Rescue mission for popular Haitian religion

January 2009 -

Western clichés have made vodou something to be feared, but in 2009 on the island of Haiti, the still-controversial vodou culture has been nominated to receive its own museum-annex-cultural centre.


Shrine. Photo: Jonathan Watts

"That is needed", says Paul Faber, curator Africa at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, "because the island's poor economy has cost so many temples. Ritual objects are sold to cover the medical costs of priests or their families." To prevent unbridled export, the Foundation for the Preservation, Enhancement and Production of Haitian Cultural Works was established in 1989 (FPVPOCH). This initiative was launched by Marianne Lehmann, a Swiss national who has lived on the island for fifty years. One day she purchased a vodou object being sold door-to-door to help a priest who was ill. She ended up buying some three thousand of these objects.

Bizango room. Photo: Jonathan Watts

250 objects from this unique collection will be shown in a series of European museums to draw attention to this situation. Until 10 May 2009, the Tropenmuseum is saving € 1.00 per paying visitor in the hope of donating about € 75,000.00. Faber: "Much more money is needed, which is why it would be good if a professional fundraising organisation could be contracted." Each of the relevant museums has its own way of contributing to the cause, according to Paul Faber: "The Tropenmuseum's campaign is in keeping with the museum’s mission, on the basis of which a share of the revenue is to be used to benefit the museum sector outside of Europe and the United States."

Bizango figure. Photo: Jonathan Watts


What kind of support can be found on Haiti itself? The board of the FPVPOCH represents both the intelligentsia and vodou culture insiders. During his working visit in 2008, Faber discovered that the need to preserve the vodou culture has finally been recognised on the ministerial level. In closing he comments: "The collection itself is a direct result of the collapse of the economy, which is why the urgent need for a cultural centre is undisputed."