Banners and garlands festoon the roadway leading to the tonel, or headquarters, of rara Laflè Modèl, in Lafond,
a few kilometers north of Jacmel on the banks of the River Gosseline. The banner reads: pa pè anyen,
meaning “we’re not scared of anything,” and Mesi Marenn, “Thank you, my queen!”


Welcome to Jacmel Rara. This site is the multi-media online expression of an In The Field Recording project to document and share one of Haiti’s many vital and exciting cultural traditions, the annual sorties made by innumerable marching bands during the post-carnival, pre-Easter lenten season. The site includes documentary photography, audio and inevitably subjective text.

In the ten days preceding Easter 2014, I visited Jacmel with the principal intention of capturing high-quality digital stereo audio of raras in the field. I recorded, filmed and photographed with a half-dozen rara collectives, representing a range from an essentially unbroken 80-year-old family tradition to opportunistic, motley and impromptu collections of revelers that may assemble only for one night of marching and partying. In Lent of 2015 I returned, joined by Alex Wolfe and his video camera, concentrating my efforts on two groups. Laflè Modèl of Kalafon and L’Oraj of Dlope. Both these trips were made possible through the extraordinarily generous support of Owsley Brown Presents.

What is Rara?

In its most traditional form, a rara is fundamentally an ambulatory vodou ceremony. In Haiti, during the period between Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday) and the Resurrection, pedestrian bands generally comprised of the congregants of a peristil,  or vodou temple, leave the sanctity and security of their home base to march out through their neighborhood and overland to fulfill the exigencies of the spirits. These long, half-jogged, half-marched obligatory parades or, perhaps more aptly, pilgrimages, follow routes prescribed by the supernatural. The rara visits sites of historic and mystical significance to the family or lakou (the extended family compound, its lands, cultivations and community), fulfill annual commitments to the deceased, and bestow honor on neighboring houngans, or vodou priests, both living and dead. A traditional rara is led through the countryside (and in the ever-urbanizing context of Haiti, the city) by two queens (renn) and a kolonel, who wields a whip both to maintain discipline and to salute or call the spirits by cracking it. In theory nobody marches in front of the colonel except an escort of spirits, and an important part of his job is to keep this space clear for their invisible presences to occupy.

The kolonel of Rara Le Pays, “the Country,” cracks his whip as he passes a crossroads on the outskirts of Jacmel,
marshalling the space in front of the marching crowd.