by Eric Barstow
The morning of our trip to the cemetery in Gonayiv, I had envisioned a peaceful and solemn outing where Haitians approach the grave sites of the dearly departed to commune with them and connect with their ancestral dead. Everyone loaded up in the same war horse of an SUV that got us to the city the day previous. Although I had read how Haitians used this time to make supplications of all sorts to their ancestors, I still pictured the occasion to mirror the Catholic masses I had attended as a kid in Queens. What we encountered here, however, threw me into a whirlwind of adaptation as I strove to record video and gain my bearings amidst a raucous atmosphere where so many things were happening all at once.
This is where a lot of my personal upbringing come to bear. You see, I grew up around Haitians. My aunt and cousins, my mother, uncle, godfather and his children, friends around the way; many people have had an influence in my life.
One thing this trip confirmed which I already knew growing up: never call the Haitian people a dispassionate bunch!
The cemetery was an orchestral pit of the converging sounds from the visiting families of believers, whether their allegiance were to vodou or Christianity. Prayers were mingled with supplications, instructions with chastisements as the elders tried teaching the younger children, cries of commerce from merchants walking to and fro offering their little bags of water with other treats of sustenance, and the unmistakable muttering that came from most of the attendees’ disdain for the prying eyes of the “moun blan” who have come to watch them.
Fèt Gede invites this menagerie of activity to descend upon these necropolises which provide connection for the living to their deceased while seeking assurances for a life that can be fraught with turmoil. Asking for protection is common as well as asking for justice for wrongs performed against oneself or the family. As these requests for intervention are made on behalf of the living, there is also a process of appeasement that go hand-in-hand which entail feeding the spirits there with food brought to the grave along with libations being poured out to quench and honor them.
In the above video, I decided to follow one such family who were making offerings to the spirits while surrounded by a crowd of participants and onlookers alike. –EB
In the audio clip below, we enter the cemetery with Michelet and approach the large white cross in the video, Croix-St-Moise. He says a few words about what people how people worship in the cemetery, saying that people come to bring offerings to their ancestors and dead relatives. They give gifts of alcohol, coffee, and roasted nuts in order to please the dead, and also to ask for favors or interventions.
In this clip, Madame Michelet prepares me to give offerings and prayers at the cross of Baron Samedi. Each cemetery has Baron Samedi: he is present in the grave of the first man buried there. She advised me when I pray to him to tell him about the work I was doing for Vodou, along with any problems I may be having in life that I would like his help with. -CP