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

Louis Lesly Marcelen, a.k.a. Sanba Zao, sheds light on Haitian history in Kite Zo A (Leave the Bones).

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, with Vodou priest Dutty Boukman presiding over a ceremony with dance and the ritual sacrifice of a pig. This spurred participants to engage in a major slave revolt, setting 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.”

Watch the trailer for Kite Zo A (Leave the Bones).

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.

On March 6, Kite Zo A (Leave the Bones) was nominated for Ted Rogers Best Feature Length Documentary at the Canadian Screen Awards. Last year’s winner, To Kill a Tiger, went on to capture an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature.

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. More recently, a massive prison escape made international headlines.

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). It is a must-see for anyone curious to learn the true history of this Caribbean nation.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

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

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