National Geographic : 1976 Jan
for me to identify the picture of the man on the altar. Black suit, black hat, owlish eyes rimmed in black glasses, Francois Duvalier yet commands a place in the voodoo rites practiced in the backcountry of the Ar tibonite River valley. Before my night out with the Haitian gods, the subject of voodoo had excited my wildest imaginings. It called to mind terrifying ceremonies, bloody with the sacrifice of ani mals-or, perhaps, humans-crazed dancing, possibly orgies, and mysterious miseries, even death, visited on an enemy by the stick ing of pins into his image. W HAT I FOUND, instead, was a meeting as friendly and easy as that of a Wednes day night missionary society. Further more, the priest, or houngan,who spoke some English, smilingly confessed that the occasion for the whole affair was to celebrate his birthday. He had greeted me at the entrance to the temple compound, a rustic arch of inter twined branches leading to a packed-earth yard, neatly swept, lit by torches, and marked by a cross of whitewashed stones. The temple itself was composed of six one room thatch-roofed shrines, each dedicated to a different god or goddess, their plastered walls alive with brilliantly colored designs, or veve, sacred to the honored deity. Voodoo, unlike most other religions, does not set deity apart to be formally worshiped. Rather, the voodoo gods join the believer, entering his body and speaking with his tongue. The dance and the trance provide the bonds for this union. When the drums started, a chorus of wom en began to sing, a prelude lasting the better part of an hour. The actual rites began when the houngan lit a candle and, by dribbling cornmeal, formed on the ground a design sacred to the god Loko Atisu, a favorite of priests, whom he invoked and invited to "mount," or enter his body. Then, as the drums kept up a steady beat, girls dressed in white streamed out and began to dance around the priest, who held his candle and rattled his gourd, or asson, symbol of authority. Waving flags, the dancers dipped and bowed in a kind of graceful minuet, as formal as in any 18th-century drawing room. Hour chased hour and the dancing, singing, and drumming went on and on. But the god Loko was either in a contemplative mood or With youth his ally and a sense of fun to his credit, 24-year-old President-for-life Jean-Claude Duvalier grapples with his nation's monumental needs. Financial and technical assistance from abroad brings some progress, but slowly. Port au Prince, queenly by night (right) but besplotched with slums, sees increasing tourism with the enlargement of the airport. Air service and cheap labor encourage U. S.-based in dustries-baseball sewing, shoe finishing, electronic assembly. New port facilities now accommodate transatlantic vessels, and new turbines at the Peligre Dam create more energy. An ambitious road-building pro gram is underway. An even more hopeful sign: President Duvalier has quietly dispatched a cadre of bright young people to universities abroad, with instructions to return home and help him remake the country.