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Vodou General Summary and Focus How social, political, racial and economic factors determine the transformation of religious practices amongst former slave and immigrant communities. The relation between the religion of the slave owners (Catholicism) and the spirit religion of the slaves (generally termed `Vodou'). What is "Vodou"? Vodou, often misspelled as "Voodoo", is the name for the religious practices of the people of Haiti. Where was "Vodou" Practiced? "Vodou" emerged in Haiti, and spread to New Orleans and Santiago, Cuba due to the upheaval caused by the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). Haiti is a mountainous country sharing the peninsula with Dominican Republic. This land mass was originally named the island of "Hispaniola" during Columbus' voyage. Haiti's Most famous Export Wyclef John Who Practices "Vodou"? "Vodou" is mostly practiced by the descendants of the slaves, brought to Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean (Cuba, Dominican Republic) by white slave traders, to work n sugar, coffee, and cotton plantations during the 18th century. The Origins of the Term "Vodou" In Haiti, the term "Vodou" refers to one religious ritual among many and is mostly associated with the People of Dahomey (Modern day Republic of Benin). In the Fon language of Dahomey the term "vodun", from which "Vodou" is derived, means "god" or "spirit". Map of Modern Benin (Ancient Dahomey) Haiti, Slave Trade and White Slave Owners The term "Vodou" conjures up images of uncontrolled orgiastic behavior and even cannibalism in descriptions by white people. Some writers suggest the connection between bad omens when white people get too close to "Vodou" ceremonies to "Vodou's" sinister influence. This may be attributed to the fear that the Haitian slave revolution sparked in the white slave owning communities. Haiti achieved independence in 1804 and was the first black republic in the Western hemisphere at a time when the colonial economy was heavily dependent on slave labor. Where is "Vodou" Practiced Now? "Vodou" is a now central part of everyday life in Haiti. And amongst immigrant Haitian communities mostly in New York City, Miami, and Montreal. Who Uses the Term "Vodou"? But, the term "Vodou", is the name given to the religious practices of Haitians by outsiders. Haitians who practice "Vodou" have not used this term until recently to describe their own religious practices. Haitians' View of Their Own Religious Practices Haitians do not use the term "Vodou" but instead use a verb to describe their own religion by speaking of it as "serving the spirits." Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou `Santa Marta with Hot Snake Spirit on their Mountain' by Pierrot Barra American Museum of Natural History Exhibit on "Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou" http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/vodou/index.html `Ogou on his Charger' by Hector Hyppolite American Museum of Natural History Exhibit on "Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou" http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/vodou/index.html http://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/c Visit the Following Website for Vodou Rituals To Prepare for "Mama Lola" Readings http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/vodou/index. html "Vodou" and African Influence African slave laborers brought to Haiti to work on sugar, cotton, and coffee plantations mostly came from present day Benin, the Yoruba people (from modern day Nigeria) and the Kongo (from Angola and the Republic of Congo). Many names of "Vodou" spirits can be traced to their African origins. But the nature of these "spirits" have been transformed by Haitian social and economic history. Importance of Africa in "Vodou" System Africa holds an important place in "Vodou" religious system. Haitians speak of "Ginen" (Guinea in West Africa) both as their ancestral home, and as the watery underground home of "Vodou" spirits. The most prominent spirits (who are good, ancient, and proper) are called "franginen" (fully and completely African). "Vodou" and Catholicism Most slave owners were Catholic. Slaves were forced to undergo mandatory baptism under French Law. Some scholars argue that Catholicism is just a mask for Haitians practicing "Vodou". Yet, even in West Africa, "Vodou" had a long tradition of incorporating the religious beliefs of the neighboring communities, whether friend or foe. Even during and after the Haitian slave revolution Catholicism survived for 50 years without having clergy ordained by the Vatican through the efforts of "bush priests" who were important in providing charms and talismans for healing. Interaction Between Catholicism and "Vodou" Catholicism affected Haitian religious practices mostly at the level of rituals and practice but not at the level of theology. It worked because of two reasons: Reason #1
1. Because some Catholic rituals function as "Vodou" rites too, Haitians could attend Mass, and undergo baptism because they believe that their "Vodou" spirits directed them in this manner. Reason #2 Catholic prayers, images, and saints' names are integrated into the common ritualizing of "Vodou" temples. Example of the Integration Between Catholicism and "Vodou" Dambala, the ancient spirit of the Fon tribe from West Africa is venerated both as a "Vodou" spirit and as St. Patrick who is depicted in pictures with snakes around his feet. The Legend of St. Patrick Catholic legend credits St. Patrick with banishing snakes from the island, though Ireland never actually had snakes; one suggestion is that snakes referred to the serpent symbolism of the Druids of that time and place, as shown for instance on coins minted in Gaul or that it could have referred to beliefs such as Pelagianism, symbolized as "serpents". St. Patrick Banishing Snakes from Ireland Snakes: Where is our beer? St. Paddy: No Guinness for you, be off you snakes. Old Irish Guy: "Brilliant". "Bondye" The Good God of "Vodou" "Bondye" is a "Vodou" spirit (or `good god') and is associated with the Christian god and is considered to be the highest and only god. "Vodou" spirits are not inherently evil but are intermediaries between the people and the high god. "Bondye" is remote and unknowable but is invoked every day in ordinary speech. Politics, Catholicism, and "Vodou" in Haiti Historically, both the Catholic church and the Haitian government have persecuted those Haitians who practice "Vodou". Catholic clergy routinely preached against participating in "Vodou" ceremonies. For years Catholicism was the only religion officially recognized in Haiti. In 2003 "Vodou" was officially recognized by the Haitian government as an established Haitian religion. Types of "Vodou" Spirits
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Lwa (uncertain name) Sen (saints) Miste (mysteries) Envizib (invisibles) Zanj (angels), extremely rare During the development of the concept of "Vodou" spirits they were associated with a particular tribe or nation called a `nanchon'. 1. 2. The "Vodou" spirits are separated according to their inner nature: The `Rada' spirits are wise, ancient and sweet. The `Petwo' spirits are fiery and hot. Characteristics of `Rada' and `Petwo' Spirits The `Rada' and "Petwo' spirits are contrasting in nature. The `Rada' spirit, being sweet, is known to like a sweet sugary almond syrup as an offering. A graceful dance is associated with this spirit. The `Petwo' spirit, being hot and fiery, prefers an energetic and pounding drum rhythm and is associated with rum-drinking spirits. There are specific drumming techniques associated with each of these spirit rituals. "Vodou" View of Person 1. 2. 3. The human body plays an important part in determining the notion of `person' or `being' in "Vodou". A `person' is composed of: A physical body. The spirit `gwo bonanj', the big guardian angel. The spirit `ti bonanj', the littl guardian angel. Each person has a `lwa' located at the top of a person's head or in the neck. (Think a `halo') and is called `met-tet' (master of the head). This `lwa' reflects the personality of the individual. The `met-tet' has to be meticulously taken care of and should be honored, so that good luck and protection from the ancestors can be acquired. Death Rituals in "Vodou" Cemeteries play an important role in the "Vodou" system. The dead people and the "Vodou" spirits are not the same. Though exceptional people may evolve into spirits. The spirits of the dead stand for the entire community. The most famous group of spirits for the dead are called `Gede'. The `gede' are inclusive and acquire new members every so often. So the Buddha, Lao Tzu, King Kong and Elvis have made it into the `Gede' circle. "Vodou" Ceremonies Rural "Vodou" ceremonies are simple as simplicity is supposed to reflect strong spiritual power. Bad times are often said to be caused by disgruntled family spirits. Urban "Vodou' is more ritualized with regularly held large events. Ceremonies to honor "Vodou" spirits often coincide with a saint's day. The Carnival The `Carnival' is a ceremony in Haiti which usually coincides with Lent. Annual pilgrimages involve thousands of people and sometimes involve visiting Catholic churches as a part of the "Vodou" pilgrimage. "Vodou" and Magic Outsiders to "Vodou" practices usually apply the term `magic' to describe its rituals but this is a false categorization. Practitioners of "Vodou" describe their activities as "African". False "Vodou" The false followers of "Vodou" who seek money and fame are considered to be "the work of the left hand". This "work of the left hand" should not be confused with authentic "Vodou" practices. "Vodou" in Haitian Immigrant Communities Economic and political conditions have forced many Haitians to emigrate to North America, particularly to New York City, Miami, and Montreal in Canada. There "Vodou" ceremonies are carried out in storefronts, apartments, basements of houses etc. These "Vodou" ceremonies are shorter versions of the more elaborate ones practiced in Haiti. ...
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- Winter '08
- Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou