Head Voodoo Priest Protests Haiti’s Mass Burials, Fear of Zombies
January 17, 2010
(ChattahBox)—The head Voodoo priest of Haiti is sickened by the desecration of dead bodies, as they are unceremoniously collected off of the city streets and hurled into mass graves. In a nation where many people practice Voodoo, the supernatural prospect of Zombies rising from the mass graves to prey on the living, is a real fear. Since a powerful earthquake flattened the poor Caribbean nation of Haiti into mounds of rubble on Tuesday, the shocked survivors have roamed the streets littered with rotting corpses and the overwhelming stench of death. In a nation without an infrastructure during the best of times, the earthquake has not only destroyed most of the buildings in the capital city, and killed tens of thousands of people; it also wiped out what little government existed. Haitian President Rene Preval is homeless and has taken up residence at the police station.
To deal with the tens of thousands of dead bodies littering the streets, Haitian authorities and UN officials are loading the stiff corpses into dusty dump truck hearses and dumping them in mass graves on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.
The grim sight of twisted human bodies being unloaded from the back of a municipal dump truck into a gaping hole leaves a lasting impression, on anyone who witnesses it. MezenDieu Justi, an elderly Haitian man watching the mass burial was devastated by the horror before him. “We have lost any dignity in death,” he said.
The Red Cross has estimated the death toll at about 50,000, but Haitian officials have predicted the final tally could reach 200,000. However, the final number will never be known, because the nameless dead filling up the mass graves have not been counted.
Because of the fears of the spread of an epidemic from the bloated dead bodies, authorities are working quickly to clear the city streets of the dead. And the sheer number of dead bodies has left few options for burial, other than mass graves.
But it’s heartbreaking. Haitian survivors may never learn of the true fate and resting place of their loved ones. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says that such mass burials “add to the burden of suffering already experienced by survivors.”
“The worst part of this is that these actions are taken without respecting the processes of identifying and preserving bodies, something that not only goes against cultural norms and religious beliefs but also has social, psychological, emotional, economic and legal consequences that add to the suffering directly caused by the disaster,” said PAHO.
And the nation’s chief Voodoo priest, Max Beauvoir is strongly objecting to the horrific mass burials on religious grounds. He met with President Rene Preval over the weekend to officially lodge his protest on behalf of the many Voodoo worshipers in Haiti. “It is not in our culture to bury people in such a fashion,” Beauvoir said.
Before the country was decimated by the earthquake, about half of the 9 million residents of Haiti practiced Voodoo, which is a mix of Christianity and elements of West African paganism and animism. Although, about 80 percent of Haitians are also Catholic, they somehow blend Voodooism into their worship of God, without finding a conflict between the two practices.
Max Beauvoir who was educated at City College in New York and the Sorbonne in Paris, was recently chosen as the Voodoo Supreme Master. Beauvoir believes that Voodooism has a role to play in Haiti’s revival. In his Voodoo temple in Port-au-Prince before the earthquake’s destruction, Beauvoir and his followers held frequent ceremonies to summon the spirits. They would light blazing bonfires and dance around a giant totem poll. And ceremonies would end with animal sacrifices and the draining of their blood.
“The conditions in which bodies are being buried is not respecting the dignity of these people,” the Voodoo Supreme Leader told President Preval. Many Haitians believe that the desecration of their loves ones could lead to the dead roaming the earth again as Zombies.
In a 2008 New York Times piece profiling Max Beauvoir, soon after he was chosen as the Supreme Voodoo Master, he ridiculed Hollywood’s treatment of Zombies as scary monsters. Beauvoir believes Zombies to be a very real element of Voodoo science.
Whatever beliefs one holds, the mass burials are a grim consequence of the earthquake’s devastation of the country and the destruction of the Haitian people’s dignity.
Mass Grave Photo source: JONATHAN TORGOVNIK/ FOR CNN