SAUT D’EAU, Haiti (AP) — Bearing offerings of rum and freshly slaughtered goats, thousands of Voodoo faithful bathe in sacred waterfalls, praying for a better life and an end to the spiraling violence that threatens to destabilize Haiti’s new government.
In an annual ritual that ended Monday, worshippers from across the Caribbean nation arrived for the weeklong Saut d’Eau pilgrimage.
The ritual, among Haitian Voodoo’s holiest, comes amid a surge of violence in Haiti’s capital that U.N. officials say is an attempt to destabilize the new government of President Rene Preval.
“The gods tell us what to do. That’s why we’re having so many problems: because we’re not listening to the gods,” said Yolette Jean, a Voodoo priestess.
Saut d’Eau’s mystique owes to a 19th century legend that an image of the Virgin Mary appeared in the waterfalls. Believing the waters hold magical powers, followers strip to their underwear and scrub their bodies with aromatic mint leaves and soap.
Arms raised to the heavens, they ask the gods for help with fixing broken relationships, curing sickness and even lucky lottery tickets. Some collapse in convulsions, overcome by emotion — or maybe spirit gods, called loas in Voodoo.