Petion Savain (1903-1975)
The author of Damballah's House was a teacher of tinsmithing at a trade school when the Afro-American artist William Scott visited Haiti to paint in 1930. Scott encouraged Savain to seek out and depict scenes of local life, and he introduced the future novelist to the Port-au-Prince literary salon that surrounded the publication of the magazine Revue Indigene. This magazine was on the forefront of the Indigenist movement in Haiti, as its authors regularly investigated Hatian folklife, including the rituals of Vodou. The leading member of that literary group, the novelist Philippe-Thoby Marcelin, recalled, "Savain's studio soon became the meeting place of the literary avant-garde, who filled it with their exuberance, opening new horizons to the painter, teaching him audacity." Savain eventually wrote his own novel and illustrated it himself with linocuts. Damballah's House was published in an edition of three hundred in 1939 with a dedication to Marcelin. Damballah of the title is a Vodou creator spirit whose symbol is a snake.
The novel has never been translated into English, but it is well-regarded in Haiti for its exploration of the ceremonies of vodou and its evocations of rural life. It was later reprinted in a facsimile edition in Germany in 1970, but the images on this website were all scanned from an original 1939 copy.
Savain went on to study painting at the Art Students League in New York in the early 1940s, and he produced prolifically in his home country after that. He died in 1975.