explained. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)