National Geographic : 1961 Feb
Oddly, a white man-ex-Marine Corps pharmacist's mate Stanley Reser-finally opened the doors for us. Until his death not long ago, "Doc" Reser was reputed to be the island's only white voodoo priest-a distinction he neither con firmed nor rejected. He had been the subject of one book and a chapter of another; lurid Sunday newspaper features had chronicled his doings. Most important to us, Reser had the reputation of knowing more about voodoo than any foreigner on the island. The Doc lived in a little cottage near Pont Beudet, 11 miles upcountry from Port au Prince. As we drove across the Cul de Sac plain, oxcarts loaded with sugar cane swerved from the road to let us pass. "Madame Saras," orange-and-black weaverbirds introduced from the same land that sired the slaves, rasped in roadside trees. A smiling woman in a bright print dress stood framed in Reser's doorway. Sunlight glinted on gold-capped teeth as she told us le docteur was not in. Would we have a chair? He might be back by evening. A week later we tried again. A solidly built American emerged from the back room. Over half-sized cups of fragrant coffee, Stanley Reser told us how he happened to settle in the West Indies. "I like to tell Haitian youngsters I've been here longer than they have," he said. "It's true, too; I came in 1927. When the occupation ended in 1934, I stayed on as director of the insane asylum." Cold Water Cooks an Egg Outside the door of Reser's house, in a hibiscus bush scarlet with blossoms, a green Hispaniolan parrot coughed and shrieked in a sickly treble:hak-hak-hak- whooo-o-o -o -oop! "One of the servant's kids caught whooping cough," Reser chuckled. "The parrot heard it so many times he learned to imitate it." These were just preliminaries. Reser knew we wanted to talk about voodoo. He leaned back in his chair. "I can't explain voodoo to you," he said. "Strange things happen. They happen in other countries too, but more often in Haiti. "Listen. One day I visited a mambo, a voo doo priestess, in a suburb of Port au Prince. She asked if I had ever seen food cooked with out fire. To be certain the food was uncooked, I bought an egg myself. The mambo dropped it into a glass partly filled with water. Then she put my hand over the glass, and placed her own hand on mine while she mumbled 256 Mystical voodoo rite, the bruler zin initiation ceremony, begins at midnight and ends at dawn. Drums, silent during prayer, roar hypnoti cally when the participants dance. At the climax initiates test their faith by dipping hands and feet into pots of boiling oil. To summon the loas, or gods, the high priest sprinkles rum and coffee on the ground and shakes gourd rat tles laced with bells, beads, and snake vertebrae. A religion primarily African in ori gin, voodoo supplements rather than supplants the Haitian's Christian faith. Rituals seethe with emotion. Faces here reflect moods ranging from ec stasy to sheer exhaustion. Sifting cornmeal between thumb and forefinger, a voodoo priest draws an elaborate vever, or ritual design, to invite deities to a ceremony. Par ticipants may kiss the design before the dancers' feet obliterate the tracery. KODACHROMESBY JOHN SCOFIELD, NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSTAFF ,) N.G.S.