Haitian voodoo leaders have mobilized against the coronavirus. They have everything ready: they assure that they have a “secret remedy” that cures the disease and have prepared the sacred chambers of their temples to treat their patients. This is the reality in a country where western health services are scarce and too expensive for most. The inhabitants of the island often rely on the herbal remedies and ritual practices of their houngan priest or mambo priestess. With the obvious risk to public health that this implies.
Wrapped in colorful bead necklaces, Supreme Leader Carl Henri Desmornes explains at his home in Port-au-Prince that he knows there will be “an avalanche of patients in his temples.” “Voodoo practitioners, houngans and mambos in particular, have a responsibility to ensure the well-being of the population,” said Desmornes, 60. This religious leader was a music promoter before becoming a priest. “They have received the powers and knowledge to put into practice,” he says.
The virus initially entered Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, slowly, but this has changed in the past two weeks. The number of confirmed cases has almost quintupled to 1,063. Local religious leaders speak to the population of a mysterious “fever”.
More than half of the 11 million Haitians are believed to practice voodoo, a practice brought from West Africa centuries ago by enslaved men and women and developed clandestinely under French colonial rule. Since the first cases of the new coronavirus were confirmed in the country in mid-March, the priests have been serving teas with ingredients that include moringa, eucalyptus, ginger, and honey to strengthen the immune system.
Part of a ritual coronavirus ceremony at a voodoo temple in Haiti. Jeanty Junior Augustin .
“We live in a country where the health system cannot respond to the challenge of the pandemic, so we rely on natural remedies,” explains Lamercie Charles, a priestess, while showing off some of the potions. “I consider my temple to be a clinic,” he adds.
But they not only strengthen the system, they ensure that they already have curative treatment. One that has not been verified by any scientist or international body. Another of the voodoo leaders, Euvonie Georges Auguste, indicates that the religious community has managed to devise a specific potion to alleviate the symptoms of covid-19 and that she herself has been in charge of teaching priests how to prepare and administer it. “We have been inspired by the loas (spirits),” he specifies. The community has prepared a network of a thousand voodoo temples in which there is a djèvo, a sacred chamber that is not present in all religious facilities and is used for initiation rituals. This room is separate from the worship chambers and can be used to “isolate up to 15 patients,” says Auguste.
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President Jovenel Moise has opted to defend another natural remedy questioned by scientists around the world. It is the self-proclaimed plant-based “cure” of Madagascar. “This attitude shows that he is a victim of the system who still has the scars of slavery,” says Auguste. Voodoo is closely identified with Haiti’s fight for independence. It only gained recognition as an official religion in 2003 under President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
We live in a country where the health system cannot respond to the challenge of the pandemic, so we rely on natural remedies.
Haitian voodoo practitioners in the past have criticized Moise for publicly displaying signs of Christianity rather than worshiping voodoo spirits. Some evangelical preachers blamed the practice for the 2010 earthquake, while mobs lynched at least 45 houngans and mambos whom they blamed for causing the subsequent cholera outbreak with their spells.
The priests of this religion have appeared on television and radio programs to make it clear that they are not responsible for the coronavirus and are ready to fight it. Still, Desmornes argues that perhaps the pandemic has sent a message to the world: “The difference between voodoo and Western medicine is that the former seeks meaning in the disease. Perhaps it was a warning sign that humans were like a virus to other beings on Earth. ” And he says: “My hope is that after all this, instead of transforming everything we touch, we seek to live in harmony with it.”
A report by Andre Paultre and Robenson Sanon, with the collaboration of Sarah Marsh, edited by Grant McCool for ..
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