While we have discussed Haitian religion, specifically Vodou, quite a bit in the wake of the massive earthquake that has decimated Port-au-Prince, there are many other important aspects we haven’t talked about. This was partially due to the immediate need to get aid and donations rolling, but now that we are two weeks into the crisis, some are looking at the vast cultural damage that has been done to Haiti.
“With dozens of galleries, museums and other venues badly damaged in the quake, Haiti’s arts community is sick at heart. Had the nation’s rich cultural patrimony, a testament to joy and beauty in a land that has seen tragedy and despair, been lost? Since the quake, gallery owners have been trying to pull together a list of artists killed, injured or missing. They’d accounted for about half of those they represented. Untold is the toll in artworks, with their wild colors and real-life portrayals; their lions, tigers and bears, though those animals don’t exist in Haiti; their echoes of voodoo traditions and the nation’s African roots.”
The Los Angeles times talks with several curators, gallery owners, and Haitian artists about the state of Haiti’s artistic and cultural legacy after the quake, including flag-maker Mireille Delice (a protégé of renowned Haitian artist Yves Telemak), who is persevering under the weight of considerable loss.
“Mireille Delice is a well-known creator of the “flags,” or banners, a form of Haitian art that is a piece of cloth, usually satin, decorated with beads or sequins. In the quake she lost her sister, her house and her box of sequins. “We have to keep on,” she said, seated at the gallery with other artists.”
Art can seem trivial, especially in the face of such a devastating human toll, but it also underpins and unites nations, religions, and cultures. As Haitian artist Gabriel Coutard says in the article, “art serves us. We must keep it.” To do otherwise really would mean the death of Haiti, certainly as a shared idea and culture, if not as a nation. As Haiti starts to mend, it will turn to its artists to make sense of things, and express the country’s pain, loss, and eventual recovery to the world.
Since the quake many Pagans have given generously to aid Haiti, and several Pagan organizations have set up special funds for earthquake relief, we are also now starting to get word of Pagans who are on the ground helping the Haitian people directly. Pagan priestess Alane Brown, a member of the Crow Women Circle and Goddess Choir, has sent out an open letter to the Pagan community regarding Covenant of the Goddess member Peter Dybing.
“Looking for a way to help the Haiti earthquake victims? Want to support an emergency medical clinic in Port au Prince that’s run by a Pagan priest? Please consider donating money to Haiti Community Support. This NGO is not itself affiliated with any political or religious group. However, the man running the clinic, Peter Dybing, is a member of the Covenant of the Goddess and a longtime practitioner of the Craft. He was very active in the Albuquerque Pagan community before relocating to the Virgin Islands a few years ago. There he met Mathilde and Bruce, who run Haiti Community Support. Haiti Community Support is a NGO that has been helping Haiti since 2006 through programs in health, education and infrastructure building. Following the earthquake, Haiti Community Support shifted its emphasis to disaster relief. Peter (an EMT) and Mathilde traveled to Port au Prince on January 14th and set up an emergency clinic in a park. They recruited over 30 local Haitians and together they began caring for people who, despite severe injuries, just could not get into the overwhelmed hospitals.”
If you want to donate to this effort in Haiti, head over to the Haiti Community Support web site. According to Brown’s letter, the emergency clinic now has doctors and nurses working with it, and is planning to start traveling to different affected areas. So if you have been looking for a way to donate that involves the Pagan community, and directly aids the Haitian people, Haiti Community Support seems to be exactly what you are looking for. May the gods bless and protect Peter Dybing in his work.
Dybing isn’t the only Pagan on the ground in Haiti, Circle Sanctuary member Otis Richardson (Fenian), a Pagan soldier in the 82nd Airborne Division of the US Army, deployed for relief aid on January 16th. Circle has a page up with his contact information if you’d like to send him well-wishes or include him in your prayers and workings (Dybing’s information is included on that page as well).
Finally, while not on the ground, Rev. Tamara L. Siuda, Nisut of the Kemetic Orthodox Faith, and an initiated Haitian Mambo, has been sharing information about the safety of Vodou practitioners and their peristyles in Haiti via her Facebook Page and blog. Blessings to them in their efforts as well.