On Sunday we visited Saut-Deau, a scenic waterfall overlooking the Artibonite Valley of the Central Plateau of Haiti. The waterfall, about 100 feet high and the highest in Haiti, is an important catholic and voodoo pilgrimage site. Several accounts of sightings of the Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel exist, or in the Voodoo context, of a Vodou named Erzulie Dantor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saut-d%27Eau)
Haitians visit the waterfall to participate in rituals that connects humanity, religion, and the earth. The waterfall is littered with relics of rituals, from old candles, Barbancourt bottles, articles of clothing, and bars of soap. The most prominent ritual I have witnessed is bathing in the waterfall, hence the bars of soap. As a cultural site, Saut-Deau is an excellent opportunity for visiting students like myself to see an intimate and spiritual earth-based activity.
In the past few years, spiritual connections to the landscape through ritual has become an important aspect of my life. Without ritual, many of my beliefs about purpose and meaning stay trapped within ideology and mentality, but through ritual these ideas become concrete and exist within my experience of the world. The formation of these rituals has become an active investigation, and a part of my senior capstone. The way in which the environment informs my own understanding of life and spirituality is a serious personal project. As I have reflected more about themes of water, caves, and contemplative experiences in my life, I am attempting to institutionalize certain environmental and spiritual values through earth-based rituals.
Given this background, my third visit to Saut-Deau was even more impactful. As I climbed the rocks up towards the main falls, I felt the power of place infusing my connections to the other Sewanee students with me, as well as the Haitian pilgrims scrambling alongside us. Although we were visiting the falls for different reasons, there was a universal feeling of reveling in the beauty of the earth we live in, and our communal experience of life. For myself, it was a feeling of belonging that transcends human made geographical boundaries and notions of statehood. As we sat under the falls and submerged our bodies in the pools of cool water, we were not Haitians and Americans but simply humans, feeling the gratitude for an earth that blesses us, creates us, and sustains us.