Voodoo Works to Protect Water in New Orleans
New Orleans has its own unique way of doing things, and making the connection between spirituality and the environment is no exception. At the annual “Anba Dlo” festival held earlier this month, prominent scientists, analysts, environmentalists, and a Voodoo priestess joined together to look for answers to rising sea levels and polluted waters.
“I’ve spoken at a lot of conferences around the country, and this festival is pretty unique,” said Jordan Fischbach, an analyst for Rand Corp., a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision making. “But then, this is New Orleans,” he added with a laugh.
The festival, now in its seventh year, was organized by Sallie Ann Glassman, a Voodoo priestess and one of only a handful of Americans ordained in the traditional Haitian initiation. While Americans typically associate Voodoo as a sinister religion involving poison, mind control, and evil dolls, Glassman presents an entirely different picture. Born in Maine, her parents were of Ukrainian Jewish heritage. She is a vegetarian and does not allow animal sacrifice in her temple (common in some other Afro-Caribbean religions). She also created a community center with her husband, a real estate developer, after Hurricane Katrina. The “healing center” houses a fitness center, a performing arts space, and Glassman’s voodoo shop.
The Anba Dlo festival is another example of Glassman’s commitment to the New Orleans community. Anba Dlo is a Haitian Kreyol word meaning “beneath the waters,” and the festival is designed to acknowledge and honor the importance of water. From Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to the BP Oil Spill in 2010, the water surrounding New Orleans is both threatening and threatened. And now, according to some predictions, the Louisiana Coast could vanish in 50 years due to climate change, threatening the livelihood of all who live in the Big Easy. The state has already lost about 1,900 square miles of land since the 1930s.
The event’s water symposium hosted a panel of experts to discuss coastal marsh restoration and water issues. About 100 people attended the symposium, during which discussions of both Katrina and the BP oil spill figured prominently. The overall question was what to do to avoid these disasters in the future.
“Dollars alone won’t make anything happen, but dollars do matter,” Mark Davis, director of the Tulane University Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy, told the symposium as he discussed the estimated $50 billion cost of implementing Louisiana’s master plan for rebuilding its coast.
While it’s true that dollars do matter, Glassman is looking for answers in other places. At midnight, following the conference, Glassman held a ceremony to invoke “La Siren,” the sea goddess. “She is the force of the great ocean and power of water to work away at the hard rock of reality,” Glassman said. The invocation and prayer to La Siren was meant “partially to apologize for what we’ve done to the water, but also to bring us guidance to fix the damage and live more in harmony with the planet,” she said.
Only in New Orleans could a unique festival like this take place. But perhaps that’s fitting. New Orleans faces unique challenges ahead when it comes to water pollution, severe storms, and sea level rise. Let’s hope La Siren provides some good guidance.
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