Burning Spear News
“Douvan Jou Ka Leve:” a documentary’s look at Vodou, Christianity and mental illness in Haiti
Above: Promotional photo for “Douvan Jou Ka Leve,” where filmmaker and documentary narrator Gessica Généus (left) is seen lain on the floor with her mother, who is the central point of the documentary.
HAITI—Gessica Généus, an actress and overall cineaste from Ayiti (Haiti) released “Douvan Jou Ka Leve” (“The Sun Will Rise”) in early 2017, which was first only available within film festivals throughout the world.
In November of 2019, after almost three years of exclusive viewings, Généus announced that it was now made available to the general public.
Key to the development of “Douvan Jou Ka Leve” is the question of identity and whether the African people in Ayiti as a whole are experiencing an identity crisis, including ‘spiritually.’
This documentary is essentially a discussion on the effects of colonialism on the mental health of colonized people, and takes a look at Généus mother and her experience with mental health illness.
“Douvan Jou Ka Leve” looks at the three-way conflict between Catholicism, Protestantism and Vodou in Ayiti, and how it creates what Gessica Généus characterizes as the “illness of the soul.”
“Douvan Jou Ka Leve” looks at how mental health illness is looked at in a society like Ayiti’s, where most people attribute them to an African converting from Vodou and/or Catholicism to Protestantism.
Some believe that the illnesses come, because the Vodou lwa (family of spirits) are displeased with the person’s decision. Others believe that they come, because the person converting just has to “pay” for family’s prior affiliation with Vodou.
Of course, neither of these will lead to real resolves for the patients, because they are idealistic analyses as opposed to scientific analyses. This leaves the patients in a place of ‘limbo’ and only deepens their ill state of being.
Vodou is not just ‘a part of’ the culture of Ayiti; it is the culture of Ayiti!
Vodou is very-much integrated into the everyday aspects of ‘Haitian’ culture, in a way that cannot be explained in a single documentary or article.
There is a popular saying that “Haiti is 70% Protestant, 30% Catholic and 100% Vodou.”
These are a number of mundane actions done by every single ‘Haitian,’ whether Vodouyizan, Christian, or even the small atheistic sector of our population, that are traced back to Vodou.
Some of these may be acts of practice while others may be acts of “protection.” They are so integrated into the culture that we do not always realize the roots or reason for these actions.
I mean this in a very literal way, as in knowing why a typical ‘Haitian’ always spits after peeing, or why when we discard bottles we throw the cap away in one direction and the bottle itself in the opposite.
These are not hyperboles, but instead real-life examples to show you the oneness between Vodou and the culture of Ayiti.
Although the documentary does not go into these types of things, that is the lens through which Ayiti’s society is understood and is being examined here.
There is a thin line between simply rejecting a belief system for another and rejecting everything you know about yourself. The latter is what lends to the ‘identity crisis’ Généus takes on.
To embrace our black identity is to wage an anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggle
There is a scene of a dark-skinned child dressed in all white, first running through a Catholic church and then playing with a white doll and slowly shading in the doll’s face with a black pencil.
It is a heart-warming scene simultaneously brings to mind the historical “Doll Test” performed in the United States during the 1940s, which revealed that most children, African and non-African, associated ‘black’ with ‘bad.’
In another scene, Gessica is engaged in a debate amongst a group of men, both Vodouyizan and Christian, about the how black people are referred to in the Bible and its theory of how black people came to exist.
Revolutionary psychiatrist and political philosopher Frantz Fanon said that “the oppressed will always believe the worst about themselves.” That truth was seen in the debate scene.
Neocolonialism and poverty breeds a society of corruption
“Douvan Jou Ka Leve” exposes the dire conditions African face in Ayiti. Like the majority of our African nation’s population, we live in an impoverished and corrupt society.
Everyone learns that hustling is the way to make a living and so the people are left open up to being hustled by all kinds of entities.
The white power imperialist State facilitates the conditions that brings forth mental health illnesses and then further oppresses those who exhibit mental health illnesses.
In a scene where we look at a women’s mental health facility, we can see how the patients are left neglected in dirty cells. There is no interest to bring these patients to a healthy state of being.
The only other option is to go to ‘the church,’ another institution of the imperialist State, to deepen our oppression.
All of these factors, tied with a culture of mysticism, are just enough to have a negative effect on a person’s mental health.
We must solve the question of mental health as a part of the African revolution
Mental health illnesses must be approached in a scientific way, as these are real conditions that plague us.
Our communities are filled with African men, women and youth who exhibit depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and other mental illnesses, including personality disorders.
All colonized persons are mentally affected by our colonial and neocolonial domination and are prone to these kinds of diagnoses.
We have to know that the ultimate struggle is for us to overturn the societal contradictions that feed these illnesses. We have to fight for total liberation of our African nation, from oppression.
The African People’s Socialist Party, under the leadership of our Chairman Omali Yeshitela, solves every single question with the process of dialectical and historical materialism.
We understand that the capitalist-colonialist and neocolonial State will always fail the people.
It is this process and understanding that led to the creation of the All African People’s Development Project (AAPDEP), a revolutionary organization that offers African doctors, nurses, scientists and other skilled Africans an opportunity to contribute our skills toward the development of practical, community-based programs in African communities around the world.
All Africans with expertise in mental health must join the struggle against imperialism as the groundwork for achieving the kind of healing our community desperately needs.
Join the All African People’s Development & Empowerment Project!
Douvan Jou Ka Leve!
The Sun Will Rise!