Haiti's voodoo priests object to mass burials

PORT-AU-PRINCE Sun Jan 17, 2010 5:20pm EST

The body of a child lies amongst the rubble of a collapsed house in Port-au-Prince January 16, 2010. REUTERS/Ana-Bianca Marin

The body of a child lies amongst the rubble of a collapsed house in Port-au-Prince January 16, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Ana-Bianca Marin

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti's voodoo priests are objecting to anonymous mass burials as an improper way to handle the tens of thousands of dead from the earthquake -- and have taken their complaint to President Rene Preval.

Dumping the dead in hurriedly excavated mass graves without proper rites is seen as desecration in a country where many believe in zombies -- dead bodies brought back to life by supernatural forces who could persecute the living.

Haitian officials say so far at least 50,000 bodies have been dumped in mass graves outside the shattered capital, Port-au-Prince, in what they view as the most efficient way to dispose of the fast-rotting corpses from Tuesday's disaster.

"It is not in our culture to bury people in such a fashion," Haiti's main voodoo leader, Max Beauvoir, said in a meeting with Preval.

Local radio is broadcasting messages for Haitians to put bodies recovered from under the rubble of collapsed buildings on the street for collection by garbage and other trucks.

"The conditions in which bodies are being buried is not respecting the dignity of these people," Beauvoir, who was educated at City College of New York and the Sorbonne in Paris, said in the Preval meeting this weekend.

More than half of Haiti's 9 million people are believed to practice voodoo, a religion with roots in Africa. Some 80 percent also are Catholic and most Haitians see no conflict between the two.

Five days after the earthquake, scores of untouched corpses, now bloated and stinking, remain on streets. Red Cross officials have repeatedly said no one should fear disease from dead bodies after the earthquake that is believed to have killed up to 200,000 people.

"I don't understand why everyone is worried about a disease risk," Haitian Red Cross President Michaelle Amedee Gedeon told Reuters. "Do we have cholera in Haiti? No. Do we have the plague in Haiti? No. Rodents, water will not get contaminated. The only bad effect from the corpses is the smell."

On Sunday, more bodies appeared overnight, with locals saying they were thieves burned and shot by lynch-mobs, gangs and police. They said about 20 people were killed like that.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Anthony Boadle and Bill Trott)

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