It must have been four or five years ago at a concert that I met for the first and last time Lénord Fortuné (Azor), the internationally-renowned Haitian drummer and vocalist, who died of renal failure on July 16th. A true son of Haiti in many aspects (grew up poor, uneducated and yet possessed unsurpassed talents), Azor will be remembered by his countrymen for his immeasurable contribution to Haitian culture and also legions of innumerable fans throughout the world that enjoyed his unique brand of music (Rasin Mapou). Last Saturday, July 23rd, he was accorded a Vodou-style State Funeral at the Champs-de-Mars, Port-au-Prince’s largest square, presided by Max G. Beauvoir, the first crowned Supreme Master of Haitian Vodou. Michel Martelly, the Haitian president and fellow musician himself, sent his condolences and remembered Azor as “a tireless Ambassador of Haitian culture.”
Azor’s short but bountiful life accomplishment is an inspirational story to the millions of his fellow countrymen who seem condemned to a life of servitude and misery. His passing however ignited a debate among Haitians that underscores the extent of our self-hatred and proves beyond the shadow of a doubt the irreversible effects of colonialism on many of its victims. At issue was the state funeral given the deceased, which many “educated Haitians” considered improper because of his earthly association with Vodou, notwithstanding his immense contribution to the advancement of Haitian culture. Once again, the 500 years of ostracism, white-conceived propagandas and self-hatred among Haitians have come to the surface.
I have grown accustomed to unorthodox comments from my fellow compatriots, which can be attributed to willful ignorance, but this one defies any rationale. Although Vodou has, since April 4th 2003, been elevated to the status of religion in accordance with Haiti’s Constitution by then-president Jean Bertrand Aristide, a former Catholic priest, the old misconceptions, narcissistic Christian values, and manifest ignorance endure. In Brooklyn, New York, a well-known Catholic priest, whose list of infidels also includes Freemasons, unsympathetically said that God took Azor’s life in his prime because of his association with Vodou, whose practitioners are condemned sons and daughters of Satan. What was God’s verdict in regard to my late little brothers Ricardo and Caroll who passed on at three and a-half years of age and thirty-five, respectively?
It is disconcerting to learn that God would take a person’s life for being a drummer and Vodou practitioner while letting pedophile Catholic priests live long lives that enable them to wreak havoc on society. Unless the priest in question, who never toiled a day in his life to earn a living like the late Azor did, was expressing his personal, one-dimensional views and not actually speaking on His behalf, God definitely got it wrong.
It was Voltaire who said “Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.” The priest and others like him should not be dismissed as simple rabble-rousers, because their small-minded views have caused harm to innocent Haitian citizens in the past. Centuries of indoctrination by these peddlers of the “Gospel of resignation” (Catholic priests and more recently evangelical Christians) have had the desired effects on their intended victims (unsuspecting and uneducated Haitians trying to find a rationale for their earthly sufferings).
In 1940, it was the Haitian state under then-president Elie Lescot that organized the persecution of Vodou practitioners, but recently this sinister endeavor has become the handiwork of unrepentant vigilantes. Thousands of Vodou practitioners were killed following the fall of “Baby Doc” Duvalier in 1986; the perpetrators were never brought to justice. In the aftermath of the January 12th, 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, 50 Vodou practitioners were also killed by defenders of the Christian faith and, as expected, no one was ever prosecuted for these horrific crimes.
Voltaire was also right when he wrote: As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities.” In this case, the absurdities being a narcissistic view of Christianity by simple-minded adherents and their inherent belief of Vodou as demonic, which naturally lead to atrocities against innocent citizens. It is also a paradox to see Christians (the alleged children of God, the Merciful) committing violence against peaceful alleged sons and daughters of Satan. Could the failure by Vodou practitioners (the alleged sons and daughters of Satan) to retaliate against their tormentors be a sinister plot to win converts among peace-loving Christians? These are questions that need to be answered by those hiding behind their hatred of evilness in order to foment intolerance and violence against peaceful citizens that are trying to find a purpose for their wretched earthly existence.
The truth is: the hatred of Vodou by a raucous segment of Haiti’s population has anything to do with that group’s love for God. It is actually consequential to colonialism, which associates anything from Mother Africa with primitiveness and devil worshiping, but also idiosyncratic to Haitian society, which considers anything that is embraced by the poor as an existential threat to the status quo.
The late Azor, the product of the “Haitian Renaissance” that began in the mid-1980, would understand the misplaced nihilism of his fellow compatriots, since he lived it and died in it. His spirit lives on; others will no doubt follow in his footsteps and keep alive the flambeau of liberty and resistance that has experienced a reincarnation through his uplifting songs.
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