If you ever watched the old James Bond movies, one of the more curious villains is found in Live and Let Die, a henchman who goes by the name of Baron Samedi. Baron Samedi is a standout in the pantheon of Bond villains because he’s honestly quite benign compared to the other ones. He shows up, scares some people, gets shot three or four times and then shows up again at the end of the movie. Unlike Jaws or Nick-Nack though, Baron Samedi’s literary inspiration comes from the real world, specifically Haitian Vodou (a different category than New Orleans Voodoo). The Baron is a Haitian supernatural being, somewhere in between deity and demon. Because of the nature of folklore and mythology, the actual details and specifics are immensely varied, albeit quite intriguing.
James Bond villain version of Baron Samedi
Alternatively known as Baron Samedi, Bawon Sanmdi, Baron La Croix (some sort of an incarnation of the Baron?), Baron Cimetiere (another aspect), and Baron Kriminel, the folklore of the Baron has him show up in a half dozen different ways. The most classic version is the original Baron Samedi (loosely translates to Baron Saturday) who appears in artwork as either a tall, black man with a skeleton head, or as just a straight up skeleton, wearing a black tuxedo with either blood red or purple undercolors, a tophat, and cotton nose plugs. The way he dresses is the way that Haitians dress corpses for burial, and for good reason because Baron Samedi is fairly close to being the Haitian god of death. In folklore, Samedi is the one who decides if a dead person is allowed to remain dead, because only if he digs a grave for the person can they actually die. Much of the referencing of zombies in vodou stories comes from Samedi not picking up his shovel for some reason. Samedi is well known in the legends as a massive rum drinker, a cigar smoker, and a womanizer (in stories, he’s anywhere between a super charming and suave womanizer and sexually assaulting women in graveyards). If a person is close to death, one of the folk remedies is to offer rum or cigars to the Baron in hopes that he chooses not to dig a grave for you and lets you remain shuffling on the mortal coil for a while.
Rum and Cigars, your vices may save you if you give them to the right god
The aspects of Baron Samedi are where things get a little muddled. Baron Cimetiere (loosely Baron Cemetery) is the guardian of the graveyards and tombstones, and is Baron Samedi, but also not Baron Samedi. Think of it in the same way that people talk about the Trinity, or about squares and rectangles. Baron Cimetiere also dresses his horses in the same tuxedo and tophat combo, though not much is said about that in any other sources that I’ve found. Baron La Croix is the super suave version of Samedi who finds death to be a joke and an existential crisis and encourages people to make the most of life (he’s also a Loa of sexuality, a vodou spirit of sexuality, so use your imagination when he says make the most of life). Lastly, Baron Kriminel is the aspect of the Baron who possesses people. If a person is taken over by Baron Kriminel, the person goes berserk and starts stabbing and biting people. Family members are supposed to bring food to the possessed person and appease the Baron’s spirit, but if the food isn’t good enough, the possessed person will start gnawing pieces of their own arm. The Haitian remedy is to dunk a chicken in gas and light it on fire so that the Baron can enjoy the shrieks of the dying bird.
All in all, the Baron is sort of a mixed bag of good and bad, dictating life and death as well as taking over people’s minds. In recent years, the Haitian spirit has had a degree of influence on popular culture as well, as the character Dr.Facilier in Disney’s Princess and the Frog has major themes drawn from the dress and style of the Haitian folklore.
Samedi’s colors are black, red, purple and white; and not every villain wears a tophat
Citations (admittedly not my best researched article, for some reason there is a remarkably small amount of material on the internet about Haitian folklore):
Baron Samedi, Haitian Loa and Voodoo – article by Daz Lawrence