It’s an image I’ll never forget. Jonas Bito, a young father, looking straight at our camera, holding his dead baby son in his arms. He told us the child had a fever and was sleeping – and we believed him. In fact, he was waiting to see a self-proclaimed “prophet” named Mackenson Dorilas, who claims to be able to bring people back from the dead.
Jonas Bito holds his son Youbi while waiting for a consultation with self-acclaimed prophet Mackenson Dorilas.
Let me be clear: if we had known the child was dead, we would have stopped filming immediately and told Jonas to take him to a hospital. Jonas was holding his 16-month-old son Youbi; his girlfriend Shedline was there too, with their two-month-old, Lovens, who also had a fever. I would have wanted a doctor to explain to the young couple how Youbi had died, but above all to immediately examine his brother Lovens.
Suffering from an illness that was ‘not natural’
But we didn’t know. When we asked Jonas why he had brought the boy to a church, not a hospital, he told us he was certain that he was suffering from an illness that was “not natural”. He told us officials at the Eglise de Dieu Les Envoyés (Church of God’s Envoys) told him he’d have to pay 2500 Haitian gourds (€30) to see Prophet Mackenson because it was an emergency. That was a huge amount for the couple, more than their combined monthly earnings. (Jonas sells second-hand trainers for a living; Shedline sells second-hand plastic dishes.)
When Prophet Mackenson arrived in his Lincoln Navigator SUV, red and blue police-style lights flashing, he greeted us politely. The 32-year-old has been preaching since he was 15. He told us he had been “chosen by God”, and that his Tuesday services regularly attract thousands of followers. Videos on his Facebook page show hundreds, not thousands, of congregants at the services. But they are streamed live to more than 90,000 followers. Every Haitian we spoke to had heard of him.
A video on the Facebook page of “Prophet” Mackenson Dorilas shows a service at his church Eglise de Dieu Les Envoyés in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Mackenson told us he could heal people who were suffering from “madness” and physical diseases. He said he regularly performs “miracles” at his services, and also performs healings at his office. He agreed to see Jonas and Shedline for a consultation.
The young couple told him they believed there was “bad air” where they lived, and they suspected their neighbours of wishing them ill. Shedline said she hadn’t cried over the boy’s fever. After taking the child’s pulse, Mackenson confirmed their fears: that the boy was the victim of a curse – that someone had sold his soul to the devil so they could win the lottery.
‘Many Haitians practice Christianity… but in fact believe in vodou‘
Two days later, just before we were about to interview Mackenson about his “healings”, Jonas told us his son had died – that he had in fact died the morning of the consultation. He said they had brought him to Mackenson in the hope that he could bring him back to life. He said the preacher did not charge them for the consultation.
Our Observer Aristilde Deslande, a religion specialist who writes for Netalkole.net, explained that what we had witnessed was vodou, a religion brought to Haiti by slaves from West Africa under French colonial rule. “We have Christianity here, but also vodou,” he told us. “Many Haitians practice Christianity… but in fact believe in vodou. They retain their vodou beliefs.”
He decoded some what had been said:
- When Jonas called his son’s illness “not natural”, he was saying he believed he was the victim of a vodou curse.
- When Shedline referred to “bad air” in their courtyard, she meant “evil spirits”.
- When Shedline said she had not cried over their son’s illness, it was because vodou followers believe that crying amounts to an admission that someone has died. If you cry over someone’s death, they cannot be brought back to life.
Prophet Mackenson did not show up for our interview. His aides told us he was unable to come because of political unrest in the city following violent demonstrations held November 18. He later told us via WhatsApp message that he had realised the baby was dead when he examined him. “I wanted to see if I could help them. For people who have died a supernatural death, I can appeal to forces to bring them back to life. But if it’s a natural death, there’s nothing I can do.” Continue reading