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Haitian Vodou or Vaudou ( , Anglicised as Voodoo) is a syncretic religion originating from the Caribbeanmarker country of Haitimarker, located on the island of Hispaniolamarker. It is based upon a merging of the beliefs and practices of West African peoples, (mainly the Fon and Ewe; see West African Vodun), with Roman Catholic Christianity, which was brought about as African slaves were brought to Haiti in the 16th century and forced to convert to the religion of their owners, whilst they largely still followed their traditional African beliefs.

Overview

The principal belief in Haitian Vodou is that there are various deities, or Lwa (commonly spelled Loa), who are subordinate to a greater God, known as Bondyè, who does not interfere with human affairs. Therefore it is to the lwa that Vodou worship is directed. Other characteristics of Vodou include ancestor worship and protection against evil witchcraft.

Haitian Vodou shares many similarities with other faiths of the African diaspora, such as Louisiana Voodoo of New Orleansmarker, Santería and Arará of Cubamarker, and Candomblé and Umbanda of Brazilmarker. The Vodou temple is called a Hounfour.

In Haitian Vodou (Sèvis Lwa in Creole or "Service to the Lwa"), there are strong elements from the Bakongo of Central Africa and the Igbo and Yoruba of Nigeriamarker, although many different nations of Africa have representation in the liturgy of the Sèvis Lwa. A large and significant portion of Haitian Vodou most often overlooked by scholars, until recently is the Kongo component. The entire Northern area of Haiti is especially influenced by Kongo practice. In the North, it is more often called Kongo Rite or Lemba, from the Lemba rites of the Loango area and Mayombe. In the south, Kongo influence is called Petwo (Petro). Many loa or lwa (also a Kikongo term) are of Kongo origin such as Basimbi, Lemba, etc.

Haitianmarker creole forms of Vodou exist in Haiti, the Dominican Republicmarker, parts of Cuba, some of the out-islands of the Bahamasmarker, the United Statesmarker, and other places that Haitian immigrants dispersed to over the years. However, it is important to note that the Vodun religion (separate from Haitian Vodou) existed in the United States, having been brought over by West Africans enslaved in America, specifically from the Ewe, Fon, Mina, Kabaye, and Nago groups. Some of its more enduring forms still exist in the Gullah Islands. There is a re-emergence of these Vodun traditions in America, which maintains the same ritual and cosmological elements as is practiced in West Africa. These and other African-diasporic religions such as Lukumi or Regla de Ocha (also known as Santería) in Cuba, Candomblé and Umbanda in Brazil, all religions that evolved among descendants of transplanted Africans in the Americas.

Beliefs

Deities

Vodouisants believe in both a supreme God called Bondye , and many lesser spirits, known as the loa. This had been a belief held in several west African religions such as that of the Yoruba, Odinani, and Vodun, and when it came in contact with Roman Catholicism, the greater deity was associated with the Judeo-Christian God, and the loa with the saints.

Bondye

Haitian Vodouisants are monotheists, believing in one supreme God, known asBondye (from the French "Bon Dieu" or "Good God"). Vodouisants do not see Bondye as different from the Abrahamic conceptions of God, in the sense that Bondye is considered to be the creator of all. Bondye is distant from its creation, being a pandeist deity, and because of this, Vodouisants don't believe that they can contact it for help.

Loa

Because Bondye is considered unreachable, Vodouisants focus their prayer and devotion to lesser entities, spirits known as loa, or mistè. Some of the most notable loa include Papa Legba the guardian of the crossroads, Erzulie Freda the spirit of love, Simbi the spirit of rain and magicians, Kouzin Zaka the spirit of agriculture, and The Marasa, who are divine twins considered to be the first children of Bondye.

These loa can be divided into 21 nations, which include the Petwo, Rada, Congo and Nago .The Petwo and the Rada contrast most with one another, because the Petwo are hot or aggressive and restless, whereas the Rada are cool or calm and peaceful.

The loa also fall into family groups, who share a surname, such as Ogou, Ezili, Azaka or Ghede. For instance, "Ezili" is a family, Ezili Danto and Ezili Freda are two individual spirits in that family. Each family are associated with a specific aspect, for instance the Ogou family are soldiers, the Ezili govern the feminine spheres of life, the Azaka govern agriculture, the Ghede govern the sphere of death and fertility.

Each of the loa is associated with a particular Roman Catholic saint.

Morality

Vodou's moral code focuses on the vices of dishonour and greed. There is also a notion of relative propriety — and what is appropriate to someone with Dambala Wedo as their head may be different from someone with Ogou Feray as their head. For example, one spirit is very cool and the other is very hot. Coolness overall is valued, and so is the ability and inclination to protect oneself and one's own if necessary. Love and support within the family of the Vodou society seem to be the most important considerations. Generosity in giving to the community and to the poor is also an important value. One's blessings come through the community and there is the idea that one should be willing to give back to it in turn. There are no "solitaries" in Vodou, only people separated geographically from their elders and house. A person without a relationship of some kind with elders will not be practicing Vodou as it is understood in Haiti and among Haitians.

Vodou is an ecstatic rather than a fertility based religion.

Orthodoxy and diversity

There is a diversity of practice in Vodou across the country of Haiti and the Haitian diaspora. For instance in the north of Haiti the lave tèt ("head washing") or kanzwe may be the only initiation, as it is in the Dominican Republic and Cuba, whereas in Port-au-Prince and the south they practice the kanzo rites with three grades of initiation kanzo senp, si pwen, and asogwe and the latter is the most familiar mode of practice outside of Haiti. Some lineages combine both, as Manbo Katherine Dunham reports from her personal experience in her book Island Possessed.

While the overall tendency in Vodou is very conservative in accord with its African roots, there is no singular, definitive form, only what is right in a particular house or lineage. Small details of service and the spirits served will vary from house to house, and information in books or on the internet therefore may seem contradictory. There is no central authority or "pope" in Haitian Vodou since "every manbo and houngan is the head of their own house", as a popular saying in Haiti goes. Another consideration in terms of Haitian diversity are the many sects besides the Sèvi Gine in Haiti such as the Makaya, Rara, and other secret societies, each of which has its own distinct pantheon of spirits.

Practices

Liturgy and practice

After a day or two of preparation setting up altars, ritually preparing and cooking fowl and other foods, etc., a Haitian Vodou service begins with a series of Catholic prayers and songs in French, then a litany in Kreyòl and African "langaj" that goes through all the European and African saints and lwa honored by the house, and then a series of verses for all the main spirits of the house. This is called the "Priyè Gine" or the African Prayer. After more introductory songs, beginning with saluting Hounto, the spirit of the drums, the songs for all the individual spirits are sung, starting with the Legba family through all the Rada spirits, then there is a break and the Petwo part of the service begins, which ends with the songs for the Gede family.

As the songs are sung, participants believe that spirits come to visit the ceremony, by taking possession of individuals and speaking and acting through them. When a ceremony is made, only the family of those possessed is benefited. At this time it is believed that devious mambo or houngan can take away the luck of the worshippers through particular actions. For instance, if a priest asks for a drink of champagne, a wise participant will refuse. Sometimes these ceremonies may include dispute among the singers as to how a hymn is to be sung. In Haiti, these vodou ceremonies, depending on the Priest or Priestess, may be more organized. But in the United States, many vodou practitioners and clergy take it as a sort of non-serious party or "folly".

In a serious rite, each spirit is saluted and greeted by the initiates present and will give readings, advice and cures to those who approach them for help. Many hours later, as morning dawns, the last song is sung, the guests leave, and all the exhausted hounsis and houngans and manbos can go to sleep.

On the individual's household level, a Vodouisant or "sèvitè"/"serviteur" may have one or more tables set out for their ancestors and the spirit or spirits that they serve with pictures or statues of the spirits, perfumes, foods, and other things favored by their spirits. The most basic set up is just a white candle and a clear glass of water and perhaps flowers. On a particular spirit's day, one lights a candle and says an Our Father and Hail Mary, salutes Papa Legba and asks him to open the gate, and then one salutes and speaks to the particular spirit as an elder family member. Ancestors are approached directly, without the mediating of Papa Legba, since they are said to be "in the blood".

Priests

Most Vodouisants are not initiated, referred to as being "bossale"; it is not a requirement to be an initiate in order to serve one's spirits. There are clergy in Haitian Vodou whose responsibility it is to preserve the rituals and songs and maintain the relationship between the spirits and the community as a whole (though some of this is the responsibility of the whole community as well). They are entrusted with leading the service of all of the spirits of their lineage. Sometimes they are "called" to serve in a process called "being reclaimed," which they may resist at first.Priests are referred to as "Houngans" and priestesses as "Mambos". Below the houngans and mambos are the hounsis, who are initiates who act
as assistants during ceremonies and who are dedicated to their own personal mysteries.


History

African origins

Vodou original area


The word vodou derives from vodũ, which in Fon, Ewe, and related language (distributed from contemporary Ghanamarker to Beninmarker) means spirit or divine creature (in the sense of divine creation).

The cultural area of the Fon, Ewe, and Yoruba peoples share common metaphysical conceptions around a dual cosmological divine principle Nana Buluku, the God-Creator, and the vodou(s) or God-Actor(s), daughters and sons of the Creator's twin children Mawu (goddess of the moon) and Lisa (god of the sun). The God-Creator is the cosmogonical principle and does not trifle with the mundane; the vodou(s) are the God-Actor(s) who actually govern earthly issues.

The pantheon of vodoun is quite large and complex. In one version, there are seven male and female twins of Mawu, interethnic and related to natural phenomena or historical or mythical individuals, and dozens of ethnic vodous, defenders of a certain clan or tribe.

West African Vodun has its primary emphasis on the ancestors, with each family of spirits having its own specialized priest- and priestesshood which are often hereditary. In many African clans, deities might include Mami Wata, who are gods and goddesses of the waters; Legba, who in some clans is virile and young in contrast to the old man form he takes in Haiti and in many parts of Togo; Gu (or Ogoun), ruling iron and smithcraft; Sakpata, who rules diseases; and many other spirits distinct in their own way to West Africa.

European colonialism, followed by totalitarian regimes in West Africa, suppressed Vodun as well as other forms of the religion. However, because the Vodou deities are born to each African clan-group, and its clergy is central to maintaining the moral, social, and political order and ancestral foundation of its villagers, it proved to be impossible to eradicate the religion. Though permitted by Haiti's 1987 constitution, which recognizes religious equality, many books and films have sensationalized voodoo as black magic based on animal and human sacrifices to summon zombies and evil spirits.

Haitian Revolution

The majority of the Africans who were brought as slaves to Haiti were from Western and Central Africa. The Vodun practitioners brought over and enslaved in the United States primarily descend from the Ewe, Anlo-Ewe, and other West African groups. The survival of the belief systems in the New World is remarkable, although the traditions have changed with time and have even taken on some Catholic forms of worship. Two important factors, however, characterize the uniqueness of Haitian Vodou as compared to African Vodun; the transplanted Africans of Haiti, similar to those of Cubamarker and Brazilmarker, were obliged to disguise their loa (sometimes spelled lwa) or spirits as Roman Catholic saints, an element of a process called syncretism.

Roman Catholicism was mixed into the religion to hide their "pagan" religion from their masters, who had forbidden them to practice it. Thus, Haitian Vodou has roots in several West African religions, and incorporates some Roman Catholic and Arawak Amerindian influences. It is common for Haitians followers of the Vodou religion to integrate Roman Catholic practices by including Catholic prayers in Vodou worship. Throughout the history of the island from the day of independence of 1804 to the present, missionaries repeatedly came over to the island to convert the Haitians back to the Christian religion which previously had been forced on them. This has set many Haitians to project vodou as an evil religion, from the influence of the missionaries to abusive practitioners who use vodou to persecute.

Vodou, as it is known in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora, is the result of the pressures of many different cultures and ethnicities of people being uprooted from Africa and imported to Hispaniola during the African slave trade. Under slavery, African culture and religion was suppressed, lineages were fragmented, and people pooled their religious knowledge and from this fragmentation became culturally unified. In addition to combining the spirits of many different African and Amerindian nations, Vodou has incorporated pieces of Roman Catholic liturgy to replace lost prayers or elements. Images of Catholic saints are used to represent various spirits or "mistè" ("mysteries", actually the preferred term in Haiti), and many saints themselves are honored in Vodou in their own right. This syncretism allows Vodou to encompass the African, the Indian, and the European ancestors in a whole and complete way. It is truly a Kreyòl religion.

The most historically important Vodou ceremony in Haitian history was the Bwa Kayiman or Bois Caïman ceremony of August 1791 that began the Haitian Revolution, in which the spirit Ezili Dantor possessed a priestess and received a black pig as an offering, and all those present pledged themselves to the fight for freedom. This ceremony ultimately resulted in the liberation of the Haitian people from Frenchmarker colonial rule in 1804, and the establishment of the first black people's republic in the history of the world and the second independent nation in the Americas.

Contemporary

Today Vodou is practiced not only by Haitians, but by Americans and people of many nationalities that have been exposed to the Haitian culture. However, because of the demand some impose on vodou, high priests and priestesses began the abuse of exploiting their clients and asking high monetary funds for work that brings no result. It can be said that the culture of vodou is becoming a dying religion due to the greed of many who practice. It is known that the majority of Haitians involved in the practice have been initiated to become a Houngan or Mambo. In Haiti, a houngan or mambo is considered a person of possible high power and status who can make a significant amount of money. It's a growing occupation in Haiti that attracts many impoverished citizen to practice this field, not only to have power but to have money as well. Many vodou practitioners with a hunger to live a life of money and power go into this field to exploit foreigners and Haitians who are uneducated about vodou into their web of scams to collect many monetary funds with exchange of poor quality work.

Myths and misconceptions

Vodou has come to be associated in the popular mind with the lore about Satanism, zombies and "voodoo dolls." While there is evidence of zombie creation, it is a minor phenomenon within rural Haitian culture and not a part of the Vodou religion as such. Such things fall under the auspices of the bokor or sorcerer rather than the priest of the Loa.

The practice of sticking pins in dolls has history in folk magic, but its exact origins are unclear. How it became known as a method of cursing an individual by some followers of what has come to be called New Orleans Voodoo, but more appropriately Hoodoo , is a mystery. This practice is not unique to vodou or hoodoo, however, and has as much basis in magical devices such as the poppet and the nkisi or bocio of West and Central Africa. These are in fact power objects, what in Haiti would be referred to as pwen, rather than magical surrogates for an intended target of sorcery whether for boon or for bane. Such vodou dolls are not a feature of Haitian religion, although dolls intended for tourists may be found in the Iron Market in Port au Princemarker. The practice became closely associated with the Vodou religions in the public mind through the vehicle of horror movies and popular novels.

There is a practice in Haiti of nailing crude poppets with a discarded shoe on trees near the cemetery to act as messengers to the otherworld, which is very different in function from how poppets are portrayed as being used by vodou worshippers in popular media and imagination, ie. for purposes of sympathetic magic towards another person. Another use of dolls in authentic Vodou practice is the incorporation of plastic doll babies in altars and objects used to represent or honor the spirits, or in pwen, which recalls the aforementioned use of bocio and nkisi figures in Africa.

Although Vodou is often associated with Satanism, Satan is rarely incorporated in Vodou tradition. When Mississippi Delta folksongs mix references to Vodou and to Satan, it may represent social pain such as from racism, although some crossover due to syncretism is bound to occur.

Further adding to the dark reputation of Vodou was the 1973 film adaptation of the thriller Live and Let Die, part of Ian Fleming's widely successful James Bond series, which had been continually in print in both the English original and translations to numerous languages. Fleming's depiction of the schemings of a fiendish Sovietmarker agent (see Mr. Big, Baron Samedi) using Vodou to intimidate and control a vast network of submissive black followers got an incomparably greater audience than any careful scholarly work on the subject of Vodou.

To address the myths and misconceptions that have historical maligned the practice and present a more constructive view of the religion, in April 1997, thirteen scholarsgathered at UCSB for a colloquium on Haitian Vodou, The Spirit and The Reality: Vodou and Haiti created a new association under the name, the Congress of Santa Barbara also known as KOSANBAhttp://research.ucsb.edu/cbs/projects/haiti/kosanba/index.html.

See also



Notes

  1. The Book of Vodou, Leah Gordon, page 10
  2. The Book of Vodou, Leah Gordon, page 48
  3. The Book of Vodou, Leah Gordon, page 16
  4. The African Diaspora: Interpretive Essays, Martin Kilson, Robert I. Rotberg, page 345
  5. The Book of Vodou, Leah Gordon, page 48
  6. The Book of Vodoo, Leah Gordon, page 54
  7. Alvarado, D. (2008). The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook, The Mystic Voodoo.
  8. *McAlister, Elizabeth. 1993.“ Sacred Stories from the Haitian Diaspora: A Collective Biography of Seven Vodou Priestesses in New York City.” Journal of Caribbean Studies, Vol. 9, Nos 1 & 2 (Winter 1993): 10-27.
  9. Davis, Wade. Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie.


References

  • Ajayi, Ade, J.F. & Espie , Ian, A Thousand Years of West African History, Great Britain, University of Ibadan, 1967.
  • Alapini Julien, Le Petit Dahomeen, Grammaire. Vocabulaire, Lexique En Langue Du Dahomey, Avignon, Les Presses Universelles, 1955.
  • Anderson, Jeffrey. 2005. Conjure In African American Society. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
  • Angels in the Mirror: Vodou Musics of Haiti. Roslyn, NY: Ellipsis Arts. 1997. Compact Disc and small book.
  • Argyle, W.J., The Fon of Dahomey: A History and Ethnography of the Old Kingdom, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1966.
  • Bellegarde-Smith and Claudine, Michel. Haitian Vodou: Spirit, Myth & Reality. Indiana University Press, 2006.
  • Broussalis, Martín and Joseph Senatus Ti Wouj:"Voodoo percussion", 2007. A CD with text containing the ritual drumming.
  • Chesi, Gert, Voodoo: Africa's Secret Power, Austria, Perliner, 1980.
  • Chireau, Yvonne. 2003. Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Cosentino, Donald. 1995. "Imagine Heaven" in Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou. Edited by Cosentino, Donald et al. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Decalo, Samuel, Historical Dictionary of Dahomey, (People's Republic of Benin), N.J., The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1976.
  • Ellis, A.B., The Ewe Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa, Chicago, Benin Press Ldt, 1965.
  • Fandrich, Ina. 2005. The Mysterious Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveaux: A Study of Powerful Female Leadership in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans. New York: Routledge.
  • Le Herisee, A. & Rivet, P., The Royanume d'Ardra et son evangelisation au XVIIIe siecle, Travaux et Memories de "'Institut d'Enthnologie, no. 7, Paris, 1929.
  • Long, Carolyn. 2001. Spiritual Merchants: Magic, Religion and Commerce. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.
  • McAlister, Elizabeth. 2002. Rara! Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and its Diaspora. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • McAlister, Elizabeth. 1995. " Sorcerer's Bottle: The Visual Art of Magic in Haiti." In Donald J. Cosentino, ed., Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou. UCLA Fowler Museum, 1995.
  • McAlister, Elizabeth. 2000 " Sex, and Gender Embodied: The Spirits of Haitian Vodou." In J. Runzo and N. Martin, eds, Love, Sex, and Gender in the World Religions. Oxford: Oneworld Press.
  • McAlister, Elizabeth. 1998. " Madonna of 115th St. Revisited: Vodou and Haitian Catholicism in the Age of Transnationalism." In S. Warner, ed., Gatherings in Diaspora. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press.
  • Rhythms of Rapture: Sacred Musics of Haitian Vodou. Smithsonian Folkways, 1005. Compact Disc and Liner Notes
  • Saint-Lot, Marie-José Alcide. 2003. Vodou: A Sacred Theatre. Coconut Grove: Educa Vision, Inc.
  • Tallant, Robert. "Reference materials on voodoo, folklore, spirituals, etc. 6-1 to 6-5 -Published references on folklore and spiritualism." The Robert Tallant Papers. New Orleans Public Library. fiche 7 and 8, grids 1-22. Accessed 5 May 2005.
  • Thornton, John K. 1988. "On the trail of Voodoo: African Christianity in Africa and the Americas" The Americas Vol: 44.3 Pp 261–278.
  • Vanhee, Hein. 2002. "Central African Popular Christianity and the Making of Haitian Vodou Religion." in Central Africans and Cultural Transformations in the American Diaspora Edited by: L. M. Heywood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 243-64.
  • Verger, Pierre Fátúmbí, Dieux d'Afrique: Culte des Orishas et Vodouns à l’ancienne Côte des Esclaves en Afrique et à Bahia, la Baie de Tous Les Saints au Brésil. 1954.
  • Grey, Kathy S., M.S., 2008. The VODOU Page - http://members.aol.com/racine125/index.html
  • Ward, Martha. 2004. Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau Jackson: University of Mississippi Press.
  • Warren, Dennis, D., The Akan of Ghana, Accra, Pointer Limited, 1973. 9.
  • Kinaz Filan's The Haitian Vodou Handbook is an informative primer for the new student. Destiny Books (of Inner Traditions International), 2007.


External links






Shaman, V., & Heaven, R. March, 2005. Culture of Haiti - Religion of Haiti. In the Culture of Haiti: Encyclopedia II - Culture of Haiti - Religion of Haiti. (Vol. 2 pp. 211 – 245). Jacques Romain


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