Night falls slowly on Port-au-Prince. The night of the dead. The night of November 1st, the day when the dead and the undead come out of the tombs. The night when it is better to go away, or stay home, barricaded behind a thick door. In the hotel overlooking Petionville, I closed my door twice, closed my window, pulled out the opaque curtains, and locked the gate. And if someone knocks after sunset, I will not open.
It was before the sun hit the horizon that I went to drink an old five-star Barbancourt at the hotel bar before it was too late. A bit of alcohol to give myself strength and courage for the night. Not the longest night of the year, but by far the most dangerous.
I will not close my eyes, I will instead re-read, to calm my anguish, pages of James Frazer’s Golden Bough, and look at the black and white photos of the first edition of William Seabrook’s Magic Island.
In the distance, I hear the drumming drums, the mournful voices, the mad cries. Car horns launched at open tomb in the city. Shots fired in theair (or against moving targets). Who is dead? Who is alive? Who is undead? Tonight, this night, it will be even more difficult to distinguish one from theother. Border very tenuous than that of the alive and the inert, during these dark hours…
In the cemeteries, the crowds of the houngan, the bokor, the mambo will infiltrate the burials,dig the ground, open the coffins, make zombies, collect the raw material of their spells, honor the memory of the dead in the manner accustomed to voodoo. The earth will be turned over more than once. Rivers of blood will flow into the gutters, the necks of goats and roosters will be the sources. Dark songs will rise in every corner of the city, while lightning streak the clouds over the colonial houses and ruined palaces.
Baron Samedi will parade in the less lit alleyways, accompanied by his worshipers with their faces whitened by the powder of human bones, wearing straw hat and sunglasses upside down. Alcohol, everywhere alcohol. Bad alcohol.Tobacco. Cannabis. All over. On the Champ de Mars, prostitutes are arranged by pouring rum directly into their knickers (disinfection or good luck?). At the crossroads, elderly women, animated by supernatural forces, will undo their bodice and, in white skirt, barefoot and with the hanging udder, will wield rusty cut-cuts against the younger ones, screaming their thirst for blood and sex.
Tomorrow morning, when the first rays of the sun will reappear,the city will count its dead. Because the dead never return alone in the otherworld, when one calls them. It will be time to go down to the Grand Cimetière of Port-au-Prince, look among the ouanga who will stimulate my curiosity: spearhead touched by fire, plastic doll covered with a deadly black cloth, gourd engraved with Masonic signs, ball of wool pierced with mortiferous needles, fabric fetish hanged upside down, wicker chairs nailed to trees, torn playing cards, coins burned with cane alcohol…
On my mahogany desk, I placed my pendants: a Chinese jade, a Templar cross, a miraculous medal almost entirely erased, and a dancing Kali. She seems to smile even more than yesterday, her obscene tongue hanging between fangs. One cannot doubt the smell of fresh blood, and the mountains of skulls, close to us?
Philippe Charlier, MD, PhD, LittD, is a forensic practitioner and anthropologist. He works on representations of the human bodies, and rituals related to diseases and death. He loves words, and more.