The Milocan Project - Haiti

The Milocan Project - Haiti

Rhythm of Life

The Milocan Project

That Which Unites Us   


Milocan is a Lwa, one of the many Vodou deities that are associated with nearly every aspect of human existence.  Danballah Wedo represents healing, Ogou embodies the qualities of iron -strength and flexibility - that are necessary to meet the challenges of any given day, Ezilli Dantó, protects the children.  

Milocan is the Lwa that brings all the other Lwa together.  A force of unity.

Rhythm of Life is collaborating with The Konfederation Nacional Vodouisan Ayisyen (KNVA) to promote community projects that will lead to a better quality of life and higher standard of living for all Haitians.  The KNVA has many long term goals some of which involve restructuring agriculture to a more community supportive approach, restructuring education to better reflect traditional Haitian values, and reclaiming lands surrounding the old forts built by the revolutionary army.  These areas will become national parks with land set aside for reforestation, community agriculture, and production of medicinal herbs.  

Rhythm of Life’s long term involvement will have to do with cultural centers to be established at each National Park at which Haitians and visitors can learn  about this incredibly rich culture.  Ceremony will be held on a regular basis, open to all who care to attend.  Classes will be offered in drumming, dance, songs and stories, herbal medicine, cooking and language.  All of this represents a beginning in self sustainable agriculture, a new source of employment for hundreds of people in nearby communities, and a revitalization of national pride.  

In the meantime, Rhythm of Life is  currently busy supporting ceremony all across the country, and helping to revive the tradition of Combit (ceremony having to do with community agriculture).  Due to the extremely difficult economic situation, many communities struggle to gather for ceremony for the simple fact they can’t afford to.  I travel the country to drum for ceremony and bring communities together.  Representatives of the KNVA travel with me to deliver their message of hope and commitment, and to encourage communities across Haiti to work together in realizing the goals they have set for a sustainable future.  

To get a bit of a head start on the Cultural Center model, Rhythm of Life is bringing a group to the Cap Haitian area in the North of Haiti in February 2020.  We will study drumming, dancing and singing and participate in several ceremonies in the region.  In January I’ll be traveling in the South to support several ceremonies and discuss with several influential community leaders the possibility of a Cultural Excursion to this region of Haiti in 2021.  See appendix A for more complete descriptions of recently completed, current and near future projects.  

The Milocan Project -A Little Background

Having already made several trips to Haiti, in April 2019 I met with Nerat Ilderice who had just been recognized by the Haitian government as Gwétó De of Haiti, Sud (South) Department.  I shared with him an idea that through Rhythm of Life I would like to connect to Haiti through drumming and get a first hand, on the ground look at the situation, and discover what I might do to be helpful within a country that is failing.  For all the aid Haiti receives, the situation is actually getting worse.  People are fleeing the countryside and overflowing the slums in Port au Prince and other major cities, hunger and sickness are rampant and crime is way up. 

My thinking is that Vodou is the oldest, most cherished, most powerful institution in Haiti.  It IS Haiti in a cultural, social and spiritual sense.   Perhaps the path to sustainable change in Haiti should be sought from within, by traversing the ancient spiritual and cultural terrain of this remarkable nation.  I wanted to experience Vodou at it’s deepest level, so Nerat and other members of the  ‘Konfederasyon Nasyonal Vodou Ayisyen’ (KNVA) invited me to drum for Vodou ceremony at 25 locations spread all over Haiti.  I would see Haiti, and Vodou, through eyes acquired from my assimilation into the elite group of highly respected and admired ceremonial drummers - the Hountogi.

Nerat introduced me to Victor Boniface, Gwétó De Ouest Department, who traveled with me, and has become one of the bedrock partners in The Milocan Project. My friend Jean Samuel Altema speaks english well, and our friend Raoul has an ’83 Pathfinder, so we loaded up the drums and off we went!

A Little History:

Beginning in 1791 and ending in 1804 the slaves of Haiti fought a successful war of independence.  No other nation has ever ben created by slaves.  As retribution, Europe and the rest of the world left them to “go it alone”.  

“From 1804-1865 Haiti was unrecognized by United States and forbidden to trade.  Haiti was isolated, blocked from going to other nations to trade.”

(-C.H. Wesley 1917)

“In cases in which the colonizer is expelled from the land, the natives are left to fend for themselves in a place that has been stripped of its sustainable resources, and they face extreme difficulties in rebuilding their depleted communities due to the effects of extensive mental trauma and economic exploitation.”

(Gasteyer and Butler 2000)

Furthermore, the new nation was now faced with the problem of social division, a rift intentionally created by the colonizing government as a very effective method of control and oppression called Affranchisement.  The French had created a caste of “freed people”  made up of two sub-groups.  One group is comprised of pure blood Africans who had ‘earned’ their freedom in kind of a “work very hard and you might be set free” lottery incentive.  This was an extraordinarily effective tool in enforcing a brutal work regime, but it only worked if slaves actually were set free in numbers significant enough to impress their peers.  The other group is made up of mulattos, children of French masters and female slaves, of which there were many.   For extremely complex reasons that sometimes reflected European societal mores, but mostly because to do so would deepen the division among the enslaved population, the mixed race children were  removed from the slave communities, and allocated to an “upper class”.  

“Affranchi social class was induced to perpetuate colonial hierarchies, thereby preventing the cultural and economic development for an equitable society in Haiti.”

-Margaret Mitchell Armand, Healing in the Homeland, Haitian Vodou Tradition, (2011)

Sometimes sent to school in Europe, allowed to run businesses and to own land, by the time of the revolution many Affranchi had usurped positions of plantation management, and even ownership and had solidified themselves as  a class unto themselves.  This elite group had adopted every nuance of French culture - language, education and business model, which is to say, slavery.  Although, not as satisfied with the colonial status quo as they thought they could be, the Affranchi did join the revolution.  

Following the revolution they were all for reinstating slavery under another name, but many of the newly freed people fled to the mountains, and otherwise resisted this attempt to return to a labor system they had only just escaped.  It is notable that at the time of the revolution 75% of all slaves in Haiti had been born in Africa.  This is because the French found it more profitable to work their slaves to death and buy ‘fresh’ slaves rather than to spend money or time making living conditions tolerable. The Affranchi, representing 3% of the population of Haiti, and being second, third or fourth generation, mostly educated and French speaking, immediately took control of the new country.  The direct descendants of that same 3% are still the majority of the Haitian elite and, joined by the descendants of immigrants from the middle east,  control everything.  Though there is a small middle class,  about 87% of the population of Haiti are hungry, undereducated, speak creole, and are desperate for change.


The people of Haiti are suffering. Clearly, foreign aid is saving lives, but most of it does not seem to be contributing to creating sustainable living or any real long term change. Notably, though, there are many reputable groups working to help Haitians to help themselves through craft and agriculture projects.  But overall, it seems that foreign aid has created a widespread sense of dependence and fueled a psychic “I need it now” phenomenon.  It is extremely difficult for individuals to consider turning towards long term projects when they and their children have nothing to eat tonight.  In collaboration with The KNVA, Rhythm of Life is working to help people understand the importance of making an emotional and spiritual investment in a sustainable future where the necessity and demand for short term aid will diminish.  

At this moment though, in some cases, foreign aid, while indeed saving lives on a daily basis, may be backfiring in a broader sense.  For example:  The US sends rice to Haiti and the price undercuts the Haitian farmers.  The Haitian rice industry has collapsed since the shipment of US rice began (1990’s).  The farmers fled to the slums of Port au Prince and other cities.  I can’t describe how awful conditions there are.  Many people left in the countryside have turned to the easiest form of agriculture which is cutting trees to make charcoal to sell to the cities since the need for charcoal is burgeoning as the population grows.  As deforestation continues, soil is washed away and runs down the mountains into the sea.  This renders the land where the soil used to be unusable and pollutes the water killing what few fish are left.  

While this kind of immediate aid is certainly necessary to Haiti, and certainly should not cease suddenly or soon,  it is perhaps providing only temporary mitigation and seems to have the propensity of creating large scale dependency, and as noted, can backfire in other ways, too.   

So What Can We Do?

I am quite convinced that in general real change anywhere at any time comes from within.  

“Transformation is only valid if it is carried out with the people , not for them.”

-Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, (1970)

In Haiti, nearly everyone holds Vodou in their heart.  Vodou is widely practiced in thousands of Peristyles in the countryside, villages, towns and cities.  While there is a notion that this is true only among the poor, many Affranchi secretly avail themselves of its spiritual wisdom, or indeed have begun to openly turn toward Vodou as an instrument for the betterment of their country.   

Vodou faces an enormous challenge: many people outside of Haiti, and some in Haiti, have been thoroughly coopted by the doctrine of the Catholic and Evangelical church, stating that Vodou is evil.  This started naturally enough after the revolution since, of course, European authors wrote the history books.  Because Vodou was instrumental in providing the spiritual support necessary for unarmed slaves to fight and eventually win a protracted war against Europes best armies, these historians  maligned Haitian culture as much as they could.  The mischaracterization of Vodou was  politically beneficial to the Haitian elite, to the United States and to other foreign governments. Sociologists from previously colonial nations, along with early horror novels and Hollywood zombie movies, continued this mischaracterization.  It turned out not to be difficult to to spin the imagery and practices of an African based spiritual system into something that might frighten someone from Europe or North America. 

Some might argue that Vodou employs the use of poisons and ritual to cause harm.  While it is apparent that some people do use the herbs and spiritual power of Vodou to do bad things for their own gain, casting judgement on Vodou because of the actions of those few is like judging Christianity based on the despicable actions of a handful of Catholic priests.  

Vodou is a community centered, supportive, loving, energetic and accepting religion.  (The Haitian LGBTQ community has always had a home in Vodou. Vodou is built on the tenants of individual worth and expression.)  Vodou cares for its practitioners with ceremony, spiritual, social and emotional support, medicine, and wisdom.  Vodou is also the ‘government of the masses’ and Houngan and Manbo (priests and priestesses) are often called to act as judges in disputes.  Vodou is what set the African slaves free back in 1804, and is what may now be able to set Haiti free from a deep state of long term economic oppression and spiral of social collapse.

Moving Forward:

Rhythm of Life is helping the KNVA to create a sustainable niche for Vodou as a force of change, so that Vodou, the spiritual and social axis of Haiti, can take its place among  the thousands of mostly foreign government, non-government and religiously based aid agencies in their efforts to improve conditions in Haiti.   

A major element of Rhythm of Life’s 2019-2020 year is to produce a movie, called “Mary Nodded”,  that will clarify what Vodou actually is and how it may be the best bet for catalyzing real change in Haiti.  I have incredible footage of my travels.  Scenes of every day life in Haiti, and very rarely obtained footage of Vodou ceremony.  Our hope is that “Mary Nodded” will air at Film Festivals and libraries internationally. With it awareness and money can be raised to continue and expand the work to change Haiti as envisioned by the Rhythm of Life and KNVA.  Most importantly the movie will help people all over the world to understand Haiti and to help Haiti help herself.  For more on “Mary Nodded”, see appendix B.

Rhythm of Life is excited to continue working in Haiti and to help redirect the way the rest of the world views Vodou.   I envision discussions, meetings and ceremonies that include people from all corners of Haitian society.  Regardless of class, financial status, education, geography, family history, or political perspective, the people of Haiti have a powerful rally point in Vodou.  Everyone has a place around the potomitan.  For change to come to Haiti everyone must take their place and dance together.  Let’s listen to the wisdom of the ancestors contained in the songs and stories.  Let’s embrace the nearly incomprehensible diversity, passion and complexity of life as it is reflected by the drums.  In this Haiti will be healed.  Furthermore, Haiti will regain its rightful position as an example to the world of the absolute possibility of change, and the kind of freedom that can only be achieved when people bind as one.  

Following are photographs of many of the people with whom Rhythm of Life is collaborating to create long term sustainable change in Haiti.  Many are members of KNVA.  Most are highly regarded Houngan and Manbo.  In most of the photographs, the Manbo and Houngan are pictured in their Hounfo, an altar/office where people come for spiritual guidance and herbal medical treatment.  The Hounfo is well supplied with the tools of the trade, including bottles of herbal medicines, ritual symbols and tools of divination, like a deck of cards or pile of bones. 

During a consultation the client may expect a Lwa to arrive and temporarily posses the Houngan/Manbo in order to deliver appropriate and accurate guidance.  In one of my many consultations, Bawón arrived and asked if I was ok after the car accident he had witnessed.  The accident had been six days earlier and 150 km away.

Victor Boniface, Gwétó De l’Ouest; Wenken Charles Henry Desmornes, Ati; Manbo Euvonie Georges Auguste, Grand Serviteur; Rick Bausman, Director Rhythm of Life/Gwétó/Ambassador KNVA; Houngan Yvens Francois, Delegue Général.  Portoprens, November 2019.

Victor Boniface, Gwétó De Ouest Department, July 2019 with a Veve he has drawn for Milocan, the Lwa who brings all Lwa together. Victor traveled extensively with me in June and July, and again in October and November, arranging meetings with influential Vodou clergy and drummers. He is one of the most important members of The Project Milocan team.

Nerat Ilderice, Gwétó De Sud Department.  Nerat helped plan the national tour in July and put us in touch with dozens of valuable contacts.  He is an extremely important part of The Milocan Project team.

Jean Samuel Altema, business manager-Haiti, and interpreter extraordinaire.  Sam is instrumental in assisting with advance planning, on the ground coordination, and communication.  We couldn’t do it without him. 

Manbo Louise Anna “Aida” Philippe in her Hounfo wielding a machete! The machete is the symbol of Ogou, the Lwa of iron.  Strong and flexible, Ogou resides in our hearts to guide us through the challenges of each day.  Manbo Aida is the leader of Fami Dawo and  initiated me into the congregation during Fete Gede in November.  She is helping coordinate our first cultural excursion to the north of Haiti in February, 2020.  As you might guess from her expression, Vodou has a playful side.  Ceremony is intense but joyful.

Master Drummer and Houngan Aristile “Doudou” Sonnelle in his Hounfo in Lanfigee, Isle a Vache.  Doudou and I play often and we are working to understand regional differences and sometimes puzzling contradictions in drumming styles represented in every corner of Haiti.

Manbo Marie Founa Pierre in her Hounfo in Tomond, Sent Department, July 2019.  Manbo Founa serves Bwav Gede and I played ceremony for her several times during Fete Gede at huge sometimes all night ceremonies.  The Gede are a family group of Lwa who are the guardians of the threshold between life and death.  Fete Gede is like Christmas, Mardi Gras, and Day of the Dead all at once!

Houngan Felix Michelet in his Hounfo in Podpe.  He is holding the ritual Ason and Staff.  Felix uses cards to aid in divination of information from the spirit realm.  He layed cards for me, picked up the four of spades, and said “Ah… you have four children.  Are you sure you’re not black?”

He’s right about the kids; pretty sure I’m white….

Manbo Monique Legoute, in her Hounfo in Okay.  Her Peristyle is particularly popular with the local LGBTQ population.  

Houngan Gabriele St Surin in his Hounfo in Cap Haitien.  Gabriele has three Hounfo, one for Rada Lwa, one for Petwo Lwa and one for the Gedes.  He also owns a beautiful hotel on the north coast of Haiti just outside Cap Haitien.  Rhythm of Life is using his hotel, Due Su Mer, as the home base for our cultural excursion in February, 2020.

Manbo Marie Yolande Vital in her Hounfo in Kan Peren.  Manbo Yolande serves Bosou, and during a consultation Bosou took a burning cigarette from his mouth, rolled it between his hands in a bucket of blessed water, and came up with a $100 bill.  Yolande is a woman, but Bosou has male characteristics, so when he is in possession, or “Riding” Manbo Yolande, she is referred to as “he”. 

Houngan Smerth Andre in his Hounfo in Port au Prince.  Andre runs an orphanage in his Peristyle compound caring for about 40 children.  Many of the Houngan and Manbo I work with also run orphanages and are responsible for providing food, clothing, and education.  Andre officiated the Rosman ceremony in Miami where I was promoted to Gwétó/Ambassador in November, 2019.

Houngan Wilfred Antoine in a tree outside his Peristyle (Vodou temple) in Jacmel. 

Houngan Alain Degrange in his Hounfo in Tigwav.  An Ason is visible behind the large green bottle and two Staffs rest at the far end of his table.  His table also holds a collection of herbal remedies he prepares and keeps on  hand for those in need.

Some rowdy members of one of my youth ensembles.  Rhythm of Life is taking an active roll in teaching Haitian children about their culture and heritage through drumming.  We have several ensembles that continue to practice when I’m not there, but lack a qualified instructor.  I’m working on getting Doudou down from the hills to work with the kids.  I’m especially interested in teaching girls and young women.  Though not pictured there are several girls who play well, and they need to be encouraged.  I have not met any female drummers in my travels yet, though many women play Ogan - a piece of iron that plays the pulse of the rhythm.  

The new Peristyle at Lanfiggee, under construction.  Rhythm of Life and Bat Tanbou raised the funds necessary to rebuild the Peristyle for Doudous congregation. The original Peristyle was lost in Hurricane Matthew.  Many, many homes have not been rebuilt or lack a roof.  People just don’t have the means to make repairs.  I know a lot of families who live spread out in the homes of relatives and friends.  They don’t know how much longer they’ll have to do this.  

My Ason, the “Voice of Danballah” and Staff, an amplifier of spiritual energy, presented to me by the ministry of Vodou, Sud Department, July 2019.  Usually only Manbo and Houngan carry these items.  When I asked why I had been chosen to bear them, I was told that it was under the direction of the Lwa, and that I would need them to continue my work.  In November I was presented with a second staff at my promotion to Gwétó/Ambassador.

That’s me playing Mamán, lead drum, at ceremony, January 2019, Lanfiggee, Isle a Vache. I’m not angry, it’s been a long, long ceremony!  This one lasted about seven hours, the Lwa had arrived and were sticking around!  Also, the goat sacrificed earlier to the Lwa was taking a while to cook.

With Doudou and his troop in Lanfigee, April 2019.  Doudou and his congregation lost their Peristile in Hurricane Matthew and have been without a roof for years.  After my trip in January Rhythm of Life raised money here on Martha’s Vineyard to rebuild it for them.  When I arrived in April, it was complete and they were filled with awe and joy.  The Peristile serves about 200 people in the area.

Me with a troop of drummers in Portoprens, July 2019.  We’ve just finished a six hour ceremony, been doused with rum and peppered with blazing gunpowder!  All part of the joy of the event.

Appendix A - The Milocan Project to Date

June 24th-July 25th 2019    (Accomplished)

National tour of Haiti to drum at Vodou ceremony and be received at initial meetings with Vodou Clergy and other members of KNVA.  

Beginning in the Sud Department on Isle a Vache on June 24th 2019 and continuing Northwest, then Northeast, North, East, Central, and South, returning to Isle a Vache on July 25th, I played at 25 Vodou ceremonies in every region of Haiti.  I met with dozens of influential, highly respected, well known and  hard working leaders of Vodou to discuss how Vodou could grow in its efforts to catalyze change in Haiti.  The tour was a resounding success.  I’ve been invited back to participate in ceremony for the highest Holy Days - Fete Gede - in October and November.

I have also been invited to be initiated into the Fami Dawo, a large highly respected Vodou congregation in Nord Department.  My initiation will be in November, 2019.  Also, I have been asked to join the KNVA.   Most significantly, upon my return to the South, the Ministry of Vodou for Sud Department presented me with two extraordinary gifts.  I was awarded the Ason.  The Ason is a gourd wrapped in beads and tied to a small bell.  It is known as “The voice of Danballah”, one of the most important Lwa (deities).  The Ason is generally only carried and used during ceremony by Houngan or Manbo.  I was also awarded a staff of power, also carried exclusively by Houngan and Manbo.  The staff is an amplifier of spiritual energy.  My staff has carvings of Ogou je Rouge, the protector, and Danballah Wedo, the healer.  It was presented to Nerat Ilderice at the end of his apprenticeship as an Houngan by his mentor, and he has passed it to me.  At the presentation, it was suggested that they might come in handy for me to continue my work.  It is impossible to describe the depths to which I am honored to be entrusted with these items. 

October 27th-November 10th 2019  (Accomplished)

Fete Gede, Nord Department and Semi-National

Fete Gede begins in late October and continues through mid-November.  It is perhaps the most active and important Holiday season on the Vodou calendar.  Fete Gede honors the ancestors and is a bit like Christmas, Mardi-Gras and Day of the Dead all rolled into one.  Ceremonies are huge and intense.  I played for five ceremonies in the Nord Department, and several in Tomond, including a blessing of the land where a group of farmers with whom I am collaborating  intend to initiate CSA and the Combit.  During this period I was also:

-  Confirmed as Hountogi : Ceremonial Drummer with ability and proclivity to channel spiritual energy by drumming.

  • Intitiated in to Maisson Dahomey as Prince Twa Rivyé  (Prince Three Rivers).
  •  Initiated into Chanpwél/Bizango:  formal acknowledgement of “warrior” (analogous to the term as used by Native Americans) status, charged with the defense of the Lakou (community) and general care and protection of the values of Vodou.
  • Received by the Ati, Wenken Carl Henry Desmornes and his Grand Serviteur, Manbo Euvonie Georges Auguste, with the highest recommendation by Houngan Victor Boniface, Gretó De de l’Ouest.  Established formal agreement to work in partnership on the Milocan Project
  • On November 23rd, 2019 I was appointed Guetó/Ambassador for KNVA at a Rosman Ceremony in Miami, Florida. 

January 15th-30th, 2020

Sud Department including Isle a Vache, Okay, Kan Peren, Tigwav and Jacmel.

In January I’ll drum for ceremony with Houngan Aristile Sonnelle on Isle a Vache, Manbo Monique Legoute in Okay, Manbo Yolande Vital in Kan Peren, Houngan Alan  Degrange in Tigwav, and Houngan Wilfred Antoine in Jacmel, all members of the KNVA.   I’ll also host a meeting of the aforementioned along with Nerat Ilderice, Victor Boniface, Grand Serviteur Manbo Euvonie Georges Auguste, Délégué Général Houngan Yvens Francouis, and other influential area leaders.  

On Isle a Vache I’ll continue to work with my youth ensemble in the village of Kay Kok.  While in Kay Kok I’ll meet with school officials to solidify our plans to fund a scholarship program for approximately 40 children through Rhythm of Life’s collaboration with the Interact Club, a group of students at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.  I’ll also check in with the family of Bergine Nicolas, who through Rhythm of Life’s  collaboration with Interact has received funding to attend law school in Portoprens.  In the village of Lanfiggee I’ll continue to pursue a comparison of regional drumming styles with Master Drummer and Houngan Aristle “Doudou” Sonnelle and his troop.  Doudou and I are comparing and cataloging the variations and seeming contradictions in drumming styles from one region to the next as the result of lack of communication and lack of travel opportunities for drummers between these regions.  This is extremely important to my work as I play for ceremony in all regions and have become a link between them.  

Milocan Project business manager (Haiti), Jean Samuel Altema and I will lay the groundwork for a cultural excursion to Southern Haiti planned for late 2020 or early 2021.  This excursion is part of a long term plan to establish a network of cultural centers throughout Haiti.

February 21st-March 1st 2020 

In February Rhythm of Life will bring our elite ensemble, Bat Tanbou, to Nord Department.  This is the first iteration of a long term plan that came of a discussion I had with Ati Wenken Carl Henry Desmornes about sharing the beauty and depth of Haitian culture with annyone who might be interested.   We’ll provide classes in drumming, dancing and singing, and attend ceremony in several places.  Each participant will receive a traditional ceremonial drum to keep, and we’ll work with a local artist to individually paint our drums in colors representing various Lwa.   We’ll meet with Houngan and Bwakaiman organizer Houngan Gabrielle St Surin, and also  with Manbo Louise Anna “Aida” Phillippe, and of course, Victor Boniface.  This is an exciting opportunity for me as director of Rhythm of Life to involve other Vineyarders in a Haitian experience, and to enhance Bat Tanbou’s ability to share Haitian drumming here in our own community.

August 2020

Bwakaiman, an annual Vodou pilgrimage to Bouis Caiman, or in kreole Bwakaiman.  This is the sight of the great meeting of slaves from all over Haiti orchestrated by Boukman in 1791.  This meeting is generally regarded as the beginning of the Haitian Revolution, that continued until independence was gained in 1804.  Every year drummers, dancers, Houngan and Manbo gather to reenact this historic event and celebrate with long series’ of ceremonies in the area.  Manbo Carol Demesmin, the lead organizer for Bwakaiman and I are talking about the many ways I could be part of Bwakaiman next year. During the July 2019 trip I played at Sodo, the oldest and largest Vodou pilgrimage in Haiti, drumming with a Rara group to lead pilgrims around the village of Sau Deau and up the mountain to the sacred waterfall where everyone bathes to be cleansed spiritually. It was some of the most challenging drumming I’ve ever experienced!  Four hours in 100 degree heat, hundreds of singing and dancing celebrants all around us jostling us at every turn or stop at a sacred crossroad.   It is important to the overall success of our mission to also establish a presence at Bwakaiman, too, another extraordinarily important location and event on the Vodou calendar.  

Appendix B - “Mary Nodded” - The Movie

Summary/Outline of “Mary Nodded”

I came up with the title “Mary Nodded” for the film because it is a reference to the popular Christmas Carol “The Little Drummer Boy”.  In the middle of the song the little drummer boy asks Mary “Shall I play for you…on my drum?”  The next verse begins with “Mary nodded…”  Haitian Vodou often uses Christian imagery, early Vodouists adopting the images of the Catholic Saints in order to disguise, and therefore be able to continue to practice,  their traditional beliefs.  To this day, most Vodouists see no contradiction between Christianity and Vodou, in spite of the fact that some Christian churches are continuing and even intensifying their campaign to dismantle Vodou.  

“Haitians were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story. And so, the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.’”

-Pat Robertson, blaming the earthquake on Vodou, 2010

For me personally “Mary Nodded” reflects my journey into Haiti so far.  “I have no gifts to bring”, means that I don’t have  very much money, medical knowledge, knowledge of how to build bridges or schools, or to deliver food where it is needed.  I have the drum.  When I asked Haiti what I could offer, I very literally asked “Shall I play for you on my drum?” and Haiti responded with a resounding “Yes!”  In other words, “Mary Nodded”.  And Haiti has been diligent in ensuring that I return as often as possible.  

I envision the film as follows:  sequences of travel through Haiti (by car, motorcycle or on foot), or a walk through a typical Haitian home, alternating with sequences of Vodou ceremony. The drummers sweating, dancers swirling, the Houngan or Manbo leading the singing, the Lwa arriving and taking temporary possession of participants, an Houngan chucking handfuls of burning gunpowder on the drummers, a Manbo dousing machetes in Klaren and lighting them on fire so the dancers can wield the flaming swords.  During the sequences showing travel or daily life in Haiti the soundtrack will play as I deliver a voiceover explaining what the audience is about to experience.  That way, when the oil cuts to ceremony it will allow the audience to observe and listen without the distraction of a voice over, because at that point they’ll have some knowledge of what they are seeing and hearing.  We’ll lay it out in the order it actually happened.  Starting with footage of life and ceremony in the South and proceeding all around the country and back down.  Since the point of the movie is to dispel current misinterpretations of Vodou and demonstrate what Vodou is actually about, I’ll make several salient points as we go, clearing up one misconception after another and replacing it with truth.  By the end of the film it will be easy to understand how an organization like the KNVA will be incredibly effective in improving life in Haiti.  The film will demonstrate not only the joy, community, and wisdom of Vodou, but its immense potential as an internal agent of much needed change.

-Rick Bausman


Rhythm of Life, Inc.

The Milocan Project