The photographs by Tony Savino are an entry into the private and sacred world of the Vodou religion. He is able to capture the beauty, complexity and richness of the Haitian people and of their religion. As a viewer you can’t help but to be engulfed and drawn into the world he is giving us a glimpse of.
Savino has been covering Haiti with his cameras since 1987, when he covered the first attempted elections after the fall of Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier on assignment for Time Magazine. As Savino continued to photograph this political landscape, he became ever more interested in the cultural identity of the Haitian people. Vodou, the synchronic mix of various West African traditions and Catholicism exemplifies that expression.
Roman Catholicism is the official religion of Haiti, but Vodou may be considered the country’s national religion. The majority of Haitians believes in and practices at least some aspects of vodou. Most voodooists believe that their religion can coexist with Catholicism. Misconceptions about voodoo have given Haiti a reputation for sorcery and zombies. Popular images of vodou have ignored the religion’s basis as a domestic cult of family spirits.
Adherents of vodou do not perceive themselves as members of a separate religion; they consider themselves Roman Catholics. In fact, the word for vodou does not even exist in rural Haiti. The Creole word vodou refers to a kind of dance and in some areas to a category of spirits. Roman Catholics who are active voodooists say that they “serve the spirits,” but they do not consider that practice as something outside of Roman Catholicism. Haitians also distinguish between the service of family spirits and the practice of magic and sorcery. Vodou ceremonies can be extravagant and beautiful; they are also comparatively rare. More commonly the temple serves as a kind of community center, where members of the Vodou family seek medical help, psychological counseling, legal advice, commercial assistance, and other services offered by the Vodou priest (houngan) or priestess (mambo). The temple also serves as popular theater and museum, where sacred drama and art flourish.
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