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Go inside an actual Haitian voodoo ceremony, and meet a real voodoo queen


Go inside an actual Haitian voodoo ceremony, and meet a real voodoo queen

WATCH:  Voodoo queen Rosaline leads a ceremony in a remote Haitian temple

The Hollywood version of voodoo

When most Americans think of voodoo, images of Hollywood horror movie classics like "Zombies on Broadway" or "White Zombie" might come to mind.

U.S. Marines who served during the American occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934 brought back tales of witch doctors, black magic, hexing and pins in voodoo dolls. The Hollywood version of voodoo is rooted in part from those tall tales.

I decided to head to Haiti myself, to search for a real voodoo queen.

'Roots voodoo'

I bypassed Haiti's capital, Port au Prince, to get to a cool, artsy beach town called Jacmel, a spot known for its chill vibe. I met up with longtime resident and artist Jamson Silgnena who told me about Rosaline, a popular "roots voodoo" priest among Jacmel's residents.

He explained that in the Haitian voodoo world, there are different kinds of priests. The most common are the Mambo (female)/Houngan (male) voodoo priests, who use a blend of West African voodoo mixed with other religions, intertwined with Haitian voodoo gods and goddesses.


Different tradition and practice

Voodoo devotees also visit Bokor priests, who are sorcerers that use black magic for potions and curses.

And lastly, devotees visit roots voodoo priests that mainly use West African traditions. It's a style of voodoo most common with subsistence farmers from the mountains.

From my perspective, it seem to be a hybrid of a traditional medicine man and a typical Haitian voodoo religious figure. The distinctive characteristic of a roots priest is that they do not use special potions or oils to become possessed by the spirit world.

Journey to Rosaline's temple

Squeezed between my motorcycle driver in the front and my translator in the back, the three of us ventured past the coastal cityscape of Jacmel to the lush mountain region where Rosaline's temple sits.

When we arrived, Rosaline greeted us with a smile and invited us to join the other guests who were waiting for the ceremony to begin.

The drummers soon started playing and Rosaline re-appeared in priest attire chanting with two women by her side. 

Trance-like rhythms

The ceremony was a special sacrifice for Rosaline's family. In Haitian voodoo, sacrifices typically happen when devotees want to give back to the spirit world after a year of abundance and prosperity.

As Rosaline continued her chants, more devotees started to arrive and the drum beats began to pick up. The change in music encouraged more people to dance to the trance-like vibrations. Theatrical in nature, the Haitian voodoo dance style holds a unique rhythm of its own.

Rum and a machete

Rosaline assigned a mambo -- the highly respected task of sacrificing a chicken as a sign of inclusion for the younger generation.

She approached the mambo with a bottle of rum and and a machete. Minutes later, the young mambo re-appeared with glowing eyes and a machete. 

Moving to the beat of the drum, she grabbed the chicken's neck and started spinning it until its neck snapped. I've always imagined a sacrifice being done with a knife, with blood everywhere. This sacrifice was done bare-handed, making it much more personal.


Final prayer

The noise of the wailing chicken started to evaporate into the drum beat. It was handed back to Rosaline.

With one final prayer chant the drumming stopped. The ceremony was over.

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