Besides the societies associated with customary vodou temples, there are also secret societies in Haiti. With their rigid structure and military organization, these societies were perfectly suited to the maroon communities: small groups of fugitive slaves from the plantations. From 1791 to 1804, the secret societies played a key role in the slaves' resistance against the French. The struggle was fought with both tangible and magic weapons, as the priests of the societies invoked the most aggressive, hottest powers. In the 20th century, the dictators François "Papa Doc" and Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier used secret societies to silence critics of their regime. These societies, of which the Bizango is one of the most important, still exist today.
An essential element of Bizango societies is their military structure. Their members pledge themselves to fight and wage war. Almost all of the figures shown here are from one single Bizango temple and personify the power of the Bizango fighters. With their terrifying appearance, they preserve the memory of the slave uprising that took place at the time when these societies were first formed. Some bear the scars of wounds.
Their heads are actual human skulls modelled with clay. Ropes and chains harness the powers that they possess. Fragments of mirrors in the eye sockets and on their clothes refer to the world of spirits and offer protection against evil powers. Despite their static pose, the blood in which they are drenched and the flames that once scorched them are almost tangible.
(From texts at the exhibition in Berlin)
Vodou - Art and Cult from Haiti. 350 objects from the collection of Marianne Lehmann in Port-au-Prince. Photo tour through the presentation in Berlin, 2010.