For those who are confused about race/ethnicity. “Black” is a race with several ethnicities. The arrows above demonstrate the migration of enslaved black people from Africa to other parts of the world.
Black line = African Americans = descendants of enslaved blacks in the USA
Red lines = Afro-Latinxs = descendants of enslaved blacks in Latin America (Central America, South America, and some of the Caribbean-Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, etc.)
Blue line = Afro-Caribbeans = descendants of enslaved blacks in the Caribbean (ex: Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad, etc.)
Africa = Africans
All of these people are black. But not all black people are African American.
Famous black people Africans: Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Iman, Idris Elba African Americans: Michelle Obama, Oprah, Beyonce, Jay-Z Afro-Latinx: Celia Cruz, Gina Torres, Zoe Saldana, Laz Alonso Afro-Caribbeans: Bob Marley, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Wyclef
*I should mention there are black people in other parts of the world as well (Afro-Palestinians, Afro-Iranian, etc.)
**I made this in a hurry, let me know if anything is off
Researching Afro-Caribbean Religions: Voodoo, Santeria, And More
Welcome to the first
part in a series on Afro-Caribbean religions, put together to answer some of
the questions we’ve had in the past about voodoo and related religions which
invariably end with “how do I research for this?!”
Why Did You Choose Voodoo?
sentences. It doesn’t matter how short, in-depth the answer is.
When I think of
voodoo, I think of ….”
Did you think of voodoo dolls/zombies/”black” magic ? You may have misinformed (and
potentially negative) intentions for it in your story from growing up on Hollywood
“Voodoo in my story
excites me because…”
Did you think it’d be perfect for your magical villain
and/or protagonist? Again, you may have Hollywood voodoo on the brain. If it’s for your villain, be advised that “evil
voodoo shaman” is yet another lash on a long-dead horse of negative stereotypes that has been around since 1932 gave us White Zombie. Now, nobody’s
denying you permission to write a voodoo villain, but please don’t let your
antagonist the ONLY representative of voodoo within the narrative.
Narrowing It Down
After completing those
sentences, you may realize you’re just looking for a magical element for your
story. If so, voodoo might not be for you because voodoo is a religion. If you want to do voodoo respectfully
and avoid stereotypes, then you need to take care not to write Hogwarts Of The
Caribbean. There are many magical traditions whicharen’t religions and can carry the exact same allure for your work’s
Of course, stripping
out the worship does not make research any easier or less potentially offensive.
Rather, it just makes your work and research more on topic. Regardless
of what is and isn’t popular among their respective, modern-day cultures,
indigenous and mixed belief systems are still peoples’ heritages, almost
invariably with a tempestuous history that should not be ignored or silenced.
So, decide for
yourself: Do you need a tradition which is religious,
magical, or both?
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
I challenge you to
choose an alternative to Voodoo because if you check out NGram
viewer and compare how ‘voodoo’ weighs in against any diasporic competitor in
English-language literature, the difference is enormous.
much more out there within and without the “voodoo”
category. For starters, the variants: Cuban, Puerto Rican and Dominican
Vudú to name a few. There are even Canadian Vodouisants, particularly in
Quebec, of Haitian heritage; the point here is you can go
You also may want to
set the Loa aside and give Santería, Umbanda and Candomblé a chance – they’re
distinct, but similar, have magical traditions inextricably blended within
them, and probably have the same thing you’re looking for. You could even
take it straight to Africa and look into the founding beliefs like Yoruba (The
In addition to African
groups, Mesoamerican beliefs of the Aztec, Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec and so
on may be strong contenders for your narrative even in a modern setting because
not only can they also feature ancestor worship, a robust spirit world, trance
states and a once-gods-now-saints, they can be witnessed today by
people who still believe in it. You just have to be willing to put
in a little more effort since these beliefs are labeled “Catholic” now: just
like Vodouisants tend to be, the followers of this Latino syncretism are
largely Catholics of indigenous heritage.
The most prevalent
example to look up is pan-Mayan syncretism and/or Maya Catholicism, which
features things like worry dolls (distinct from voodoo dolls) and San Simon
Maximón de Guatemala, “the Evil Saint” who accepts offerings of things like
tobacco and Coca Cola. Some belief systems have withstood the test of
time and others are just now being dusted off, such as with Mexicanidad or Mexicayotl (an
Aztec culture and philosophy revival movement started in the 50s which includes
breathing life back into Aztec beliefs).
Your research may not
be as direct because you’re not going to find “The Complete Field Guide To
Modern Mesoamerican Syncretism” but you’re also not going to find “Everything
You Need To Know About Voodoo To Write Your Book: An Annotated Guide,” either.
Research Starting Point: Keyword List
Here’s a list of
things that You Should Know Exist by
country (there is overlap and this is not an exhaustive list). This includes
religions and magical practices devoid of liturgical worship.
these I’ve chosen because they are from specifically West African belief
systems, but some of them I have chosen because they happen to have the
dynamics of offering spirits propitiation or magical traditions.
Each belief system, religion or not, is its
own iceberg with robust history and various amounts of representation.
Some are alive and well, others are the subject of controversy. The research
part is your job.
Barbudan: Obeah. Afro-Bahamian: Obeah Afro-Cuban: Abakuá, Santería, Palo Monte, Cuban Vudú, Palo (Las
Reglas De Congo). Afro-Dominican: Dominican Voodoo Afro-Haitian: Haitian Vodou
Afro-Brazilian: Candomblé, Umbanda, Quimbanda, Xangô de
Recife, Xangô do Nordeste, Tambor De Mina, Santo Daime, Lucumi. African-American: Hoodoo, Louisiana Voodoo, Spiritual
There is not a
convenient label to put on Mesoamerican traditions blending into Catholicism,
but awareness of the fact is worthwhile. You may wish to look up “Zapotec
religion,” “Mixtec religion,” and “Aztec religion” for leads. However, here are some labels:
Latin America in
General: Curanderismo, Brujeria,
Espritismo (which has African-inspired and Mesoamerican-inspired variations).
Incan Origin: União do Vegetal(Brazil), Vegetalismo
Guatemalan: Maya Catholicism, pan-Mayan syncretism
Even though my
personal answer “Where do I start with Haitian/Louisiana voodoo?” is “BY
LOOKING AT EVERYTHING BUT THAT” hopefully you will find it exciting that
Louisisana/Haitian Voodoo/Vodou is but a page in an entire book, a room in a
In my next post on
Afro-Caribbean Religions I will cover beliefs that are more-or-less consistent
among voodoo and religions like voodoo.