Haitian Voodoo

Haitian voodoo (also spelled vodou, voudun, and voudoun) is a religion that is intricately linked to the slave history of the country. The official religion in Haiti is Catholicism, brought to the island by the French colonials who imposed it on their African slaves. These slaves primarily came from the West African coast - from Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria. These peoples practiced an animist religion called Vodun. When they began arriving in Haiti, the combined their native religious practices with those of the indigenous Taino Arawak people. These practices were then further combined the Catholicism of the French.

The island and the people are deeply influenced by this unique religion, which is ingrained in Haiti culture. Most of the practitioners of Haitian voodoo are Roman Catholics, and believe the two do not conflict and can coexist. They believe in a single God, called Bondye, who does not intervene in human affairs. The principle beliefs of this religion in Haiti revolve around a cult of family spirits called Loua, who are subordinate to Bondye and who protect the family line through the generations. Rituals are performed by family members in order to feed these spirits. One of these rituals occurs each year; the other is held about once every generation. The family spirits are called on to protect their “children” from illness and misfortune and sometimes to make “enemies” ill or misfortune to befall them. There are many Loua, the rada (good or sweet) and the petro (bad or “bitter”). The latter ones usually show their displeasure by making people ill. Thus, there is a priesthood whose functions are healing, performing religious ceremonies, creating protective spells (including everything from love spells to death spells), foretelling the future and reading dreams. Female priestesses are called mambo, and male priests are houngan.

There are many misconceptions about Haitian voodoo that have given the country a reputation for black magic epitomized by voodoo dolls, devil worship, and zombies. The voodoo doll is more associated with the voodoo found in Louisiana and New Orleans. This is where many Haitians fled after independence in 1804. These included French colonists, mulattos, and freed slaves – who eventually became that state’s Creole people. There is really no true “voodoo doll” in this Haitian religion. The zombie, as is it is known in popular horror culture, originated with the way the family spirits reveal themselves. They come to people in dreams and trances induced during ceremonies. In these, the person is “mounted” by one of the family spirits. The person disappears and their body is taken over and controlled by the spirit. However, the idea of a zombie as seen in twentieth-century horror films has nothing to do with this ritual or with Haitian voodoo.

Voodoo is a genuine mainstream religion in Haiti—a dominant religion of the country. It is also practiced in various forms by other people around the world, including in its native continent in West Africa. After the horrendous earthquake of 2010, there were voodoo ceremonies held in the country of Benin to assist the victims. A number of Haitian people, many of whom were voodoo priests and priestess, were lynched by angry citizens blaming them for the resultant cholera epidemic.

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