Spreading the word

Haitian singer James Germain helps share the spirit of Milokan.


Over at Native Earth Teaching Farm in Chilmark, back behind a small wooden structure filled with colorful drums, something truly unique is blossoming.

What started as a vision in 2019 by Island drummer Rick Bausman and a number of Haitian leaders is slowly materializing on Martha’s Vineyard — the Milokan Cultural Center. This is only the first iteration of what Bausman and his team hope to grow into a network of cultural centers across Haiti, and eventually across the world. The goal: to bring people together to celebrate not only Haitian culture, but shine a spotlight on the beauty and significance of all people from all cultures and backgrounds. Additionally, Bausman hopes to dispel the fraught Western myths surrounding the Vodou religion. Milokan is a Lwa, one of the many Vodou deities that are associated with nearly every aspect of human existence. Specifically, Milokan is the Lwa that brings all the other Lwa together — a force of unity. On Friday night, the rough-and-ready cultural center was buzzing with activity as international Haitian touring artist James Germain prepared to take the stage. The center has been hosting Haitian musicians and putting on programming like drumming and dancing ever since the idea was realized on the Island, but the performance by Germain marked a major milestone in the initiative’s development.

Bausman told The Times he first gauged interest in the idea of developing cultural centers while he was traveling around Haiti to various villages and Lakou (small Haitian religious communities) to participate in drum ceremonies and make connections. “I wanted to find out if there was something that Vodou as a religion and an institution, which is highly representational of Haiti, would like to do in order to help catalyze sustainable and very real improvement in the quality of life in Haiti,” Bausman said.

Bausman sought enough input from high-ranking members of the Vodou clergy where he felt confident moving forward with the project, then got to work spreading the word. After some time exploring the idea with other Haitian leaders, the head of the Haitian National Confederation of Vodou Ayisyen (the Ati, Chef Suprême of Vodou) told Bausman the goal of establishing cultural centers in Haiti that are active in their communities should be a central goal of the country.

According to Bausman, the cultural center on-Island will serve as a testing ground for the unique dynamic that focuses on everyone cooperating to engage in agriculture, herbal medicines, spiritual ceremony, drumming, dance, metalworking, art, cooking, and other Haitian customs. Additionally, the Ati suggested to Bausman that each center be able to host eight or 10 guests at a time for cultural tourist programs. This means centers in Haiti would invite travelers from all over the world to learn about and become immersed in Haitian life. There will also be opportunities for Haitian people to learn more about their own culture, and learn valuable skills that can support them in life.

For the Milokan project, having notable musicians like James Germain come to Martha’s Vineyard to perform and spend time with folks in the community is a significant achievement because it illustrates that people are taking notice of the ambitious initiative. “I didn’t invite any of these people. I didn’t have any idea it would happen — these amazing people called me, including James, who said he really thinks what we are doing is important,” Bausman said.

Germain has more recently extended an offer to further collaborate with Bausman and the Milokan project, and Bausman anticipates traveling to various parts of the world with him as they spread the word of unity and collaboration. “James even said Milokan is too good of an idea to just stay here on Martha’s Vineyard and in Haiti — we want this idea everywhere,” Bausman said.

With such a massive undertaking, Bausman said, he is thankful for all the support he has received both on and off the Island. He said Rhythm of Life, the parent organization of the Milokan Cultural Center, took an enormous risk and went out on a limb attempting to establish the center. The Martha’s Vineyard Bank placed their faith in the project, and granted the organization a hefty line of credit. “To me, that says so much — that my community bank would even consider an idea like that. It’s obvious to me that the interest within the community is slowly growing,” Bausman said. “Friday night was so great because, even on fireworks night and with the fair happening, we can still get a crowd.” Bausman said the 20 or so folks in attendance at the James Germain performance made him proud to be a part of the initiative.

He said the weekend of August 26, a band of Brazilian musicians will perform at the cultural center. “The guys walked into the center and started jamming on some of the drums. We played for about a half-hour, and I asked if they would like to have a night here to perform,” Bausman said. “They’re so excited to come here and show their stuff. There is also the [Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head], the African American community — so many different communities that we can bring together and celebrate.”

For Bausman, the performances and programming at the cultural center are the first steps in creating a community based around shared experiences and a shared intention of inclusion and togetherness. “We want to put you into a frame of mind where you are open to seeing things from other perspectives,” Bausman said. “The dancing is participatory, the singing is participatory, and we have some really cool programs that get people right in the middle of it. You might come to see a performance one night and then be on the stage jamming the very next day.”

The Milokan Cultural Center is located directly adjacent to the Native Earth Teaching Farm at 94 North Road, in Chilmark. Check out updates on the center at facebook.com/milokanculturalcenter, or email rick@drumrol.org for more information. 



  1. The rich cultures and talents of long-time artists and friends, Jah Baba and James Germain can never be overstated. We hope their wonderful work continues to reach from the Vineyard and the world over.

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