RARA Vodou, Power and Performance

We have always tried to ask permission when photographing people, but obviously in a public, parading festival, it has not always been possible.  It has certainly not been possible to contact all the people whose images and music from the 1970s forward are offered here. Anyone who disapproves of being represented here will be removed upon request.

Alternatively, anyone who approves of being depicted here and would like his or her name listed and credited, will be added upon request. Please let us know exactly which images you would like to list your name under, with the spelling of your name the way you would like it to appear.



Web Site Author: ELIZABETH MCALISTER, Associate Professor of Religion, Wesleyan University

I have been studying Haitian culture for years now, first as a doctoral student at Yale University, and now as a Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University.  I have produced two albums of its sacred music:  “Rhythms of Rapture: Sacred Musics of Haitian Vodou” on Smithsonian Folkways and “Angels in the Mirror:  Vodou Music of Haiti”

Some of the text on this website is taken from my book, Rara!  Vodou, Power and Performance in Haiti and its Diaspora (University of California Press, 2002), and this site is meant as a companion piece to the book.

This website features the stunning photographs and video footage by Chantal Regnault. It was my unbelievable good fortune that Chantal took an interest in the Rara festival and we walked through many Raras together. This well-known veteran photojournalist is a French born photographer who has lived in the United States since 1971 and has lived part-time in Haiti since 1979.   She holds an advanced degree in French literature from New York University. Her widely published photographs have appeared in major magazines and newspapers, including Vanity Fair and The New York Times.  Now, she has made her work available for others to see here on this site.  You can see more of her work at:

The excellent, 15-minute film Rara!, made during 1975-1978, is the best documentary ever produced on the festival, and serves as a wonderful introduction to the subject.  It is produced by Verna Gillis and Gail Pellet.  It is researched by Verna Gillis, shot, edited and narrated by Gail Pellett, with sound and technical production by Tom Zafian, and production assistance from Rodney Flambert.  We link it here by kind permission of Verna  Gillis, who holds the copyright.  Verna Gillis’ website at Soundscape is

Clips from the compelling documentary “The Other Side of the Water:  The journey of a Haitian Rara band in Brooklyn” are courtesy of filmmakers Jeremy Robins and Magali Damas.  I thank them for their generous permission to use clips from this new film about the Raras in New York City.  You can see their website at:

Some still photographs have also been graciously shared by Synday Byrd.  Syndey is a best known for her fabulous photographs of New Orleans, where she has lived for years.  Naturally, Syndey saw a similarity between Louisiana and Haitian culture, and took some of these beautiful pictures. 

The audio recordings presented here were published on an audio CD in my book on Rara.  Some of them I recorded in Haiti; I was helped by my field assistant Phenel Colastin.  Then, my colleague Peter Hadley mixed the CD in 2001 at on a Mac computer at Wesleyan University, with help from my husband, Holly Nicolas.  We used Soundedit computer software.  Others of the recordings were recorded by Verna Gillis and released on Smithsonian Folkways’ album Caribbean Revels:  Haitian Rara and Dominican Gaga, a very good album of Rara music from the 1970s.  All tracks are used by permission.

This website is dedicated to the memory of my uncle, Tim Asch, who first got me thinking...




Anne Loyer: Site Design
Philip Isaacs: Programming
Allynn Wilkinson: Digitization
Manolis Kaparakis: Project Management




Credits    |     Elizabeth McAlister's Hompage     |     Learning Objects Studio    |     Wesleyan University