Lorin Mallorie in Haiti: From voodoo priests to Christians, thousands celebrate, mourn life at Sodo

Editor’s note: Every July, tens of thousands of Haitians descend on the tiny town of Ville Bonheur, in the central mountains of Haiti to celebrate the appearance of the Virgin Mary 150 years ago at the area’s magnificent 100-foot waterfall.

Descending into the waterfall’s basin, the mass of bodies becomes its own living, breathing entity. Moving together in one vibration, in exuberant celebration of all life’s glories and defeats, the drums, horns and songs rise above the waterfall’s massive force. Corners of worship are tucked on dry ground around the falling water; white candles lit in prayer and thanks.

The Saut D’eau (or Sodo, in Creole) natural park waterfall is the festival’s main attraction, with a never-ending stream of hundreds climbing in and out of the water throughout the four-day event. Around the town, ra-ra bands parade through the streets, while independent vendors from all over the country set up markets, peddling their wares and food to the influx of festival-goers. There is music, and singing, rum and cigarettes, sin and Christianity, nature and people — people and God: an all out, all-encompassing celebration of life, of struggle, of strength. 

From voodoo priests to Christians, the very young to the impossibly old (and even a handful of blancs), there is little distinction here, as we rejoice together. In the midst of the ancient mystery — dogmas and compartments, titles and partitions seem both useless and trivial in the face of one clear truth: It’s life. And we are all in this together. 

Legend has it that this place is mystical. According to believers, here the Virgin Mary — or to some the Goddess of Love — once appeared in the falling waters. 

The mountain is impossibly green; a fertile oasis of palms and streams standing a proud anomaly among Haiti’s devastated, deforested earth. The waterfall is a sacred site where nature and God meet in perfect organic unity. Here, as the water pounds down on top of you, the rising energy of joy and celebration merge into one blissful vibration, as all around, people fall into trance and prayer. Here, under the purifying wall of rushing water, the magic still lives, a secret vestige of a forgotten time, when man was young and nature was king.

Naked and dancing, bathing and cheering, singing and crying to the heavens, the Haitian people cleanse the troubles of life in their earthquake stricken, impoverished and sickened country, the country that they love.

I feel slender hands grab my wrist as I pass.  Her slender fingers slide quickly, deliberately up and down mine.  I look her in the eyes and she is smiling, surely giving me some unknown blessing — not a curse — beaming at me as I move past her and farther into the crowd, under the enchanted, rushing falls.

Video by Jagat Bandhu.

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