Pilgrimage to Haiti: Jacmel and Carnival

Posted on March 4, 2014

On Sunday, March 2, the pilgrims to Haiti from The Episcopal Church experienced firsthand what is often referred to as “the resilience of the Haitian people.” After a simple, family-style breakfast of papaya, toast, coffee, and omelets, the pilgrims walked from the Hotel Florita to Fosaj Gallery where Luckner Candio (Prince Luc) explained the multiple uses of the space.

“The first floor is gallery space and a gift shop. There is no admission to the gallery, so that everyone in Jacmel who wishes to experience and enjoy art may do so. All the paintings are for sale, but there is no expectation of purchasing for entry. Upstairs are several studios in shared space for artists to work, and there is a classroom for teaching art.”

The gallery was filled with hundreds of paintings by Haitian artists. In addition to the paintings, three papier-mâché Carnival puppets and a sculpture were on display as well. After spending time looking through the gallery, Luc took the pilgrims to see the studios and classroom. Although only roughly divided, the studios were clearly in use and expressed the collaborative nature of Fosaj while capturing each artists’ particular style. The simple classroom only had a few wooden chairs, but drawings on the chalkboard illustrated a recent lesson.

Following the visit to the art gallery, pilgrims visited the Audio and Cine Institutes. The Audio Institute has been largely funded by the We Are the World Foundation and is not yet complete. It will include multiple recording studios and control rooms with state-of-the-art features. Although the focus of the Audio Institute is the music recording industry, there are also classes in basic business practices and the use of technology from technical software to word processing and spreadsheets.

The Cine Institute has existed for approximately 20 years and has built networks throughout Haiti and around the world for assisting graduates with job placement and continuing education. Graduates are also eligible to rent equipment at reduced rates so that they may continue to build their portfolios. Both programs are two-year, intensive programs that require no outside work. Both programs are also tuition free.

The pilgrims spent the rest of the day enjoying two Haitian past-times around Jacmel: eating and the beach. A restaurant on the beachside provided an idyllic lunch, with the shade of palm trees, jewelry and woodcarvings for sale, views of the crashing waves, and locally sourced and prepared food. After lunch, the pilgrims visited a public beach that was busy, but not crowded, not with tourists, but locals. 

Traffic back into Jacmel from the beach was very dense as Carnival revelry was beginning just as the pilgrims returned to town. After a brief time for resting and freshening up, the group gathered to reflect on Transfiguration Sunday. Grace Aheron led the meditation and guided discussion on the text. After contemplating the difference between transformation and transfiguration, the group spent some time watching Carnival celebrations.

Earlier in the day men who had painted their bodies to celebrate Carnival had stopped the group, and as the group was returning to Jacmel it had encountered bands gathering to march. This was the first opportunity to see the crowds enjoying and celebrating the festival. Pilgrims ventured through the crowds to watch citizens of Jacmel enjoy the pre-Lenten celebrations. 

Unlike in some other parts of the country whose Carnival celebrations were televised, the parade in Jacmel was mostly citizens moving together through the city. Other parts of the country featured many people in costumes, but the pilgrims only saw one person in papier-mache mask in Jacmel. Much of Jacmel resembles New Orleans with buildings with wide porches and second-level balconies. The resemblance comes from many of the buildings having been pre-fabricated in France and Jacmel being on the shipping route to New Orleans. The pilgrims gained a vantage point on one of the second-level balconies to watch throngs of people.

After Carnival, the group retired to their hotel for dinner and rest before a day of visiting sites between Jacmel and Port-au-Prince, where their pilgrimage will conclude.