Sunday, September 13, 2015

Max Gesner Beauvoir Dies

Max Gesner Beauvoir, recognized by many as the chief religious leader in Haitian Vodou died on Saturday Sept 12, 2015 at the age of 79 in the Haitian Capitol, Port au Prince, according to his family. A Haitian biochemist and houngan. Max Beauvoir held one of the highest titles of Voudou priesthood known as "Supreme Servitur", or supreme servant . This title is given to Houngans and Mambos; Voudou Priest and Priestesses, who have a great and very deep knowledge of the religion, also because of elder status within the religion. As Supreme Servitur, Max was seen as being of the highest authority within Voudou .

Beauvoir graduated in 1958 from City College of New York with a degree in chemistry. He continued his studies at theSorbonne from 1959 to 1962, when he graduated with a degree in biochemistry. In 1965, at Cornell Medical Center, he supervised a team in synthesizing metabolic steroids. This led him to a job at an engineering company in northern New Jersey, and later to a period as engineer at DEC in Massachusetts. His interest in steroids led him to experiment with  hydrocortisone  synthesized from plants. Beauvoir held a patent on the process of obtaining hecogenin from plant leaves until 1993. However, the death of his father led him to move back to Haiti in January 1973 and become a vodou priest.

In 1974, he founded Le Péristyle de Mariani, a Hounfour in his home (which also served as a village clinic) in the village of Mariani. He had a troubled relationship with the ruling Duvalier family. While he urged that they do more to meet the medical needs of the poor, his status as a houngan kept him from being subjected to much of the wanton violence exacted by theTonton Macoutes against critics.

During this period, he founded the Group for Studies and Research on the African Tradition (French: Groupe d'Etudes et de Recherches Traditionnelles, GERT) with a group of scholars, and later founded the Bòde Nasyonal in 1986 to counter the effects of the post-Duvalier dechoukaj violence which had targeted both Vodou practitioners and the Tonton Macoutes paramilitary, both of which had been used by the Duvalier regime to oppress the Haitian people.

In 1996, Beauvoir founded The Temple of Yehwe, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization for the promotion of education concerning Afro-American religion. In 1997, he became involved with the creation of the KOSANBA group at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Beauvoir was interviewed in 1982 by Canadian ethnobotanist Wade Davis for his 1985 book The Serpent and the Rainbow, later made into a film, in which the actor Paul Edward Winfield, played a figure based losely upon Max Beauvoir.

Vodou is part of the culture of Haitians inherited from their African slave ancestors of the 16th and 17th centuries. It was forbidden during the time of French colonization and during slavery. The Vodou religion, which like other African Diasporic Religions combines African spiritual practice and cosmology with elements of belief, ritual, and cosmology of Roman Catholicism.  Since Haitian independence in 1804, it has none the less been exposed to the often open hostility of Catholic Clergy and more recently Protestant Evangelical sects which have often actively attacked, with personal physical violence, the practitioners of African derived spiritual traditions throughout the Americas, as well as in Africa.

Ati Houngan Max Gesner Beauvoir always seemed to take the time to answer inquiries personally. While he had no reason to be more than marginally aware of who I was, I knew some people who communicated with him fairly regularly. However, on those occasions when I reached out to him, he always took the time to respond to me personally, and sometimes in some significant length and detail. I have heard the same from others who contacted him over the years., He demonstrated in my opinion, all the characteristics one would expect of an individual of profound spiritual awareness. Most significantly, both humility and kindness. Me he be at peace with the ancestors.

Yon mapou Ginen tonbe! Max ou janbe, men poto mitan pa tonbe !

Montray Kreyol

24 horas (en español)

Obituary in the Washington Post

In New York TImes

In the Daily Mail (England)

The Straits Times (Singapore)

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