Not-to-be Missed Highlights from Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti

In Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti, vibrant objects of ceremony, ritual, and history celebrate the people who actively practice this living religion and culture. The exhibition includes altars, vivid mixed-media sculptures, drums, sequined-covered flags, and charismatic, large-scale representations of spirits called lwa (pronounced luh-WAH) to share the story of Haitian Vodou. Almost all of the objects are placed in the open-- not behind glass— allowing visitors to make an unforgettable and emotional connection with each object. Above all, the exhibition provides a rare chance to peek inside the culture, practice and colorful history of Vodou in a contemporary world.

Explore six not-to-be missed highlights from the Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti below:

Pwen Ibo

Visually powerful and striking, the Pwen Ibo urn incites many questions about Vodou objects. One question many visitors have is: What are the human skulls doing there?  Vodouists cherish the remains of their ancestors, and of iconic people of the past. This particular urn honors Ibo ancestors who originated from what is now Nigeria.

Demijohn with skull, covered in red cloth

Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti makes visitors think about cultural attitudes towards bones and human remains. This particular object features a human skull on top, and can be viewed in the re-creation of a secret society’s badji, or work room. 

Bizango secret society fighter with two horns

In Vodou, horns on figures or objects aren’t associated with devils, but rather with bulls. A Vodou figure can have one, two, or three horns, and will thus have the strength and vitality of a bull.  Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti features dozens of human-sized figures of ferocious-looking “fighting lwa,” which embody the triumph of Haitians over slavery and oppression. 

Cross and crossroads

In Vodou, the Christian cross is united with the African idea of the crossroads.  To Vodouists, crossroads are sacred, powerful places. Spiritual forces converge there, and the living and the dead cross paths. 

Suspended packets of red and black cloth and other materials

Three enigmatic “packets” (pakes), designed to be suspended in the air, were created during secret Vodou ceremonies. The exteriors of these objects are made of coiled fabric, knives, and forks. The packets might contain soil and leaves from specific places, spices, or other materials special to the individual initiates who these objects on their altars. 

Cloth and sequin Danbala, the snake spirit

In Vodou religion, the snake spirit Danbala is characterized as calm, generous, and helps people achieve prestige and happiness. Danbala is not to be confused with the snake found in Genesis, as there is no evil or malicious behavior connected to this spirit. Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti features the snake spirit on brightly sequined flags, sculptures in the shape of snakes and as a man holding snakes.