In Haitian Vodou, Baron Samedi is a loa (spirit) of death and resurrection. As the oft-demonized religion associates him with death, one is primarily inclined to focus on the grim and morbid side of Baron Samedi. This is especially true in modern Western societies, where death is perceived in a negative light. We try to hide death and purge it from our lives as if it and life were at odds. That is in stark contrast to what author and artist Dieuvela Etienne depicts in “Baron Samedi Monologue.” For Etienne, it is impossible to speak of one without mentioning the other, given that life and death are like twins.
“What would life be without death? What would death be without life? Like two soul mates, one completes the other. They do not hate but rather love each other. And so does death follow life from beginning to end, and life springs forth in both visible and invisible worlds.”
“I am the entry and exit of all life. I am the golden thread that weaves families together. I am the key to all birth, for I am the god of genital conjunction. I am the celebrant of your carnal origin.”
Through her work, Etienne invites us to celebrate life in its full glory, without shame or taboo. Her reimagining of this loa believes that if one must die, one must also live. For her Baron Samedi, life is not about withholding and renouncing pleasures and the self. It is rather a communion with one’s surroundings expressed through parties, dancing, sex, and love. Here, the god of death is linked to all aspects of life, and death is only the continuity of existence. Nothing comes to an end.
“I have come to tell you that the path is infinite. It has bends but no end.”
Etienne sees in Vodou a form of spirituality as everchanging as life itself. It is is neither written, nor static, nor confined to a holy book. Baron Samedi does not judge or inflict punishments. Humans are alone with their own conscience.
“On the other side, the Hell of Man does not exist. And no judgment awaits you except that of your conscience. You will face your own actions. You will see what you have experienced, learned, and accomplished.”
Spirits communicate directly with humans and are an integral part of their environment and activities. God is not distant or above earthly affairs. The divine and the spiritual are continually brought back to the human real. In Vodou, spirits have no body of their own. They manifest by inhabiting the living and interfering in their dreams. No matter if the spirit is male or female, it can take possession of anyone, regardless of their sex or gender. Every person has their own relationship with the spirit and must live in harmony with their own self. This is what Etienne does through her interpretation of Baron Samedi, inspired by what this loa represents within Vodou.
Myths and spiritual and religious stories have long been used to explain our presence on Earth, and to understand the mysteries of life and what happens after death. For these narratives to be part of our journey in an authentic way, they must be adapted to our times, to the new knowledge we have acquired over the years and to current issues. Haitian Vodou was created by slaves to maintain their humanity in a system that treated them as of soulless beings and to personify their natural surroundings.
Etienne helps us to see Vodou, long demonized in favor of Christian religions, in a different light and breathes life into the spirituality that contributed to Haitian independence by reuniting former slaves and giving them a common identity based on African, Native American, and European cultures. Today, Etienne invites Haitians and their descendants to reconnect with the history of Vodou through the decolonization of thoughts and mentalities.
As the Covid-19 pandemic introduced the specter of death into our lives, the uncertain nature of our world is no longer concealed and the false sense of control we felt over life is laid bare. We have been prompted to reconsider our place in the world, as well as our relationship with our planet. The “Baron Samedi” monologue reminds us to enjoy life, seize every moment, and be our true selves—at once.
“Many people no longer live. They have let themselves be confined by the judgment of others. Like circus animals, they settle for appearing normal, civilized, and trained. I am the one who disturbs and, far from being intimidated, I frighten. ‘
“The time for freedom is the life you have right now. Life is a ripe fruit that rots quickly. You must taste it without wasting any time.’
Baron Samedi Monologue by Dieuvela Etienne is available at:
6524 St. Hubert Street, Montreal (Quebec, Canada)
BOTANICA 7 FEUILLES
2708 Concorde Boulevard East, Laval, Quebec, Canada
Follow Dieuvela Etienne on her Facebook page.
Laurent Maurice Lafontant is born in Haiti and has immigrated in Quebec in 2001 where he has been living since then. He has graduated in Fine Arts from Concordia University after achieving a double major in Film Studies and French Literature. Laurent has been involved in the LGBTQ+ community since 2008. He is a volunteer for Gris-Montreal an organization that raises awareness against homophobia. Laurent has been a volunteer and an employee at African Rainbow, an organization that worked with Black LGBTQ+ people in Quebec. He directed two short documentaries Be Yourself (2012) and Beyond Images (2014). Both films talk about Black LGBTQ+ people in Montreal. Laurent is now president of Massimadi Foundation, the organization behind Massimadi: an Afro LGBTQ+ Film & Art Festival. Laurent is also a self-published writer who launched his book “La dernière lumière de Terrexil” in spring 2018.