Pilgrimage of Saut d'Eau

Pilgrimage of Saut d'Eau

July 16
Although it falls at the same time as a church holiday honoring Our Lady of Carmel, the pilgrimage to the church in Ville-Bonheur, Haiti, combines both Christian and Voodoo beliefs. There is a sacred grove just outside Ville-Bonheur where, according to legend, the Virgin Mary once appeared on top of a palm tree. When people started neglecting the local church and worshipping the palm tree instead, the priest ordered it chopped down. Since no one wanted to kill the tree, the priest did it himself. Then he found people coming to pay honor to the roots, so he had those ripped out. Shortly thereafter the priest suffered a stroke and died. The people interpreted his death as a sign of the correctness of the vision.
The pilgrimage to this holy place, known as Saut d'Eau (waterfall), involves following a steep, winding trail and walking along a pebbly stream-bed for several hundred yards. Pilgrims eventually reach a place where two waterfalls tumble from a precipice more than 100 feet high—a kind of natural cathedral where rainbows are common in the mist that rises from the falls. This is the home of Damballah-wedo and other African deities who play a part in the Haitian religious practice known as Voodoo, or Vodoun.
Some worshipers tie colored cords, which they have purchased as offerings to the African loa (deities), to the sacred trees at the foot of the falls, while others bathe in the water. The pilgrims gather up a small bit of dirt from the base of the trees and carry it home in their handkerchiefs. These same pilgrims can be seen later in the day paying their respects to the Virgin in the local church—further evidence of the way in which this pilgrimage has brought together Christian and Voodoo beliefs.
CONTACTS:
Embassy of the Republic of Haiti
2311 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-332-4090; fax: 202-745-7215
www.haiti.org
SOURCES:
FestWrld: Haiti-1999, p. 15
FiestaTime-1965, p. 114