Haiti Death Practices

by L-Johnson

People of Haiti praying outside a church.

The country of Haiti observes death with elaborate ceremony. When a loved one is dying, his or her family will gather to pray, cry, and use religious medallions or other spiritual artifacts. The oldest family member makes all the arrangements and notifications. The body is kept until the entire family can gather. Organ donation or cremation is not even an option, as the whole body is thought to be necessary for resurrection. Autopsies are occasionally performed, sometimes to ensure that the body is actually dead and not a zombie (A voodoo curse commonly believed in rural Haiti).

After the person’s demise, Demier priye, a 9-day prayer ritual, is performed. Family, friends, and even enemies of the deceased gather to pray, chant, eat, and drink together. The Prise de deuil takes places on the 9th day (similar to a funeral). Interestingly, the Haitians graveyards are comprised of mausoleums, which make the cemeteries look like miniature villages made of concrete. To get the cash for this construction, the bereaved often have to sell some of their land.

After the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the number of dead was estimated to be as high as 200,000. This made their normal funeral traditions impossible. Most of the bodies were hauled to mass graves, and many bodies are still lying under fallen buildings. Many are still missing.

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