A bottle of rum and a whale

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Par Carole Devillers en October 2009

The houngan introduces us to the cave residing spirit

Right away, the houngan, holding rum and candle in hands, starts what he calls his “adoration” to Mèt Doko: “Master Doco, I present to you blanc [1] Carole and ask you for health for her so that she can continue with the school and with helping the children. Please give her grace and courage in everything she does. Master, I present to you blanc Olivier and ask for your grace in all he wants to do for Saut d’Eau. Thank you.”. We are then at ease to explore, measure and photograph the cave.

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Now, let me explain what a “whale” is. It is the translation of the French word “baleine”. But in Haitian creole, a “baleine”, or “balèn”, is nothing more than a candle (in olden days, candles were made of whale fat and the word baleine has stuck). But for Olivier who doesn’t speak creole and is new to Haitian ways, it was quite puzzling at first when we were asked for a “baleine”, and that became the object of many laughs between us.

In the Doco cave we find “vévés” on the floor. These are vodou symbols drawn with corn meal during a vodou ceremony in order to attract the loas (spirits) being worshiped. Each loa has his own symbolic representation. The vévés at Doco look withered, an indication they were made some days ago during a ceremony in the cave. We are told by our houngan that ceremonies taking place in a cave are more powerful (more expensive too for the person requesting it).

Walking to the caves

When we explore another cave the next day, that cave had to be “disinfected” by the houngan in charge, with special perfume pleasing to the spirit and talcum powder thrown up in the air at the cavity entrance - and a whale!