Cultural renaissance offers hope for Haitians

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Caribbean Life
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Many visitors participated in the festive walk through the Greenwood Cemetery with La Troupe Makandal.

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Inside the chapel, La Troupe Makandal, led by Frizner Augustine (right) with the highly charged drums that reverberated from the stone walls with such power, onc could breathe in and feel the spirits.
Photos by Tequila Minsky.

Cultural renaisssance offers hope for Haitians

By Tequila Minsky

Activist and educator Lily Cerat attended the drum circle at Gran Chimen (Big Road) Cultural Center on Rodgers Avenue recently.

There, kids and moms and boys and girls, on more than 10 drums of all sizes learned about folkloric drums and created rhythms with Oneza Lafontant and other drummers from the cultural organization KONGO.

“I walked away feeling very encouraged by this culture renaissance in the community, after all those political years,” Cerat said.

This event was one of many activities making up the cultural fabric of the Haitian community in the metropolitan New York area this past month.

At libraries, bookstores, and colleges in the area, Haitian literary daughter and MacArthur Foundation (genius grant) recipient Edwidge Danticat attracted throngs to her readings from her new book, Creating Dangerously. Earlier that day she read to a meeting of bilingual teachers at Brooklyn College from her memoire, Brother, I’m Dying. She also was seen at Queens College.

At the November Ann Pale (Let’s Speak), Haiti Cultural Exchange’s monthly salon, Val-INC (Val Jeanty) showcased the integration of Haitian ritual music and electronics.

Following the performance, she said that because of her upbringing as the daughter of a Vodou Mambo (priestess), she never felt a gender divide (that might obstruct other young women who want to be percussionists or Haitian instrumentalists).

And, there is so much more happening on the Haitian cultural scene. Glass artist Kesler Pierre with help from a grant from the Brooklyn Arts Council exhibited his Haitian Vodou Bottles, spectacularly ornamented bottles of all sizes and shapes, at historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Prior to entering the chapel where the exhibit took place, visitors amassed outdoors as the folkloric La Troupe Makandal played rara and led the swath on paths of the cemetery—stopping every now and then when a narrator, dressed as Bawon Samdi, explaned Vodou and Haitian history to the crowd alongside Greenwood outreach director Steve Estroff, who told of the cemetary’s history.

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