Born with the gift of clairvoyance, Jean-Daniel Lafontant was initiated in 1997 as a Sèvitè (servant) of the lwa (spirits). Soon after, he co-founded the sacred Temple Na-Ri-VéH 777 in downtown Port-au-Prince. For 25 years, he was a professional marketing executive. After Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010, he joined the humanitarian NGO Catholic Relief Services, a welcome shift from a long career in the financial sector. For years he has promoted Haitian art influenced by Vodou, and has worked as a consultant for various museums, universities, art institutions, and media productions. Among the most successful of these are the award-winning documentary In the Eye of the Spiral; CNN Believer with Reza Aslan; and the documentary Hidden Caribbean with Joanna Lumley for ITV UK. Lafontant produced and helped shape dozens of documentary films, art exhibits, articles, research projects, conferences, podcasts, and other productions and events related to the culture and religion of Haiti. He now dedicates all his energy to healing, Vodou, and the promotion of Haitian art and culture.
“I am a Sèvitè: my purpose in life is to serve the energies of our dimension, the lwa, my communities, and the ancestral divinities of humankind.”
Crossroads Community Stories Fellow Project
Digitizing the Art and Soul of the Sacred Vodou Temple Na-Ri-VéH 777
The Sacred Temple Na-Ri-VéH 777 of Haiti was founded in 1997 in the downtown Port-au-Prince neighborhood called Grand Belair, which was part of a maroon colony during the colonial period. Vodou temples are home dwellings reserved for visible and invisible beings: the Lwa (divinities), the ancestors, the community and the vodouvi (initiates). Their sanctuaries contain the living memory of the history of the peoples of Africa and the Americas. The Temple (peristil or badji) houses artistic and traditional objects, some pre-Columbian, others date from the colonial period and the Haitian Revolution. In that spiritual eclectic amalgam, contemporary works of art cohabit harmoniously with ritual objects. Each piece or object take on a sacred character, as they are often appropriated by the Lwa themselves.
For this project the sèvitè (spiritual servant) Jean-Daniel Lafontant, and members of sosyete Na-Ri-VéH in collaboration with Professor Elizabeth McAlister, will complete Espàs Milokan, a digital archive that documents the material culture of the Temple, its history, and its significance as part of the patrimony of Haiti’s majority culture. In spite of the ongoing socio-political crisis, the violent wars in Port-au-Prince and vicinity, the burning of entire neighborhoods, and the massive exodus of Haitians fleeing hopelessness, this project will offer a view into a tradition with astonishing universal elements. We hope that this platform will bring comfort to its local and displaced communities. Furthermore, we aim to bring diversity to those with access to the internet. Information will be in three languages: English, French, and Haitian Kreyòl. Let’s bring people together at the Crossroads to better understand this rich multicultural tradition and the ways in which it brings us together.