Emmanuel Alexandre Jr. is a Haitian-American filmmaker and instructor living in New York City.He earned a bachelors degree in media studies from Hunter College and a MFA in cinematography and documentary directing from The City College of New York. He was awarded a Bert Saperstein Grant, which allowed him to direct his first documentary film “Welcome to Batey 6.”
The word “Vodoun” or Vodou has always had a negative connotation for me. As a boy I was taught to fear the word. I would never speak about it aloud. I felt it was shameful. Ask a Haitians about Vodou and you get a sense that the person wants to run for the hills. We’ve been taught to fear “Hougan” and “Manbo”. They’re seen as sorcerers who deal in the occult and “black magic” for their own personal gain.
I’ve always wondered why?
We Haitians wish to disassociate ourselves from that word. We feverishly make the “sign of the cross” – we raise our hands to the sky in praise of the Lord – and beg Him to save us.
We would comically use French words like “pardon” or “bien sur” to signal that our social status and education level put us “above” such superstition. Those feelings ran contradictory to what we were living and experiencing as a people.
Emmanuel Alexandre Jr.
I was told tales of “Simbi nan dlo” – the water protector or La Sirene, a character who lures men or children into the water.
The sounds of drums from miles away would vibrate deeply into our souls.
All Haitians know the feeling. Men, women, children and elders alike would drop everything and run to cheer the incoming march of a “RaRa” band. Our bodies moved in unison. We smiled freely in exalted happiness. It was an intense, personal feeling.
The Haitian culture that I know is filled with mystical incantations. My mother had rituals that could soothe her son’s nightmares.
Anyone from the corner shoe shine man to the local police officer could tell you in a heartbeat of effective cures for the body’s ailments.
Detaching ourselves from cultural practices that has been passed down from generations is practically impossible. It’s virtually etched and embedded into our DNA. The cognitive dissonance in our psyche is not easily reconciled.
When I moved to the States that feeling of rejection was intensified. We could no longer hide behind that religious or social mask. We’re all Haitians – that name Haitian, however along with that word – Vodou carried a whole new meaning when spoken in our new world. Each can often imply something unspoken – something that is “unclean” or to be feared.