‘That which unites us’

Rick Bausman bridges the gap between understanding and misconceptions about Haitian culture.

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Rick Bausman has always been aware of the healing and connective power of drumming that transcends all borders and brings people together for good.

Now, after a number of trips to Haiti, Bausman seeks to promote the beauty and richness of the culture that exists there, and the religion that stretches into every facet of Haitian life — Vodou.

Drumming is a quintessential part of Haiti, and of Vodou, which uses drumming in ceremonies to call upon deities and ancestral spirits. Vodou also sees drumming as a way to connect with the ancient African roots of the religion.

According to Bausman, the ceremonial drumming of Vodou “touched my soul” the first time he heard it, and he wanted to learn more about the style of drumming and what inspired it. So he travelled to Haiti to immerse himself in drumming and in Haitian culture.

Bausman said the goal of many that he encountered in Haiti, including prominent religious and cultural leaders, is to deconstruct the deeply mischaracterized version of Vodou (often spelled as Voodoo in the Western world) that has been promulgated by other nations, ever since the Republic of Haiti was founded by slaves fighting for their independence from France.

Since France and other European nations saw the establishment of a Black republic consisting of former slaves as “an existential threat to slave-owning countries,” Bausman said they imposed economic sanctions on Haiti, and established propaganda that mischaracterized Vodou and the Haitian culture as strange and evil.

And Bausman said those immensely misled ideas took root in America, and popular culture ran with that demonized version of the Vodou religion. The Westernized version of Vodou incorporated the flawed perspective into comic books, movies, and television shows — portraying it as a religion filled with zombies, ghouls, and pins pushed into dolls.

For Bausman, the pantheon of Vodou deities is fascinating and extensive, and he said it is unfortunate that while other polytheistic religious canons have been celebrated (think Norse mythology and Greek mythology), Vodou has been disparaged.

“The gods of Vodou represent everything that is around us, same as with other religions. Many religions have this pantheon of really strange-looking gods, but they aren’t demonized like Vodou has been,” Bausman said.

One central part of Vodou is ceremonial drumming. Bausman said he used this connection in his short film “Bat Tanbou,” or “Beat the Drum” in Creole, to show the beauty and intrigue associated with the misunderstood religion.

Bausman said when he traveled to Haiti and the people there realized how passionate and knowledgeable he was about drumming, they were “so excited” to share with him all they could about Vodou drumming.

“People are looking at Haiti as a place that needs help, but everybody likes to be seen for their beauty too. They saw in me that I recognized what Haiti was in all its richness, and that I wanted to learn more,” Bausman said.

After traveling all around Haiti, Bausman began to understand more fully how powerful a cultural edifice drumming and Vodou were.

According to Bausman, the Vodou community in Haiti is fighting for survival, but he and many others want to elevate the religion from that to a sphere of acceptance and interest.

For many decades, Haiti has been receiving aid from other countries, and while Bausman said much of that aid is essential, he wants to help build a love and pride for Vodou so that the country can begin to heal from the inside.

“Haiti has compound fractures — it’s really broken. And a lot of the aid is like Band-Aids, you see the blood, you patch it up, but it’s still bleeding and broken. Those fractures need to be fixed from the inside. Haiti needs to be recognized and let into the economy of the rest of the world. Someday, I think people will be able to come to Haiti and experience the enormously wealthy culture,” Bausman said.

In order to catalyze this kind of positive change, Bausman said he is working with religious and community leaders in Haiti, who suggested an initiative to construct 123 cultural centers where people can come together to learn about Vodou, drum, sing, dance, and celebrate.

Milocan is a Vodou deity that brings all the other deities together, so the project was aptly named the Milocan Project — “That which unites us.” Bausman said the group that is spearheading the project is the National Confederation of Haitian Vodou (KNVA), a civil organization which seeks to defend Vodou from defamation and persecution.

Bausman said the Haitian government has provided land in Southern Haiti to build the first cultural center. He has an engineer working on plans to construct it, and all that is needed now is funding and awareness.

With $1.5 million in funding, Bausman said the project would have the resources to build the first cultural center and operate it for eight years. During that time, the Milocan team would work to construct other cultural centers in nearby areas. By the end of the eight years, Bausman said he hopes the cultural centers will be self-sustaining, with fecund community gardens, herb gardens for Haitian healers, and cultural immersion programs that would attract visitors.

In the future, Bausman said, there could even be room at the first site for a clinic and a school.

Instead of just taking a tour of Haiti and seeing things from a superficial perspective, Bausman said, the cultural centers would allow folks to experience as fully as possible the richness of Vodou and Haitian music, arts, heritage, and culture.

And the more visitors that travel to Haiti to have these experiences, the more people in the community will want to attract them.

Although Haiti is wracked with turmoil, Bausman said he believes when community members are recognized and acknowledged for the wealth they do possess, they won’t be as hostile, and outside visitors will be welcomed with open arms.

Currently, Bausman said the folks in Haiti on the Milocan team are making movies that exemplify other facets of Vodou and Haitian culture. He said there will be more than 10 short films released in Creole that highlight the beauty, depth, and positivity of this long-misunderstood religion and culture.

Bausman said drumming is a powerful way to bring people together, no matter what language they speak or what their heritage is. And with Vodou drumming so deeply ingrained in Haiti, he said, it’s a potent force for positive change.

Visit drumrol.org/about/the-milocan-project-haiti to learn more about the Milocan Project and Haitian Vodou culture.