Science meets voodoo in a New Orleans festival of water

Tue Oct 21, 2014 12:15pm EDT
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By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Perhaps no other city in the United States is as well-suited as New Orleans to wed a scientific discussion of environment with a celebration of the occult.

That's exactly what unfolded on Saturday at "Anba Dlo," an annual New Orleans festival where prominent scientists joined with practitioners of the voodoo religion to look for answers to the challenges of dealing with water.

In "The Big Easy," a low-lying Louisiana city devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and threatened by the BP oil spill of 2010, water is a subject nearly impossible to ignore.

Four representatives of Rand Corp, the global consultancy that helped develop the state’s master plan for coastal restoration, joined a dozen environmentalists, architects and policy specialists who took part in Anba Dlo, which translates from a Haitian dialect as "beneath the waters."

The event was held at a community center in the New Orleans neighborhood known as Bywater, one of those pounded by Katrina.

Against a backdrop of elaborate Halloween decorations and voodoo-themed performance stages, the discussion centered on how South Louisiana, by necessity, is developing new models for water management.

"I've spoken at a lot of conferences around the country, and this festival is pretty unique," said Jordan Fischbach, a policy researcher for Rand in Pittsburgh. "But then, this is New Orleans," he added with a laugh.

The festival, now in its seventh year, is the brainchild of Sallie Ann Glassman, a longtime New Orleans resident who is a high priestess in the Haitian religion of voodoo and an anti-poverty activist.   Continued...

A plaque, pennies, and scratched X's adorn the reputed tomb of voodoo queen Marie Laveau in the St. Louis Cemetary in New Orleans, in a file photo. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson