In Haiti, the people celebrate their African
ancestry and religion with a Rara festival, a culturally rich musical and
Elizabeth McAlister, associate professor of Religion and chair of the
Religion Department, associate professor of African American studies, and
associate professor of American studies, has studied this tradition for 15
years. Through a newly-created teaching tool, she hopes people can gain new
insights on the Rara festival.
Designed by Wesleyan’s Learning Objects Studio staff, the Web site,
http://rara.wesleyan.edu/ is available for academic and public
use. The site is already being used at classes at New York University and
"My hope is that people interested in Rara, students, musicians, artists,
travelers and other researchers, will be able to use this Web site as an
interactive study guide,” McAlister says.
interest in Rara dates back to 1991 when she began researching Haiti’s
vibrant culture, often celebrated through Rara. In 2002, she published a
book titled, "Rara! Vodou, Power and Performance in Haiti and its Diaspora."
The Web site serves as a companion piece to her book on Rara.
“After my book on Rara came out, internet technology made it possible to
display the photographs and videotape that I made in Haiti, together with my
friends and collaborators,” she explains.
Through the online tool, McAlister posted a 15-minute film about Rara, music
and dance clips. She included images, video and audio clips of Rara as a
carnival; Rara as a religious obligation in Vodou; Rara and the Christians
and Jews; Rara gender and sexuality; Rara and politics; and Rara in New York
In each section, McAlister includes media, notes from the field, and an
analysis, often adapted from her book.
When explaining Rara as a form of carnival, McAlister explains, in the
analysis, that “the ‘tone,’ or ‘ambiance,’ of Rara parading is loud and
carnivalesque … As in Carnival, Rara is about moving through the streets,
and about men establishing masculine reputation through public performance.
Rara bands stop to perform for noteworthy people, to collect money. In
return, the kings and queens dance and sing, and the baton majors juggle
batons-and even machetes!”
The site includes clips on several Rara bands including La Belle Fraicheur
de l'Anglade in Fermathe, Mande Gran Moun in Darbonne, Rara La Fleur Ginen
in Bel Air, Rara Inorab Kapab in Cite Soleil and Rara Ya Seizi.
traditional Rara costumes, which are known for their delicate sequin work
and vivacious colors, dancers are shown in action, in low or high bandwidth
videos of dances and music. In one clip, a queen and two kings dance the “mazoun.”
Traditional instruments such as bamboo and the paper-fabricated konet are
shown in several accompanying images like the one at right.
The music featured on the Web site was
produced by Holly Nicolas, postal clerk, and mixed and mastered by Peter
Hadley, conductor of Wes Winds.
McAlister, who lived in Haiti to study Rara, says she walked with the bands,
took them seriously and listened to what they had to say.
“My book, and now this Web site, tell that story,” she says.
For more information on the Learning Objects Studio go to: