Port-au-Prince, 1 Nov (EFE).- Violence and insecurity in Haiti are evident even in the small crowds that attend the All Saints’ Day and Fèt Gede festivities in the Grand Cemetery of Port-au-Prince.
“The number of participants is lower than in the past,” admits Péguy Noel, a professor of social sciences, pointing out that the country has been at a difficult crossroads for years, and remembering that in the past so many people used to attend this celebration that hundreds of people could not enter the cemetery and had to stay outside.
“This year the Gede festival is not going well. We used to see many more gedes. Now we see only a few. Many people are afraid to go out into the streets,” Hérold told EFE at Port-au-Prince’s largest cemetery.
But despite the lower turnout this year, hundreds of voodoo devotees and curious onlookers gathered at the Grand Cemetery on Wednesday, the first day of the celebrations.
Men and women of all ages, wearing black scarves around their necks or on their heads, some dressed all in white, chant, pray and implore the spirits, known in Voodoo as the lwa.
The Fèt Gede is the biggest celebration of Voodoo culture and religion in Haiti. It is a festival full of music, colors, floral offerings, prayers and invocations, insults, dances and rites.
“The Gede is life. It is a tradition. It is an exploration of the afterlife. When we talk about ancestors who have died, it shows us that there is a bridge between death and life (…) We could say that the spirits return to live among the living or to participate in the life of the living,” explains Péguy Noel.
Every year on 1 and 2 November, when Roman Catholics celebrate All Saint’s Day and All Souls’ Day, Haiti’s cemeteries are the scene of an intense festival: women wash their genitals with rum soaked in chili peppers, possessed people fall into a trance and alcohol flows throughout.
The cemetery is a symbolic space where the main mystical ceremonies of the voodoo religion take place. The highest levels of magic take place in the cemeteries, and those seeking protection, luck or treatment go there.
In Port-au-Prince’s Great Cemetery, all of this takes place in the same place where dozens of people live in inhumane conditions alongside the dead.
They came there after fleeing the southern entrance of the city, now controlled by gang members who kill, kidnap and rape with impunity.
Indeed, many neighborhoods in the Haitian capital have emptied out and their former inhabitants have been internally displaced or have left Haiti.
The Grand Cemetery, located south of Port-au-Prince, is an architectural and historical heritage site where former presidents, heads of government and ministers are buried.
But this year the Gede celebrations take place in a dilapidated setting. It gives the impression that the authorities in charge have stopped any maintenance work, since the number of burials has been drastically reduced in recent years due to insecurity.
The main entrance is in a deplorable state as a result of the rains in the heart of the hurricane season and some areas inside the cemetery are also flooded and rubbish is piling up with the water. EFE