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Former botanist Max Gesner Beauvoir, a leader of the Haitian religion popularly known as Vodou, has died.

Beauvoir passed away suddenly on Saturday, the Huffington Post reports. Haitian president Michel Martelly released a statement via Twitter, calling Beauvoir’s death a “great loss for the country.”

Beauvoir was born in Haiti on August 25, 1936. He traveled to the United States to further his education and enrolled as a student at Cornell University, where he earned his masters in chemistry.

Beauvoir made strides in the botany world as part of a team synthesizing metabolic steroids. In the mid ’80s, he switched careers following the death of his grandfather, a popular Vodou priest. He said his grandfather inspired him to return to Haiti and take up the religion.

”Just as a carnival band went by the house,” Mr. Beauvoir recalled, ”grandfather turned to me and said, ‘You will carry on the tradition.’ It was not the sort of thing you could refuse.”

The term Vodou means “spirit” or “god” in the Fon language of Benin. It is essentially a blend of African traditions and Catholicism and was labeled an official religion in Haiti in 2003.

In 2008, Beauvoir became an Ati, or supreme leader of the National Confederation of Haitian Vodou. Beauvoir found himself in a battle with Hollywood films, in which the religion’s depiction often showed leaders and priests as witches who worshiped the devil.

Vodou heals the mind, soul and body,” Beauvoir told the Thomson Reuters Foundation earlier this year. “The soul is what we are, which controls everything, all our actions and mind.”

For some critics, Vodou (popularly referred to as Voodoo) was to blame for the deaths of up to 300,000 people after a cholera outbreak following the devastating 2010 hurricane in Haiti. American televangelist Pat Robertson blamed Vodou for the quake itself, claiming Haitians “swore a pact to the devil” to escape French rule in the country’s 1791 rebellion.

Nonetheless, Beauvoir launched the Federasyon Nasyonal Vodou Ayisyen in 2005, currently known as the National Confederation of Haitian Vodou. He continued to fight for priests who faced poverty and persecution for studying the religion up until his death.

Beauvoir was 79 years old.

SOURCE: Huffington Post, NBC News | PHOTO CREDIT: Twitter 

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