The beauty and complexity of Palm Sunday in Léogâne

palm Sunday in chapel-HSC

Small chapel at Hopital Ste Croix, where palms rest quietly before the procession.


Today at 7:30 am all was still in the chapel of Hopital Ste Croix.  The palms were resting on the altar, ready for the acolytes to distribute for the procession, out of the hospital gates and around the corner to the main church, Église Ste. Croix.


But the quiet did not last too long.  Outside, in the street, there was competition!  Léogâne is one of only a handful of towns in Haiti known for Rara music.  Rara is REALLY interesting.  Musically, it consists of brass bands (think of New Orleans) that practice all year and come out during Lent, Holy Week, culminating on Easter day.  But they do NOT play in honor of the Christian observances: they play in opposition!

I have had trouble believing that that is the point of the timing of it, but that message is the only explanation I have received, from students, cooking staff, and Episcopal clergy, for a couple of years now.  Here’s how it works.  On Friday and Saturay nights in Lent, starting at perhaps 10 pm and continuing until 8 or 8:30 the next morning, the sound of brass bands comes and goes all night long. The sound travels because the bands travel, walking through the streets, sometimes quite close.  Our students in the new apartment that serves as dorm are RIGHT next to the road, and they are coming to to class bleary-eyed on Mondays.

The reason for the opposition seems to be that Rara exists as a nationalistic and religious statement of support for vaudoun, or voodoo, practice.  Again, I personally want to downplay this statement.  The idea that voodoo is a form of national disgrace is common in some religious circles.  But voodoo is a nationally recognized religion here, a cultural treasure of Haiti. Apparently the season of Lent is one time when voodoo is out on display, loudly!

I have heard of the bands that used to march in northern Ireland in the spring: another form of musical aggression!  In this case, thanks be to God, it is not a precursor to violence.  Just a Battle of the Bands with an ideological twist!

SIDEBAR ABOUT VOODOO :  It is the form of religion that came with the African slaves when they were captured and brought to Haiti in the 1600’s and 1700’s.  It includes an element of honoring the ancestors.  Historically, it is associated with the rallying of the slaves at the beginning of the revolutionary war which drove out the slave-owners, the French, and brought freedom: the only such successful re-taking of liberty in the whole sad history of slavery.  The rejection of Christianity at that juncture of history had everything to do with the extreme cruelty of the French owners, who were Christian.  Systematic and brutal murder was all that the slaves had experienced of Christianity, and they had no interest in it.  


By now, the positive aspects of Christian life in Haiti are powerful.  For instance, the  Haitian Episcopal church is the fastest-growing Episcopal diocese in the US and islands.   The Catholic churches are full, and Evangelical churches are crammed, too.  And all of those churches are meeting on Sunday mornings, full of singing and many instruments.  What happens when the Rara bands pass by outside, only 20 feet away, playing at full volume?  Well, this morning, it happened during the sermon.   Père Sonley just turned up the volume on his microphone, and talked right over it without missing a beat!  And when they came by again, during a prayer and praise song, the whole congregation stayed on beat, cranking up the voices to keep on singing.

Père Sonley, Palm Sunday 2017

Triumphal entry into Église Ste Croix on Palm Sunday, Pére Sonley in red chasuble, drums supporting a lively entrance hymn!




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