PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Voodoo chief Max Beauvoir has died in his homeland of Haiti, where the mixture of beliefs from West Africa and Catholicism is recognized as an official religion. He was 79.
A government statement said Beauvoir died Saturday in Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince after an illness. The cause of death was not immediately known.
On his Twitter account, President Michel Martelly described Beauvoir's death as a "great loss for the country."
Born in 1936, Beauvoir was a biochemical engineer who earned degrees abroad and became a Voodoo priest when he returned to his Caribbean homeland in the 1970s.
He became Voodoo's supreme chief, or national "ati," in 2008 and led Haiti's main priests' organization. Beauvoir was widely known as a passionate guardian of the Voodoo faith, which has often been sensationalized and misunderstood.
Voodoo, or Vodou as preferred by Haitians, evolved in the 17th century when colonists brought slaves to Haiti from West Africa. Slaves forced to practice Catholicism adopted saints to coincide with African spirits. Followers believe in reincarnation, one God and a pantheon of spirits.
Many of Haiti's 10 million people consider themselves followers of both Voodoo and Catholicism.