Saturday, January 29, 2011

Samedi: Pelerinage

Like most religions, Voudon has its own devotional pilgrimages. The places that draw the faithful in Haiti, though, are usually not buildings, churches or cities but are often bodies of water. Followers of Voudon may be led to personal places of pilgrimage; there are many cases of voudonists being told by a lwa or ancestor in a dream to visit a forest, park or seashore and they will make this a habit. There are also major pilgrimage sites that have become famous in their own right.

Two of the best known focuses of Voudon pilgrimage, or pelerinage, are the mud baths at the Plaine du Nord in northern Haiti and the waterfall at Saut d’Eau near the village of Ville Bonheur. The festival at Plaine du Nord takes place on St. James’ Day, July 25th and celebrates the lwa of fire, the forge and technology Ogou Ferraille. The town of Plaine du Nord surrounds what is known as Trou Sen Jak, a large mud pond which is said to have healing powers. The mud is warmed by underground steam and, because he is a “hot” lwa, it is not surprising that it is sacred to Ogou. The worshipers who flock to the little town bathe in the mud not only to honor Ogou, but also to receive healing which both the lwa and the mud itself are said to impart. The worshippers appear in blue clothing with red piping, trying to emulate Ogou who is frequently pictured as a soldier. They wear red head scarves and hope to be blessed with the courage and masculine energy of the lwa in spirit possession.

Saut d’Eau is a 100 foot series of falls outside Ville Bonheur where, in 1847, a vision of Erzulie Freda as the Virgin Mary was seen in a palm tree. The local priest had the tree cut down to discourage voudonists from worshiping there and it promptly fell into the water beneath the falls, floating away serenely. The priest died of an untreatable illness and the locals got the word out that Erzulie Freda had claimed the falls for herself. Now each July 16th crowds of voudonists and tourists swell the little village and participate in the purifying bathing ritual at the falls. All those who jump into the water remove their clothes and allow them to float off like Erzulie’s palm tree, taking their sins away with them and allowing them to emerge from the water clean both physically and spiritually. The village is about 60 miles north of Port-au-Prince and the festival has a carnival atmosphere with music, food and curio stands, drumming and dancing. The most influential and devoted voudonists never miss a year but those not accustomed to the festival should take special precautions. There’s a lot going on and, much like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the criminal element never misses a year, either.

Of course we can’t all go to Saut d’Eau but there are places of Voudon pilgrimage in North America at least. The shrine of Sainte Anne in Quebec is a huge draw on her feast day in July. New York voudonists visit Prospect Park to commune with the lwa of the forest, Gran Bwa. And of course the grave of the famous “voodoo queen” Marie Laveau in New Orleans’ St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is an ongoing destination for those seeking her favor. It is the custom to make three Xs on the grave with a shard of red brick, ask for your desire and then leave a small gift for Madame Paris, as she is also known. Bon pelerinage ~

Header: Saut d’Eau via HaitiWiki (click to truly enjoy the beauty of the place)


Timmy! said...

Interesting. I did not know about the North American sites and those falls are beautiful, Pauline.

Pauline said...

They are gorgeous and one of those unusual green spots in an unfortunately over-used landscape.