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Voodoo and Catholicism in Haiti

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  1. Introduction
  2. An overview of Vodou
  3. The belief system of Vodou
  4. Conclusion

Present day Haiti is a poverty-stricken land, with overpopulated urban areas, stripped landscapes, and a people struggling to survive in the face of civil turmoil and oppression. Bordering the Dominican Republic and otherwise surrounded completely by water, the Republic of Haiti (its official name) is a country of over seven million, the average yearly earnings at just over 1300 USD per capita. On the other hand, Haiti is rich in culture, music, and an overwhelmingly spiritual people who are legendary the world over. Haiti, like any Latin American country, is unique from her Caribbean sisters. The music, dance, and language of Haiti represent a connection between the spiritual and the material worlds that is entirely unique to this land.

In Haiti, as in much of Latin America, Christianity (mainly Catholicism) is the dominant religion, brought to the Americas by the early European conquerors who succeeded in converting hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples throughout the centuries. As much as 80 percent of the current population is Catholic, thanks to the influence of the Creole elite and their French Catholic culture. Protestants form a strong 16 percent. However, an estimated 50% of the Haitian population still practice the long misunderstood, but deeply rooted Vodou religion.

[...] Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti. London: Thames and Hudson Hart, Richard. Slaves Who Abolished Slavery. Kingston, Jamaica: Institute of Social and Economic Research Hurston, Zora Neale. Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica. New York: Harper and Row [1938]. Métraux, Alfred. Voodoo in Haiti. Trans. Hugo Charteris. New York: Schocken Piedra, José. [...]


[...] An overview of Vodou When the average person hears the word Vodou, he may conjure up images of satanic worship, bonfire rituals, and animal sacrifice. Most of us are familiar with ?voodoo dolls?, puppets created in the likeness of certain humans for the purpose of causing them physical pain. In actuality, Vodou is far more complex and intricate in both its belief system and its rituals. At its beginnings, the main purpose of Vodou was to perpetuate the ongoing balance that a human being must achieve in his lifetime. [...]


[...] There were also connections drawn between the oungan, Vodou priests, and the priests of Catholicism. Both assisted in ceremonies and rituals. Both were believed to be ordained or somehow closer to God, having been at birth for this purpose. Both were recognized as highly revered and godlike members of their respective communities. For this reason, Christian missionaries were able to impose their own religious leaders on the unsuspecting Haitians. Vodou priests, in the eyes of the Christians, were not to be trusted: Whenever there was a shortage of priests, some Blacks took it upon themselves to the others and thus the truths and dogmas of the religion were altered. [...]


[...] A stranger witnessing a possession was likely to find this behavior questionable. However, it was a thoroughly integral aspect of any Vodou ceremony. The word itself means or ?sacred energy? (Dayan 40). An essential aspect of any Vodou ritual was the presence of the oungan, or Vodou priests. These highly revered individuals were leaders who played multiple roles in the community. They underwent a grueling initiation process, but were eventually able to serve as the mediator between the physical and the spiritual worlds. [...]

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