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DOXA 2023: Kite Zo A (Leave the Bones) delves into vodou spirituality and the true history of Haiti

Kite Zo A
Kite Zo A (Leave the Bones) offers a nuanced look at vodou traditions in Haiti.

An extraordinary documentary, Kite Zo A (Leave the Bones), opens with a reference to a momentous event in the history of Haiti.

“We are the children of Bois Caïman,” say spoken-word artist Wood-Jerry Gabriel.

“We are Haiti,” the narrator continues. “Where Africa meets the tip of a Caribbean island.”

Bois Caïman is a forest in northern Haiti where enslaved Africans met in 1791. In the mountains, they planned the first large insurrection. Vodou priest Dutty Boukman presided over a ceremony with dance and the ritual sacrifice of a pig. This spurred participants to engage in a major slave revolt, which set off the Haitian Revolution.

That, in turn, led to the creation of the first Black republic in 1804.

Iranian-Canadian director Kaveh Nabatian’s Kite Zo A (Leave the Bones) pays homage to this glorious history, as well as vodou’s role in Haitian life. One way is through vibrant and expressive dance sequences. These are often supported by the hypnotic music of Grammy winner Joseph Ray and the Haitian collective Lakou Mizik.

For example, near the beginning of the film, dancer Gerald Joanis personifies the Haitian tradition of resistance through his muscular physicality and lithe footwork. It’s accompanied by mesmerizing arm movements. Simply with his body, Joanis demonstrates the resilience of African culture in the face of western oppression and slavery.

Another dancer, Jasmin Anis, embodies Simbi Nan Dio. She’s the loa who rules the water.

With her undulating movements on the edge of the sea, Anis amplifies the words of fisherman and vodou advocate Ceres Andris

“She’ll watch over you like you were a little baby,” Andris declares as he rows on the water. “If adversity befalls you, Simbi will possess you to help you overcome it. “

Louis Lesly Marcelen, a.k.a. Sanba Zao
Louis Lesly Marcelen, a.k.a. Sanba Zao, sheds light on Haitian history.

Spirituality infuses Kite Zo A

This oarsman confidently declares that vodou flows in the veins of Haitians. In fact, Simbi’s origins go back to the Kongo-speaking peoples on Africa’s Atlantic coast.

“If you get sick, Simbi can possess you and tell you what sickness you have and what precautions to take to prevent misfortune,” Andris states with utmost seriousness. “If you’re going down the wrong path, she’ll meet you and show you a different one.”

It’s spiritual and, at times, intense. Gabriel’s compelling and poetic narration reinforces the mood. And with the help of other evocative Haitian commentators, such as Louis Lesly Marcelen and Luckson Hyppolite, the film illuminates how the past has informed the present in their troubled country.

For most people living in English-speaking Canada, Haiti is mostly known for its problems. Monumental earthquakes in 2010 and 2021 devastated the country, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and injured.

But there’s a Haiti that’s rarely seen on newscasts—a country with proud and often joyful public servants, community leaders, and artists trying to rebuild their country from the debacle of the Duvalier family dictatorship and the carnage of colonialism. This Haiti is vividly on display in Kite Zo A (Leave the Bones), which closes the DOXA Documentary Film Festival. It’s a must-see for anyone curious to learn the true history of this Caribbean nation.

The DOXA Documentary Film Festival will present Kite Zo A (Leave the Bones) at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday (May 14) at the Cinematheque. For more information and tickets, visit the DOXA website. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.