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Date: Mon, 2 Sep 1996 10:32:16 -0700 (PDT)
From: Bob Corbett <bcorbett@crl.com>
To: Bob Corbett <bcorbett@crl.com>
Subject: Voodoo brings peace amid turmoil in Haiti 1
Message-Id: <Pine.SUN.3.91.960902103012.14177L-100000@crl5.crl.com>

Date: Mon, 2 Sep 1996 00:28:39 -0400 (EDT)
From: Victor O. Story <story@kutztown.edu>

Voodoo brings peace amid turmoil in Haiti

Reuter, Sun 1 September 1996

SUCRE, Haiti (Reuter) - A Haitian woman possessed by the spirit of Gede, the Voodoo god of the cemetery, plunges a knife into the neck of a bleating goat. Blood spurts from the animal as it convulses to the beat of a drum.

The sacrifice marked the last day of Sucre, a recently ended fifteen-day ceremony in the north of Haiti, where the rich cultural tradition of Voodoo contrasts with the chaotic political violence in Haiti's capital city, Port-au-Prince.

The rules of the spirits provide respite from the lawlessness of the streets.

Sacrifice does not symbolize death, it is an offering of the life force of the animal to the spirit, said Lalo, a Voodoo congregant at Sukri -- the spelling of Sucre in Haiti's native Creole.

Twenty-one of the 101 spirits in the Voodoo religion are celebrated at the Sucre ceremony. The rest are spirits that are said to serve the devil.

During the long, hot days under the shade of the great Lenba tree whose roots provide seating in the middle of the Sucre temple yard, people discuss the political news brought by city folk who visit during the ceremony.

Haiti's capital has been engulfed by violence in the past two weeks, including an armed assault on the main police station by a band of men wearing military fatigues, two political assassinations and a wave of grenade attacks.

The instability is widely perceived as an attempt by former members of Haiti's defunct army to destabilize the democratic government.

The tales of bombs and threats have an all-too-familiar ring to Haitians, for whom democracy was restored in 1994 by U.S.-led multinational forces following three years of repressive military rule.

For three years we were too scared to walk the streets, but that will not happen again. We live in a democracy now, said Pierre Constant, a painter sitting under the Lenba tree. Those who hunger for power at the cost of the people will be judged. The spirit's eyes see all and know what is just.

The spirits, which offer Haitians respite from decades of turmoil and grinding poverty, are never far from political life. They are said to have started the revolution which eventually won Haiti its independence from the French in 1804.

Each night of the ceremony in Sucre, near the city of Gonaives, the intoxicating Congo drum beat draws the spirits into the heads of the dancers who pound their feet to the floor, adding to the rhythm of the drum, Voodoo adherents say.

The Voodoo priest of the temple douses the dancers with Klerin, a strong Haitian moonshine. Some nights the dancing lasts until dawn in the hot atmosphere of the temple.

Congo is the most charged of all the voodoo rythms. These spirits are the ones that like to go wild and drink and dance all night, said Edelle Joseph, a mambo, or voodoo priestess.

Sucre, which calls on the Congo spirits, is one of three annual ceremonies in this northern region of Haiti, a three-hour bus ride from Port-au-Prince. The other two ceremonies pay homage to the Dahommey and Nago rhythms and spirits.

All three of the rhythms descend from western Africa, where people were enslaved and brought to the Caribbean, scholars say. The displaced Africans were prevented by their French masters from practicing their own religion and so masked their own African spirits with Catholic saints.

The convergence of the different cultures created the Voodoo religion, much like the creation of Creole, Haiti's native tongue, which incorporates many different languages.

Although officially 80 percent of Haiti is Catholic, Voodoo remains at the root of all aspects of the country ranging from herbal health care to community heirarchy.

The Mambo tree towers over a small river that runs through Sucre. Under it, a man possessed by the spirit of Zinga, bathes a woman with leaves and sacred water. She lights a candle to make a demand of the mambo spirit who represents mother earth.

One day you will bring life to me Mambo, I will wait patiently because my life is in your hands, she said.