PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Revelers streamed into cemeteries across Haiti on Sunday bearing beeswax candles, food offerings and bottles of rum infused with hot peppers to mark the country's annual Voodoo festival of the dead.
At Port-au-Prince's sprawling national cemetery, Voodoo priests and priestesses gathered around a blackened monument that is believed to be the oldest grave. There, they lit candles and stoked small fires as they evoked the spirit Baron Samedi, the guardian of the dead who is typically depicted with a dark top hat and a white skull face.
Some filled their mouths with fiery rum and sprayed it over the tomb's cross. As if in a trance, one young man wrapped in a paisley print sheet chewed up bits of a broken glass bottle, but onlookers who scrambled on burial vaults to get a better look didn't buy his performance. "Thief!" they shouted, as he spat out blood.
Minutes later, the crowd perched atop the tombs gave respect to a priestess with a purple scarf wrapped around her head as she danced in a spastic manner and made a keening lament.
Other Haitians gathered among the tombs to quietly remember dead relatives and ask spirits to grant favors or provide guidance. One man paid a soothsayer for advice on how to increase his chances at winning bets at Haitian outlets that play on New York State Lottery numbers.
Vendors who set up shop in the cemeteries did a brisk business selling pictures of Catholic saints alongside candles, rum, and rosary beads.
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 personalities in the African religions. Voodoo was sanctioned as an official religion in 2003 and it is practiced widely across the country of 10 million inhabitants.
This year' two-day celebration comes shortly before Haitian officials are expected to announce the top two finishers in a presidential first-round vote. Electoral authorities say they plan to release the preliminary results of the presidential vote on Tuesday, after the Voodoo festival concludes.
Voodoo priest Pierre Saint Ange cracked a rope whip on a crumbling tomb and told onlookers not to "fight with guns or burn tires" in coming days.
"We are asking for peace," he cried, standing near three women with their faces smeared in white paint.
David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dmcfadd