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8030: Sacred Art in Haiti (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


   PORT-AU-PRINCE, May 17 (AP) -- When Marianne Lehmann came to Haiti
nearly 50 years ago, she never dreamed she would end up sharing her house
with the goddess of love, the spirit of war and the devil himself.
   But today her home is filled with more than 2,000 sacred objects from
the country's Voudou faith that she hopes to save from ignorance and
   "Vodou is the soul of the people," says Lehmann, a 64-year-old retired
Swiss consulate employee.
   Lehmann prefers to use the Creole spelling for the faith, agreeing with
Haitians that what's known elsewhere as "voodoo" -- with its association
with black magic -- doesn't represent the true beliefs. The religion,
rooted in Africa, helped unify bands of African slaves who fought the
French before independence in 1804.
   Most of Lehmann's dust-covered collection is housed in her small
suburban home. Many of the pieces -- which include drums, rattles and
sequin-clad dolls dressed like Erzulie, the goddess of love -- have been
used in Vodou ceremonies.
   With the help of UNESCO, she is trying to find a museum that will
protect and preserve the collection, preferably in Haiti since the objects
are a core part of the Caribbean country's culture.
   "The collection is stupendous. It enriches the patrimony of mankind, and
should be protected," says Bernard Hadjadj, director of the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Haiti.
   For 2 1/2 years, Hadjadj, a French citizen, has been trying to find
funds to photograph and index the collection. UNESCO has contributed
$20,000, but Hadjadj says another $30,000 is needed to publish a catalog,
which could help jump-start a fund-raising campaign for a future museum.
   The Haitian government, facing more pressing problems such as widespread
poverty and a weakened infrastructure, has not responded to a call for
   "Our government has been strapped for funds, and, with political
instability, cultural projects have been left by the wayside," says
Jean-Claude Bajeux, a former culture minister.
   But money isn't the only thing standing in Lehmann's way in preserving
sacred Vodou art.
   In the 1940s, the Catholic Church waged a campaign against Vodou,
branding it as nothing more than superstition. Vodou priests were
persecuted, their temples torched and objects thrown into the bonfire.
   After that, the religion -- now practiced by two-thirds of Haitians and
sanctioned in the country's constitution -- was the subject of numerous
books and films that sensationalized it as a kind of black magic that
relied upon animal sacrifices to summon zombies and evil spirits.
   As a result, much of Vodou's sacred art was shunned, while mainstream
Haitian art -- influenced by Vodou -- flourished.
   "The art is pretty extreme for foreigners," says Don Cosentino, a
professor of world arts and cultures at the University of California at Los
Angeles, and a co-curator of the "Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou," a
traveling exhibit of sacred Vodou art.
   "Some of the pieces really makes sense only in a Haitian sense," he says
in a telephone interview. "A crucified doll, for example, may not give out
the same vibe in America as it would in Haiti. What people think of the
religion, they will also think of the art."
   Cosentino, who used seven of Lehmann's pieces in his exhibit, says she
has one of the largest sacred Vodou art collections in the world.
   "The irony is they are rotting in the place that she is forced to keep
them," he says.
   Lehmann came to Haiti in 1957, had four children and was divorced from
her Haitian husband. For nearly two decades, every spare penny of her
meager earnings has gone into the collection, which has overflowed to an
adjacent concrete home, and even a neighbor's house.
   She bought her first sacred object 18 years ago. Like many Vodou
objects, it had been buried during the campaign in the 1940s.
   With three horns on his head and a pipe hanging from his mouth, the
object was a small statue of Papa Bossu, a warrior god, one of the hundreds
of spirits that fill the Vodou pantheon.
   "I felt an electric shock," she says. "I was completely subjugated,
   Similar to Vodou practiced in Benin, Candomble in Brazil and Santeria in
Cuba, Haitian Vodou honors a pantheon of spirits, or "loas." And, like
Christianity, it recognizes both good and evil.
   Lehmann can't estimate the collection's monetary value, but the seven
pieces that were loaned for the Vodou exhibit were insured for $42,000. She
says she's not interested in selling any of the objects.
   "The question is not the worth of individual objects. The totality is
invaluable. It is the Haitian heritage."