I never thought I would say this, but I went to a Haitian funeral today for a person I had never met. In fact I didn’t even know a single person in the family. No, I didn’t just crash a funeral, but it sort of felt that way.
Today I got to the Center for Biblical Training in Galman du Plaa, Haiti (just outside of Cap-Haitien). First thing I did upon arriving was meet the new students who just started this school a few weeks ago. I also got to see an old friend, Rodney Richard. After we had talked for a little while, he mentioned that one of the students at this school was not here since his wife had just passed on Saturday. He mentioned that the funeral was later this afternoon, and he would like for me to attend. He said it would mean a lot to the student. I agreed to show my support and attend. I knew it would be a cultural experience, but I had no idea what all I was about to encounter.
I loaded up on the truck with all the men to go to the funeral. When we got there, the first thing I noticed was that I was the only “blanc” (white guy) in the church building. I am accustomed to the stares that come with this since my skin color is different from everyone else, but I did feel out of place since this was a private and intimate setting.
Before the service started, I noticed many differences from a Haitian funeral and an American funeral. I learned that it is not out of the ordinary for people to weep bitterly and flail around when they are at a funeral service in Haiti. Most of it is from severe distraught for the deceased, but to me it resembled my mental image of demon possession. This is normal. In fact, I am almost positive that every single woman in the place had a moment like this at one point or another. It caught me off guard at first and I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I jumped out of my seat the first time it happened due to surprise. After a while, this becomes expected and normal. It must happen all the time, because no one seemed disrupted by it in the least, except me.
When the women would have their moment, the guards at the casket usually had to stop them and physically carry them out of the building. Yes that is correct, guards at the casket. Four people were always on watch for people running as fast as possible to hurl themselves at the casket. I have seen some pretty unusual things at funerals, but I had never seen a person lunge at a casket during the service until today. After all was said and done, eight women were physically carried out of the building by multiple people until they could regain their composure.
I know we are in the technological age, but this was the first funeral I have been to where it was normal for people to be taking pictures and videos during the service. Since everyone else was doing it, I pulled my camera out to snap a few pictures and videos.
After the nearly four-hour service, we left the church building to go to the graveyard. We all marched down the streets with the casket at the front of the procession towards the cemetery. Since Haiti is in a flood area, all the tombs are built above ground similar to what you would see in New Orleans. Apparently this particular graveyard had either run out of space, or the previous owner failed to pay up. There was a casket laying upside down and cracked right next to where we were burying the woman. Some of the local Haitians told me that this type of action was very typical in Haiti. They had pulled it out to make space.
In addition to the casket lying partially open, there were skulls all over the graveyard. I wanted to go search these out, but all the Haitians I was with strongly encouraged me not to. Turns out they are all very afraid of the dead and their bones because of the Voodoo connection. Most people from the funeral did not even step foot in the graveyard for the burial due to fear of the “spirits” that live in the graveyard.
This post isn’t meant to poke fun at the culture of the Haitian people in any way, but rather point out some obvious differences so that you can understand their way of life better. This is a cultural experience I will never forget. I can’t even begin to guess what tomorrow has in store.