A syncretetic and changing system of beliefs and rituals produced out of the experience of the sugar plantation system in the New World, Vodou, or “the serving of the Gods,” though bricolaged in the forced contact of African vodun and Catholicism, may be understood as a historical response to the very experience of the ritual brutality of slavery. the serving of the Gods, or lwas, worked to transform torture, terror, and servitude itself. In her recent reconsideration of Haitian history, Haiti, History, and the Gods, Joan Dayan recounts her lesson from the Manbo Priestess La Merci Benjamin about what it means to submit to being ridden by the spirits. Benjamin explains that through the intense thought work of incarnating one of the Vodou deities, “instead of being turned into a thing, you become a god.” And, thus, Dayan theorizes, “to Be ridden by the mèt tèt, to be seized by the god, is thus to destroy the cunning imperial dichotomy of master and slave, or colonizer and colonized.” In eighteenth-century Saint-Domingue nighttime assemblies for the collective practice of Vodou ritual and dancing were more than just transgressions of colonial legal authority. Possession by the gods also conjured a spirit-infused landscape of sacred trees and herbal offerings that menaced colonial authority through a reversal of colonial authority’s basis in its materially staked claims to possession, the notion of “property rights,” of self-possession and control of land.
Sowing Empire- Landscape and Colonization | Jil Casid
Inspiration to design dance spaces in the gardens of Le Manoir Alexandra
Alleluia pour une femme-jardin / Hallelujah for a garden-woman
Located in Martissant, a densely populated area in the West Department of Haiti, the Habitation Leclerc is an old abandoned propriety with an expansive garden. It was built during the 19th century for Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister Pauline Bonaparte and husband General Victoire Emmanuel-Leclerc, French governor of Haiti at the time. In 1944, it was bought by the renowned late American dancer Katherine Dunham, who influenced the Alvin Ailey dance school by using Haitian Folklore dance techniques in her career. Dunham transformed Habitation Leclerc into a resort, which attracted many famous people such as Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy and Mick Jagger. When the political situation worsened in Haiti, the propriety’s garden was shut down in 1982. Ever since, it has been difficult to maintain and the beautiful residence has fallen into ruins. The cultural organization called FOKAL bought Habitation Leclerc and is now transforming it into a botanical garden. The first steps of re-appropriating this property consisted in engaging with the people of Martissant and providing a community space to not only understand the needs of the area, but also to mediate conflicts that had risen among different groups.
FOKAL has successfully inaugurated the first earthquake memorial park at l’Habitation Leclerc, just this January 12, 2012.
While working with the gardens of Le Manoir Alexandra, I am interested in issues of accessibility. Who gets to use this garden? How welcoming is it? Le Manoir, just like the Habitation Leclerc, once belonged to the aristocracy of Haiti. However its location in the city of Jacmel and its future use as a cultural center calls for social inclusion.
A study of L’Habitation Leclerc will certainly provide some answers to my questions.
It is possibly the most remarkable/sensitive urban project currently being developed in Haiti. Here is a link to an insightful film documentary covering the project.: Martissant, the Dream of a Living
Website on the project: Parc de Martissant
Below, pictures from “Geraldine” on PICASA