Haitian Voodoo Culture
As the small island of Haiti trembles on the brink of chaos, a ghost from the superstitious past returns...
One year ago, more than 300,000 crushed bodies littered Haiti after a savage earthquake literally ripped the country into pieces. Now, blood is once again running through the streets of the Caribbean island - although this time, the carnage owes more to machetes and knives than the forces of nature. At least 45 voodoo priests have been butchered by rampaging mobs, convinced the religious figures are using black magic to spread a deadly cholera epidemic. Those that haven't succumbed to the blade have either been lynched or set on fire. In a country where voodoo - a belief system blending witchcraft, West African Faiths, Christianity and the odd zombie - is practised by half the population, accusations are taken seriously by believers, many of them poor and uneducated. The cholera outbreak has already claimed 2400 lives, and threatens another 600,000. The 2010 magnitude 7 quake robbed 1.5 million citizens of their homes. People are scared, confused and desperate. And what began as an isolated flash of violence on the south-western tip of Haiti, is now snaking north into central rural areas, threatening to spill over into the capital, Port-au-Prince. To add to the mayhem, former crackpot Haitian president and voodoo-practising tyrant Jean-Claude Duvalier - better known as Baby Doc - is back in town after 25 years in exile, with quiet designs on the presidency. During his rein, killing and torturing rivals was commonplace, and it's reported he embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars before fleeing to france in 1986. Duvalier had a good teacher: his father Pappa Doc (Haiti's president from 1957-1971) employed gangs of thugs to wipe out his enemies, and use sinister voodoo imagery to brainwash the population into believe he was a god. Break out the dolls and dressing pins: Haiti's voodoo madness is back...
Haiti Voodoo History
The tiny, densely populated island became the world's first independent, native-run republic when a rebellioun over threw the French rulers in 1804. It proved to be a rare highlight in the nation's history as successive US occupations, various dictatorships, corruption and pitiful social investment sent Haiti into a spiral of decline. Tourists took their dollars elsewhere, and it's now the poorest country in the America's, it's streets riddled with poverty and violence. The rot really set in when Pappa Doc - real name Francois Duvalier - won power in 1957. He quickly expelled his political rivals and created his own rural militia, the Tonton Macoutes, named after a Creole term for "the bogeyman". Officially, Doc's private army travelled the countryside rousing support for their leader - unofficially, they slew anyone who dared oppose him. It's reckoned that Papa Doc's assassins murdered more than 30,000 Haitians and prompted the countries "brain drain" as intellectuals, writers, teachers and politicians fled abroad in fear. By the '60s, Papa Doc was losing his grip on reality. A heart attack left him with neurological damage that only served to deepen his paranoia. Certain an opponent had transferred himself into a black dog, he ordered the slaughter of all Haiti's black dogs. Moreover, the loopy despot began to embrace voodooism, convincing his people he was a voodoo high priest able to wield magical powers. Papa Doc modelled his public persona on Baron Samedi, a voodoo spirit and supposed leader of the dead - and where the religion's sinister zombie esque side earns it reputation from. Papa Doc often wore a top hat and dark sunglasses, and affected the nasally voice tone associated with dark spirits. His palace in Port-au-Prince contained the dead skulls of enemies he'd had murdered.
Voodoo Culture Nation
Although Haitian voodoo is over 200 years old, it's roots can be traced back nearly 6000 years to West Africa. It has about 60 million followers, mainly in Africa and in some southern US states. But it's only in the last half a century that the rest of the world has become aware of it's existence - thanks mainly to the 1973 Bond film Live and Let Die, which portrayed voodoo as a menacing, creepy religion, awash with grave-dwelling zombies and spell-casting witchdoctors. Writers and directors have always explored voodoo's dark crevices, although many practitioners claim this is out of sync with modern reality. However, the more sinister aspects of voodoo is regularly practised in Haiti's feral rural areas... the same places where some of the recent priest slayings have occurred.
Entered By Spirits
Contacting the spirits is the essences of voodoo. Ceremonies begin with a prayer and animal sacrifices, usually goats of chickens. Participants will ask the spirits for advice or help. Soon dancing begins to the beat of drums, which steadily increase in tempo as the dancers enter a trance and the spirits enter the body. It's considered an honor to be "ridden" by the spirits, and it's said the spirits communicate prophecies, advice and explanations for misfortunes. Some devotees claim voodoo predicted the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake six months before.
Land of Confusion
When Baby Doc and his entourage of cronies landed back on home soil after over 25 years in exile - making a public statement apologising for atrocities - he was met by a country still steeped in chaos, even by Haitian standards. The result's of 2010s elections are still hotly disputed, and allegation of corruption and vote-rigging are rife. Polling stations were ransacked by hooligans, and at least three people were killed in violent protests. Amiot Metayer, leader of the cannibal army, a band of enforcers for previous president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was recently found dead in the street. He'd been shot once in each eye and once through the heart. Meanwhile, tensions are simmering after Protestant Evangelicas attacked a voodoo ceremony honouring those killed in the 2010 quake. Emotions were charged after the Protestants tried to recruit impoverished voodoo followers by offering food. And, of course, there's the small matter of the 45 voodoo priests with large chunks of flesh carved out of their heads with machetes, accused of using black magic to spread a cholera outbreak that could cripple Haiti once again.
Reign of Terror
Baby Doc is due to face charges of corruption and crimes against humanity during his presidency, but many Haitians already fear the court case against him will mysteriously dissappear - just like many of his former opponents. His surprise return to the scene has only added to the stench of chaos hanging over Haiti. With a strong chance of the elections being declared void, and Baby Doc offering to rebuild, no-one's ruling out another rein of terror. This week, a large mod of his supporters gathered outside the Port-au-Prince hotel he and his entourage are staying in. Baby Doc stood on the balcony and waved his hand. This time he was wearing a dark blue suit, next time it could be a top hat and sunglasses...