Each year, Haiti’s southern commune of Jacmel holds pre-Lenten Mardi Gras festivities where Haitian history is replayed through the masks, costumes, and street theatre of the carnival troupes. Fusing Vodou and ancestral memory with political satire and personal revelation, the Jacmellien masquerades replay the country’s roots from pre-Colonialism, via the revolution, to the modern day. From the lives of the indigenous Taino Indians to the slaves’ revolt of 1791, from the dictatorships of Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier in the 1960s to US interference by the CIA and more recent state corruption, Haiti’s history is brought to life on Jacmel’s streets and in Gordon’s photographs.
Ronald Bellevue, Zèl Maturin:
"There have been always Zèl Maturin in Jacmel Carnival, ever since a man called Mathurin Rousse came from abroad with the wings – that’s why they’re called the ‘Wings of Mathurin’. We didn’t invent the story, it came from the old people. It’s good against evil. The first scene has people with suits, ties, masks and Bibles all kneeling and praying. In the second scene Sen Michèl Arkanj comes down from heaven to give them protection – with him are other angels in pink satin dresses, and a little angel all in blue and white. Then a long procession of Zèl Maturin arrive to steal the angels away, but Sen Michèl kills them with his mighty sword. Then the strongest devil, the red one – myself– arrives. He fights much harder, but at last after a long struggle he’s lying dead with Sen Michèl’s foot on his head. But then along comes the black devil, bigger than the others and wearing chains – his mystic powers so strong that he must be restrained. He carries a skull and presents it to the four points of the compass, and then strikes the red devil three times, reviving him. And all the other devils come back to life too. The black devil, you see, is a Vodou devil – the other devils are mere Christian devils. His powers are greater. Every year we buy fabric for new disguises – the satin wears out after being washed for a year. We make masks out of this papier-mâché, and decorate them. For the wings I buy planks, saw them up, plane them down. Nail them together, wire them up. Glue on cardboard and paper, add hinges and handles. Then paint them, and attach the tails."