Sodo, named for the waterfall at Vil Bonè, is the most well known Haitian religious pilgrimage site. It is likely the most popular of sites for religious pilgrimage in the Caribbean. Located just outside of Mirebalais, it is now a 45-minute car ride from Port-au-Prince. In the mid 1800’s, it took several days from Port-au-Prince to get there on horseback. This is how slow transportation was when president Soulouque announced that he heard of a miraculous appearance of Mary, the mother of Jesus.She appeared above a palm tree at Sodo. Soulouque’s government sent a delegation to investigate the miracle.At the time, the government needed to stop people from crossing the new border to the east where rebels had established a new country, the Dominican Republic. Before Mary’s appearance at Sodo, the most popular pilgrimage site on the island of Haiti was Altagracia on the eastern tip of the island.
President Soulouque needed a sacred site on the western side of the island and his investigators determined that Sodo was it. Sodo is a magnificent waterfall created after Levennman, the powerful earthquake of 1842, shattered mountains to create numerous new streams and waterfalls, among them, Sodo.
Throughout the world, waterfalls attract countless people each year. Niagara Falls, the Zambezi Falls, the falls of Yosemite National Park, and Ocho Rios in Jamaica are just a few of the many places that tourist and pilgrims flock to regularly. It appears that people find the sound of waterfalls suiting and relaxing. Hotels that lack natural waterfalls, build artificial ones to provide their guest with a sense of tranquility. Christian Churches commonly avoid natural waterfalls, preferring instead to build artificial water features on Church grounds to conjure the sacred. Sèvitè view the tranquility associated with water as symbolic of the life hereafter and speak of eternal life as life on the other side of the waters, lavi lòt bò dlo.
Soulouque’s reported miracle at Sodo was well received because it was in keeping with the basic human view that magnificent waterfalls are an expression of the divine. Numerous people in Haiti accepted the idea that Mary made an appearance at Sodo for the Haitian people. She appeared above a tree in the same manner that some miracles were reported in the Kongo. It is above trees that Toni Malo and other Ancestors in the Kongo were said to appear to confirm their continued existence in the world of the living. The place where Mary appeared became known as Nan Palm.Mary is the primary female spirit for many Christians. She is reminiscent of Èzili, the principal female motherly spirit from Dahomen. As such many Haitian people associate the miracle at Sodo with Èzili. As a pre-eminent female spirit, in Dahomean tradition, Èzili can also be referred to as Sesi-lo meaning first lady.
Waterfalls are viewed as sacred because as the water cascades and runs its path, it carves the landscape and creates a new terrain. Water can then be seen as an instrument of creation. This is accentuated by the mist created by the falling water giving rise to occasional rainbows. Water as a force assisting in creating the landscape and the rainbows formed at waterfalls make these sites symbolic of Danbala and of Ayida Wèdo who in the Dahomean story of creation were created by God so that the pair would assist in creation. Sodo and Nan Palm are sacred not only to Mary and Èzili, but also to Danbala and Ayida.
In an effort to gain a monopoly over what people considered to be sacred, the Catholic Church asked the American government during the time of the American occupation to uproot Sodo’s sacred palm tree. Since much of what attracts people to Sodo is symbolic, the site can be defaced, but it’s sacred appeal has proven to be beyond the reach of those wishing to do it harm.A recently upgraded road and newly built stairs around the fall have made it easier for people to visit Sodo.This year, the number of pilgrims was more than in previous years.
Today, Haiti remains an island of faith. The eastern side of the island has Altagracia and the western side has Sodo. Every year, thousands flock to Sodo, a site that combines natural wonder with religious fervor.“Sodo m prale, an verite Sodo m prale, sonnen ason an pou mwen m prale, Sesi-lo, Vyèj Mirak o, ban m demann mwen, m prale.