Protecting Haiti’s voodoo heritage

2010-01-27 11:01

STANDING amid jumbled statues of horned deities and human skulls,

Marianne Lehmann looked at a collection of voodoo objects she has collected over

30 years and pondered how easily it could have been lost.

“It’s a lesson. All the pieces could have been destroyed,” said the

73-year-old Swiss citizen.

For years, Lehmann has talked about setting up an ethnographic

museum and centre of voodoo culture, but Haiti’s devastating January 12

earthquake has added a new-found urgency to the task.

“There is some damage, but its not major,” she said, standing amid

overturned statues and broken jugs in her Petionville home.

“Some people say that we had protection, because the neighbouring

houses were severely damaged, but ours wasn’t,” she added mischievously.

Neither superstitious nor a practitioner of voodoo, Lehmann has

been in Haiti since 1957 and has made it her mission to “protect this sacred


“I can’t stop accommodating these objects because they will be

lost. Each piece I don’t buy is lost for the nation.”

She cast a maternal glance at the alters adorned with machetes and


“Some pieces can perhaps be frightening, but that is a response to

the incredible violence of slavery,” she explained.

Voodoo is derived from African traditions that persisted in Haiti

after a slave rebellion that led to the country’s independence in 1804.

In Haiti today, the saying goes that the country is “60 percent

Catholic, 40 percent Protestant and 100 percent voodoo”.

Haitians seek assistance from a God described as a “grand master”

through some 401 lesser deities often associated with the saints of the Catholic

Church and representing various qualities, including the defects of


Lehmann’s collection began about 30 years ago, when an impoverished

Haitian offered to sell her the three-horned statue of a secret society, but she

never imagined she would become the owner of a veritable treasure-trove of some

3 000 voodoo pieces.

Her passion quickly grew and her mother in Switzerland mortgaged

her home so Lehmann could buy a place to live and store her treasures in


Her four children, all born in Haiti, tease her about her


“They sometimes say to me ‘You’re broke, sell one of your pieces of

junk’,” she said laughing.

She has patiently documented the significance of each item, created

a foundation and sought the funds to start a museum.

Her collection has already caught the attention of international


“At the moment, 369 of my best pieces, particularly large mirrors

... used during ceremonies to invoke the spirits, are on display overseas.”

In recent years, Lehmann’s pieces have toured Geneva’s Museum of

Ethnography and Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum and will soon be displayed at

ethnography museums in Berlin and Ottawa.

“We’ve already collected about $100 000 for a future museum, but we

estimate it would require a budget of three million dollars.”

And the January 12 quake that killed about 150 000 people in and

around Haiti’s capital has made one thing very clear.

“We absolutely must ensure the building is built to withstand

earthquakes,” she said.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.