If you want to get to know a country, you must get off the paved road to see the areas that only the locals know about. In Haiti that isn’t hard to do since very few roads are paved, and the ones that are paved have potholes every ten feet.
Today, I went on a journey with a few Haitian friends. I asked them to show me something that only Haitian people see. In essence, I wanted a glimpse at the true Haiti. There answer to that question, well it was none other than a Voodoo worship festival to the fish god L’uvannaa.
We set off just before sunset to walk to the French ruins where L’uvannaa is worshiped. The setting is an old French plantation left over from when the French had the Haitian people in slavery. There are lots of these ruins throughout the country which in and of themselves are fascinating to me, but the Haitian people do not pay any attention to it at all. Instead they perform ritual baths in this pool which is full of water that looks more like something you would find at a sewage plant. It had many pieces of floating trash, and you could not see past the surface. This did not stop the devout Voodoo followers from performing their ritual baths.
Curiosity set in by this point, so I asked the Haitian men I was with what was the meaning of all this. I was trying to figure out why in the world someone would push and shove people to get to the front of the line to wash in this murky and slimy water. In broken English they explained that the Voodoo belief is that L’uvaanaa will come up to the person that she has chosen while they are bathing to bless them with power, wealth, and prosperity in everything they seek to do. I did not see the fish, but the locals told me it is around 4 feet long and has gold earrings.
Those who are devout worshippers will come to this site multiple times a week, while the less serious will only come when they need something. On this particular day, there were roughly 2,000 people in attendance. In addition to being a worship site, there is a thriving market with lots of alcohol, cigars, and drugs. I was offered lots of things in unmarked bottles and odd-looking items. Later I discovered that one of the people trying to sell me a bottle of unknown contents was in fact a witch doctor attempting to give me a poison. Glad I turned that one down.
As usual, I was the only “blanc” in the crowd which means the attention instantly goes to me as soon as I enter an area. Haitians are used to seeing Americans in church and driving on the roads, but not at a Voodoo festival on a backstreet in the middle of nowhere.
As an American in any foreign country, you can stay on the typical path and see the things they want you to see. This will most likely cost you much more than what it is worth, and you do not really experience the culture of the people you are surrounded by. For me, I want to see the Haiti known by Haitians, not the American Haiti that is seen by visitors and even some missionaries. You have to take a step out of the comfort zone and see the real thing. Take a risk, it is worth it.
I learned more about the way religion is viewed in Haiti in an hour at this festival than I had learned in my entire life. It makes so much sense now. I am not saying I am an expert on Haitian religion by any means, but now I understand why Voodoo is so prevalent and what it really means when they say that people are going to worship Satan through Voodoo.
Like Robert Frost said so eloquently in "The Road Not Taken." Take the road less traveled. It will make all the difference.