|Haitian Voodoo (Vodun)|
One ceremony is meant to show that voodoo rituals offer protection against hot knives burning the body and broken glass cutting into flesh. The participants in these ceremonies believe their medicine and participation in these rites will appease the gods and offer them protection.
Voodoo, like many other religions in the world, has a hierarchical system of gods and spirits (loas). One of the more powerful gods in this religion is bon dieu, the maker of the planet and heavens. The loas have their own characteristics and personalities and are able to perform both good and malicious deeds. The development of various loas did not just occur in Africa, as some loas were created in Haiti as well.
Voodoo is not restricted to simply religious ceremonies; it also includes various social elements such as dancing. During voodoo rituals, people summon spirits to embody them, merging the identities of the person with the spirit, which allows that individual to possess the powers of the spirit.
Voodoo was introduced to Haiti as a result of the slave trade that brought in thousands of enslaved Africans. Haitian voodoo is difficult to research because many of the slaves were unable to keep written records of their culture and history.
In fact, there was a great need for secrecy because plans for resistance were made and sworn upon at these religious festivals. These secret voodoo ceremonies were usually conducted during the later hours of the evening in a temple (hounfor) with the presence of priest (houngan) or priestess (mambo).
The reason these ceremonies were conducted in secrecy is because slaves practicing voodoo in colonial Haitian society were assaulted, jailed, and/or executed. Haitian voodoo is a blending of African and Christian cultures; the majority of Catholics in Haiti embrace voodoo, while the majority of voodoo followers profess to be Catholics.
Voodoo has a history of suppression and was a means of survival for the slaves. The use of African religion was a means to cope with the horrid conditions of the Middle Passage, the journey from Africa to the Americas. The demographic composition of Haiti prior to the Haitian Revolution was that of a society comprised mostly of African slave labor, with white colonists numbering in the minority.
Voodoo societies were major contributors in creating the infrastructure needed for the slaves to form an uprising against the French colonial administration and to succeed in becoming an independent state. Voodoo has been suppressed by many leaders of the Haitian Revolution after 1791, as both Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, independent Haiti’s first ruler, prohibited voodoo gatherings and dancing. Henry Christophe sought to get the new country of Haiti recognized by various nations by supporting Christianity and stifling the practice of voodoo.
The attempts by these three Haitian leaders to suppress voodoo were unsuccessful, as the practice of this religion played a significant role in the development of Haitian society. In fact, president and later dictator of Haiti Papa Doc (François) Duvalier, used voodoo in his 20th-century government, assigning a number of government posts to voodoo priests.
Voodoo priests invoked a certain degree of fear within the Haitian populace since some believe that voodoo priests use sorcery to transform people into zombies. The belief in the zombie was instrumental to maintaining social order in Haiti, as there is a belief that if a person who committed evil deeds dies, his or her spirit is trapped in limbo. This belief becomes an incentive for the population to observe the rules of society.
Voodoo has not only played a major role in the religious lives of the Haitian people and the maintenance of the social order, but has also penetrated into the realm of art, which is recognized, for example, in the artwork of the voodoo priest Hector Hyppolite. In an executive order by thenpresident Jean-Bertrand Aristide in April 2003, voodoo was sanctioned as an officially recognized religion in Haiti.
This blending of voodoo beliefs with art has gained some degree of recognition from people who enjoy the beauty of the pictures and the messages these artworks convey.
Voodoo has acquired a negative image, partly due to the belief that it represents uncivilized African superstition, and partly due to American depiction of voodoo in popular culture as a religion of superstitions and spiritual possessions. This depiction is intensified by the fact that voodoo involves the use of an assortment of props such as chicken feathers, skulls, and snakes.
It is this perception of voodoo that emerges in American popular culture as various movies emphasize the exotic nature of voodoo. Voodoo still possesses a sizable following, as approximately 40 million people practice this religion.