Where women go to pray
Lessons of resistance in Haiti
“I have been to the mountaintop.”
Martin Luther King Jr
All over Haiti, at sunset, women go to Prayer Hills. They stand arms towards the sky in worship. They lie on the ground and pray to a God that one might think had forgotten them. They sing. They sit alone or with others. Their faith, against all odds, mixes with the beauty of the surrounding countryside.
These churches have no walls or creeds or priests. The churches of Haiti; the ones the mission groups often support, are exclusive. A poor woman with no church clothes or shoes would not be welcome there. Being able to afford to go to church is a status symbol.
The poorest little girls in a village are never invited to dance for the priest. The little girls from “better” families are imported for the occasion. A poor disable boy in rags is removed from church.
But the women, their hearts so close to God, find a way. After hours of work in gardens and yard and walking to get water, they go to a hill where the spirit of God welcomes them with love and grace.
As the sun sets, in my country, we are in cars or on buses. We head for bars or coffee shops or cafes. We go to gyms or classes or out for a run. I try to find the “prayer” hill in my community. I try to find that collective “yes”.
Our churches are mostly locked.
People say they are spiritual but not religious.
Our views; the places to inspire and comfort us are covered by high rises.
Praying in public is not exactly encouraged.
In Haiti, the church tried to deny women prayer but they resisted and found places of prayer and community anyway. These women, on the Prayer Hills of Haiti are so inspirational. They defied all the class barriers and the priests and found a way to pray. No building. No stained class windows or priests. Just women on a hill about as close to God as one can be.
In my city, I try to find my Prayer Hill. The thing about a Prayer Hill is that it is public. You’re with other people. Its outdoors. I find myself heading to this one dog park at sunset. I could walk my dog in the forest but I want the Prayer Hill so I walk quietly surrounded by dog owners and their dogs. It’s the closest I can get.
Some may think the women on the hill are practicing voodoo. because they are outside and are not in a formal church. It is hard for any non-Haitien to ever understand voodoo. Simply put, it was the religion the African people brought with them during slavery. It later became infused with Christianity.
Here’s something to consider. Imagine you are a young man in Africa and someone captures you and sells you to Europeans because their Dad is mad at your Dad. The slave trade, I learned in Ghana, was filled with revenges between people who were mad at each other. And so it seemed that a person could really put a bad curse on you – so bad that you were put in a ship and never saw your family again. If Haitians believe people can hurt them when they are mad at them, they have centuries of evidence.
Currently the Republicans have waged a war of fear. They want us to believe that certain people are a curse; that healthcare for all is a curse. They fill our screens with fear and revenge. They have filled us with fear about not having enough, even though we are piled high with things. The Republicans have used hate to control and curse us, even as slave owners used fear and retaliation.
When Haitien women were denied access to churches, they made their own. Their faith more powerful than the fear.