Friday, January 22, 2010

Days of the Dead

In twist that would have been over-the-top in a low-budget a horror movie, the magnificent old Cathedral in Port-au-Prince was reduced to rubble in the quake, with its tower collapsing on top of the archbishop, Msgr. Joseph Serge Miot. (You can see the destruction in this panorama, with a portrait of Msgr. Miot laying on top of the debris.) We'd heard his body was recovered this week, but we hadn't realized who'd found it:

    On Tuesday night, outside the ruined cathedral in Port-au-Prince, a Mexican rescuer was overcome after recovering what is believed to be the body of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot.[Photo: Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters]

Chalk another one up to the Mole Men. This seems to us entirely fitting. Despite the nonsense you might hear about an island full of Devil-worshiping voodoo savages (Oh, hi, Rev! How goes the fundraising?) Haiti is 95% Christian and about 85% Catholic - just slightly less Catholic, in other words, than Mexico is - though the Haitians are a good deal more fervent about it.

They've modified it, of course, much in the same way Mexico has. Very much in the same way, in fact; any Mexican could surely relate to the predicament the Haitians now find themselves in.

Along with everything else stolen by last week’s earthquake, Haitians must now add another loss: the ability to identify and bury the dead. Funeral rites are among the most sacred of all ceremonies to Haitians, who have been known to spend more money on their burial crypts than on their own homes.

It is the product in part of familiarity with death — the average life span of a Haitian is 44 — but also the widespread voodoo belief that the dead continue living and that families must stay connected forever to their ancestors.

“Convening with the dead is what allows Haitians to link themselves, directly by bloodline, to a pre-slave past,” said Ira Lowenthal, an anthropologist who has lived in Haiti for 38 years. He added that with so many bodies denied rest in family burial plots, where many rituals take place, countless spiritual connections would be severed.

“It is a violation of everything these people hold dear,” Mr. Lowenthal said. “On the other hand, people know they have no choice.”

1 comment:

Mexfiles said...

Leave it to Simon Romero to throw in the "voodoo" angle. He's the NYT's gift that keeps on giving for lefty Latin Americanists.