By Candice Russell
The genius of Haitian artists manifests itself in different ways. A few years ago, I purchased a Vodou flag unrelated to the depiction of Vodou spirits, which is the traditional portrayal on these sacred squares of hand-embellished cloths. This flag, called “Anima Sola,” is by Mireille Delice, a cousin of the even more famous Myrlande Constant, from whom she learned the technique of sewing Vodou flags. It shows two dark-skinned hands with manacles on the wrists, raising upward out of a fiery pit, indicated by beads of shocking red highlighted by yellow for flames.
What defines the person’s hands as female are three rings of gold and fingernails prettily painted with red polish. It is a stunning image and one easily recognized as a reference to Anima Sola, or lonely soul, suffering in purgatory. Based on Roman Catholic tradition, the image is popular in Latin America and Naples and Palermo in Italy. But it is usually more fully formed than the one presented by Delice in this exceptional Vodou flag.
Traditionally, Anima Sola is seen as a beautifiul, long-haired white woman of young age. She is behind bars in a cell. Her hands are in manacles to chains and her arms are raised upward in supplication. Surrounding her are the flames that will destroy her. In some images, this suffering soul in purgatory — between heaven and hell — breaks free and, when she does, she is destined for heaven. It is only through the intercession of the living and the diving that her internal suffering and liberation from limbo can take place.
But the legend of Anima Sola has far-reaching implications. It is thought that she arrived in purgatory as a result of unrequited love by trading the joys of temporal love for eternal salvation. In Haitian Vodou, Anima Sola is used in conjuring to bring back a former partner. The tormented spirit that invades the former partner compels his or her return to the one doing the conjuring — no wonder to do an Anima Sola spell is called “anti-love.”
According to the web site www.luckymojo.com, “It is said that those who die while wearing a blessed brown scapular, as directed by Our Lady of Mount Carmel, will not suffer long in purgatory. The Virgin of Mount Carmel will arrive holding the infant Jesus in her arms, along with a group of angels. It is the angels who will pull the suffering (one) from the flames.”
This poignant folk religious image is simplified by Delice who portrays hands and arms extending out of the flames. Yet this simplification does not in any way diminish the power of what is being conveyed — a very real psychic and physical torture unimaginable to mortals. Looked at in another way, it conveys the confusion and agony of life in a more general sense. In Haiti, where there is an abundance of suffering, there is poverty, a lack of food, no access to opportunities like free education, and no hope of a better existence for the vast majority of people. This flag is an expression of all the pain of the Haitians that remains unspoken as the people soldier on and do their best to survive daily hardships.