Haiti Doesn't Have a Vodou Problem, It Has a Christianity Problem

Taking a page out of the Gospel of Pat Robertson, Chibly Langlois, Haiti’s first Roman Catholic cardinal revealed the “big social problem” in Haiti: Vodou. He argued that Vodou offers “magic” but no real solutions to a population deprived of justice and a political voice.

“If a person is well educated and has the financial means, they will go to a doctor [instead of the Vodou priest] when they get sick. If that same person went to the court to get justice they would not go to the Vodou priest to get revenge. It’s a big problem for the church. And for Haiti," Langlois said.

This uncritical scapegoating of the Vodou religion (called Santeria in Cuba and Candomblé in Brazil) as the source of Haiti’s problems is typical amongst Catholics and their evangelical Christian counterparts. It implies that Christianity provides you not only with enlightenment from your backwards ways, but financial gains…I guess Italy and Greece just haven’t been praying hard enough!

In my travels around Haiti, I have come across many villages where there is no police presence and nor is there a clinic nearby for basic care, often leaving the Vodou priest or priestess( hougans and manbos) to serve every role from midwife to judge and jury. Yet Langlois and the Catholic Church he represents remain silent on the deeply imbedded inequality in Haiti and a Haitian government more interested in attracting foreign tourists by any means than providing basic social services to its people. He also fails to critique the international community who have little to show for $9 billion funneled through international contractors and NGOs in Haiti with little accountability since the 2010 earthquake.

Contrary to the Cardinal’s statement, Vodou is not Haiti’s problem; Christianity is. No push to spread Vodou ever wiped out entire “savage” indigenous peoples. Vodou has caused no wars due to a desire to convert as many people as possible. Vodou doesn’t tell “saved souls” that they must be complacent, accepting their lot on Earth for the potential of future salvation in heaven. Vodou never told Black people they were a curse or 3/5ths of a person.

Vodou is of the belief system that sustained our ancestors across the Middle Passage, during the brutality of the plantation, and through the victories of slave rebellions. Haiti should never apologize for it.

Christianity and the West’s real problem with Vodou is that, like the Maroons who practiced it, it remains elusive to those who would aim to profit off of it, package it, and control it. Unlike Hinduism or Buddhism, Westerners can’t take a “spiritual journey” to Haiti to “find themselves” in a Vodou temple. Vodou remains a religion steeped in African traditions, for people of African descent, and based on an understanding of the linkages between the natural and spiritual world—Hollywood can’t make a Julia Roberts movie out of that.

When it comes to the poor and most vulnerable, the Catholic Church with its $10- $15 billion in wealth looks less like the teachings of Christ and more like a big corporation.  For centuries the Church has been complacent in, and at times profited from, slavery, the Holocaust, selling babies, and, most recently, the sexual abuse of children. I have encountered many wealthy preachers and priests, but I have yet to meet a rich hougan.

Haiti and all the worlds’ poor need a Cardinal that can speak up for “real solutions to a population deprived of justice and a political voice” such as a judicial system free from corruption and accessible to all its people, access to quality healthcare for all regardless of income, free and compulsory primary education, and jobs that pay a living wage. Or even a Cardinal who can simply stand up to a UN who refuses to acknowledge its responsibility for a cholera epidemic that’s killed 9,000+ Haitians. A Church that remains silent on all these issues is a problem.

Unfortunately, it’s far easier for Langlois to shame the poor and Vodouists rather than risk his position in the gilded halls of the Vatican by taking a stand for social justice. As Gandhi once lamented, “You Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

France François is the blogger behind the Black in Cairo blog and has a background in development and conflict resolution. Tweet her: @frenchieglobal

Cécile Fatiman is known as the Haiti Vodun priestess who led the war council at Bwa Kayiman that started the Haiti Revolution. But this sacred mother was more than that. This greatest of all Haiti priestess, like Haiti healers and warriors Tante Toya and Gann Guitonn, Cécile Fatiman was the living vessel of her people. Carrier of the irreducible essence of Ezili Dantò, Manbo Cécile Fatiman and the elder women of Haiti revolution mobilized the enslaved and the maroons, traveled for years, some say, day and night without rest to the plantations letting trusted initiates know about the great gathering of all warriors to end slavery to come on August 14th. Holding Vodun “clearing” rituals as she went, undoing colonial mentacide.

Like Asset/Isis of Egypt/Kemet/Kush on Alkebulan, Haiti’s supreme Divine Warrior Mother of love, Ezili Dantò, danced in the head of Manbo/priestess Cécile Fatiman on August 14, 1791, chose the warrior amongst all warriors gathered on August 14, 1791, who would start the triumphant Haiti Revolution and free her children from European enslavement.

Spoken in the KiKongo language on August 14, 1791 - The Bwa Kayiman Prophecy and Call, which began the Haiti revolution, is: E, e, Mbomba, e, e! Kanga Bafyòti. Kanga Mundele. Kanga Ndòki. Kanga yo! - Stop the imperialists, their Black collaborators and all their evil forces now! (Evil forces=their lying assemblies, media, religion, schools, their mercenary militaries, et al. STOP THEM! See HAITI EPISTEMOLOGY.)

source: Women warriors of the Haitian revolution by Ezili Dantò

Recommended Reading: Haitian Vodou

First: Vodou—or any religion—cannot be learned from a book. A living religion like vodou can only be learned in person from a reputable, lineaged teacher-priest—not online, not in the pages of any book. Reading books on vodou is like smelling coffee from three blocks away—you might get a whiff and maybe you’ll recognize the scent, but you have no idea what it will taste like nor how rich it will be on your tongue until you have the cup in your hands. Vodou is the same same way—you can read all you want, but until you are in the literal room with your teacher-priest and the Lwa, the taste will escape you. That taste, by the way, will blow your mind—it will be like nothing that is contained on any pages, nothing like you’ve imagined, and nothing like anyone has ever been able to explain to you.

Second: HOWEVER, reading about religion and the culture a religion comes from should be considered a fundamental skill worth developing. While a book will never let you experience vodou, nor will it teach you the intricacies of the religious practice, give you an license for ritual work, or give you any insight into any Lwa who may move with you, it can give you a bit of context to work with.

Third: There is a lot of bullshit written about vodou and a lot of books composed of utter crap, whether it be things that are made up whole cloth, things that have been twisted in such a way that the author stands to benefit, conflates vodou with things that it very much is not, or is some sort of undecipherable nonsense that is better off as toilet paper. Listed here are books that I have for the most part read, with a few that I have been told to read so many damn times but that I have yet to get a copy of. I’m happy to field questions about books and other writings as best as I am able, if you have a question about a particular book or article.

Here we go..

Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn by Karen McCarthy Brown By far one of my favorite books about vodou and the first of it’s kind—an ethnographic study of the religion done by an anthropologist who eventually initiated. It’s a wonderful book, truly, and I love it a lot. Reading it feels like being in my Manmi’s house—it is incredibly familiar and it takes several readings to get it all. It contains a lot of insider information that may be hard to grasp or understand the importance of if you haven’t been involved in vodou, but it is glorious. There are some quibbles in the vodou community about some of the conclusions Brown draws, but they don’t affect the reading of the text. Mama Lola is still alive and well in Brooklyn. Pick up the 2011 re-issue for the really nice introduction by Claudine Michel.

Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti by Maya Deren. Another of my favorites. Deren originally went to Haiti to record and detail Haitian dance—she was a film maker and dancer who was solely interested in Haitian folk dancing, and then the Lwa showed up for her. This was the first book really published on vodou at all that wasn’t all in French and marketed outside of the United States or completely sensationalistic. It is fantastically detailed and full of observations of both vodou and Haitian culture as seen by an outsider. Joseph Campbell was very excited about this book and was involved in it coming to print, which is a bit shitty—he really, REALLY wanted vodou and Deren’s narrative to fit his narratives about mythology and global hero cycles. This meant some of Deren’s materials were edited or altered somewhat. She mostly stuck to her guns, but some stuff was edited and there doesn’t seem to be a copy of her original manuscript anywhere. There is a big archive of her correspondence with Campbell and other things at Boston University, which is fascinating to view.

Anything by Claudine Michel or Patrick Bellegarde-Smith. Really, anything. They are fantastic scholars and have written some really great books together—namely, Haitian Vodou: Spirit, Myth, and Reality and Vodou in Haitian Life and Culture: Invisible Powers. Bellegarde-Smith also wrote an excellent book called Fragments of Bone: Neo-African Religions in a New World, which is not specifically about vodou, but it worthwhile nonetheless.

Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou edited by Donald Cosentino. This is a beautiful, glorious book that I cannot wait to own. It details a lot about Haitian art and culture, which is a primary vehicle for both communication about vodou and learning about Haitian culture. It’s usually quite expensive, but a lot of libraries have it available at least through interlibrary loan.

Rara! Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and it’s Diaspora by Elizabeth McAlister. This is a more specific book about Haitian culture, but it’s an excellent read.


There’s also other book-type things that are important in vodou, particularly for outsiders.

If you want any sort of understanding of vodou beyond what you can read in any of these books, you must, must, MUST learn Kreyol. Kreyol is vital to vodou—any respectable sosyete conducts all their services in Kreyol, for reasons beyond Haitians speaking Kreyol. A lot of understanding of vodou happens in double-speak—a sentence in Kreyol may mean one thing to someone who is an outsider or doesn’t have a lot of experience with vodou, but to a practitioner means something wholly different and communicate quite a bit about practice, lineage, and one’s personal Lwa.

To that end, the Pimsleur system is a great beginner resource and, from there, the Pawol Lakay set works really well. Being able to at least casually converse in Kreyol means you will understand quite a bit of what is going on around you should you go to a service, speak with the Lwa yourself [They by and large only speak Kreyol, French, or langaj/spirit language when They come down, and sometimes They do not want to wait for you to grab someone to translate for you]. Plus, if you’re not Haitian, it’s a good first impression.

History is part of vodou, and vodou is part of history. The two are inseparable and each feeds each other. Every vodou service embodies this—the various prayers involve a subtle re-telling of how each Haitian came to be alive today through use of a variety of languages—Old French, modern French, Kreyol, and langaj—and tools, like whips and swords. To understand why things are how they are, it is important to have at least a grasp on where Haiti has been and where Haiti is now. Here are a few decent books on history and politics:

Haiti: The Tumultuous History - From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation by Phillipe Girard. I don’t like the title of this one, but it’s got a lot of good stuff in it.

Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution by Laurent Dubois. Though it’s not often explicitly explored here, the story of the Haitian revolution is the story of how vodou came to be what it is today.

Rainy Season: Haiti—Then and Now by Amy Wilentz. This one explores where Haiti has been in recent years, with a focus on post-earthquake Haiti and Haitians.

The Uses of Haiti by Paul Farmer. This book will make you cry.

I’ll add more as more fall into my hands and make this a permanent page here.

anonymous asked:

I am writing a fantastical story with 5 different cultures that are all fantastical creatures but have cultures similar to those that exist in our world. For example, I have dragon like people who have scales and horns, humanoid dragons if you will. Their culture is based off of vodou, but specifically Haitian. I've done a lot of research and gotten reliable sources, but I'm afraid that this will be considered cultural appropriation or there will be stereotypes. How do I avoid this?

Avoiding Stereotypes In Voodoo Based Cultures

Hey! Interesting, there is not a whole lot to go on here, but as a concept, vodou based dragon people sounds pretty freakin’ bamf.  Anyway, so long as this culture has religious elements which are not just magical, and so long as there are protagonists who are practicioners, you should be steering clear of most of Vodou’s problems in representation.  Those problems specifically are ‘Vodou Equals Evil Murdershaman’ and the misunderstanding of Vodou as just a magic system rather than an actual religion.  


- Rodríguez


The Spirit of Haiti: Vodou

Documentary on Vodou, it’s origins and rituals, de-mystifying myths and demonstrating actual rituals, from interviews and footage of practitioners themselves.

So much was wrong with this Papa Legba, it’s hard to find a place to start. First off, Lord of Hell? In Vodou, Hell, as depicted/explained/understood by Christianity, is not even a thing. The afterlife is not so cut and dry, and eternal reward or punishment is not really in the Vodou mindset. The spirits of the dead transition to the other world, but remain around to be venerated and even prayed to. The distinction between spirits of the dead and the loa is not always clear, and some loa appear to have originally been the souls of departed humans, particularly in the Guede family of loa. Just as incorrect and even more damaging is the overall presentation of Papa Legba. This character doesn’t even look like Papa Legba! His iconography is much more drawn from the likes of loa like Baron Samedi, chief of the Guede loa. It is Baron Samedi and his compatriots who like the dark clothes, the painted face, the skulls, the top hats and tuxedo jackets, and who have a penchant for less than savory behavior. (Sound familiar? Think Dr. Facilier, “the Shadowman”, from The Princess and the Frog—his whole look and ambiance was totally inspired by Baron Samedi.)

Like I mentioned before, Papa Legba is treated with great respect and affection; people revere him for his key position as gatekeeper as well as his overall wisdom and power. There are already plenty of loa with not-so-nice reputations within Vodou itself that the AHS writers could have picked from to create their villain; for starters, the aforementioned Baron Samedi. Even infamous Haitian dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier would draw inspiration from Baron Samedi in constructing his public persona. If the writers had wanted to stick with a crossroads motif, there’s even a dark aspect to Legba, an evil twin if you will: Kalfu, a dark, mysterious, and much feared figure. To take a divinity as cherished and revered as Papa Legba and build such an evil character around him is, frankly, inexcusable. I think the appropriate course of action would have been to use a character already considered bad news by the tradition itself, or even create an entirely new character. TV shows, after all, are works of fiction anyway.