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17098: (Chamberlain) Haiti-Day of the Dead (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


   PORT-AU-PRINCE, Nov 1 (AP) -- Passing under a crumbling archway that
reads "Thou Art Dust," voodoo practitioners flocked to Haiti's largest
cemetery Saturday to honor the guardian of the dead with rum, thunderous
music and lewd behavior designed to awaken mischievous spirits.
   Followers visit the tombstones of relatives and pay their respects to
Baron Samedi, the god of the dead, and to his lascivious, sardonic
offspring, Gede. To show they are "possessed," followers often rub hot
pepper juice on their bodies. Some hold swearing contests steps away from
the gates of the capital's sprawling municipal cemetery.
   Two-thirds of Haiti's 8 million people are said to practice voodoo.
Earlier this year, Haiti's government officially sanctioned the faith as a
religion, allowing priests to legally perform baptisms and marriages.
   "The Gedes helped us win our independence," said voodoo priest Desaville
Espady, 38, dressed in a white robe with a silver cross on a thick chain
hanging from his neck. "We pay homage to our ancestors, and they cure us of
our ills."
   Gede was the name of a West African tribe that disappeared during the
slave trade.
   Voodoo followers integrated some Christian rites into their practice
before Haiti won independence from slave-holding France in 1804. The
slaves, forbidden from practicing their African rites, disguised their gods
in the trappings of Roman Catholic saints. The Catholic church frowns on
voodoo and, in the 1940s, tried unsuccessfully to eradicate it.
   Practitioners believe in a supreme god and spirits linking the human and
the divine. Many believe their spirits will return to Africa when they die.
The bodies of slaves were buried without ceremony.
   Men and women say they are possessed by Gede. Dressed in mauve
kerchiefs, white pants and white or violet dresses, they wander in a mystic
trance through the cemetery, spouting obscenities and asking for money.
   "The cult of the dead is one of the first steps of resistance against
slavery and a foundation stone of voodoo," Haitian sociologist Laennec
Hurbon said.
   Encumbered by political problems, Haiti's economy has been in a slump
since 1980. The poorest nation in the Americas, the Caribbean country's
population has declined for two years, and life expectancy dropped from
about 53 years in 2002 to about 49 years in 2003. Most people survive on
less than $1 per day.
   Because of deepening poverty, voodoo -- which often requires pricey
offerings of alcohol and food to the spirits -- has lost some followers.
One-third of Haitians are Protestants.