Haitian Vodou: Relativity And Demystification

Deep in the dark arid jungle mountains of the world’s first black republic, there beats a distant drum. Pulsating low-frequency rhythms known as Petwo, Ibo, and Kongo, complimenting murmurs that heighten into shrieks and shrills of song, and swirling plumes of dust underfoot in near bare-body dance. 

In heart-pounding orchestral unison, the entranced practitioners rise as one in spirited cacophony well into nocturne, as the mounting intention of ceremony and prayer steadily increases to reveal the opening gateways and passionate climax of their decided spiritual objective, be it to peacefully empower and nurture an individual, group, or land - or to very much do the opposite all night through to the light of dawn..

This is Haitian Vodou, yet to more clearly understand it as a cultural phenomenon, one must endeavor to embark back to the origins of the slave trade and the ramifications of French Colonialism. Slaves in large part brought to the New World possessed animistic belief systems, that is to say, the perception that all things elemental, even words, carried the weight of spiritual presence. However, as was the standard business of colonialism at the time, it was forbidden for this new commodity (slaves) to practice as such, and thus were forced to submit in no uncertain terms to the ways of worship deemed acceptable by their French conquerors. This forced transition of worship led the slaves into a new paradigm of Henotheism – the worship of a single God while not denying the existence of deities, deities that they often disguised as Catholic Saints in a ceremony to maintain a convincing status while in the presence of their oppressors.

Several African cultures exhibited similar clandestine spiritual undertakings in the face of western hemisphere colonialism and the slave trade: Obeayisne (Jamaica), Shango (Trinidad), Candomble (Brazil), and Santeria (Cuba) – all examples of parallel amalgams in religious transformation. This however ultimately led to what has become known as Black Magic, as the patience of slaves for their oppression to end through prayers to God alone left them in a precarious state of uncertainty. Galvanized by a perception of nowhere else to turn, they acquainted themselves intimately with working to seize upon the spirits of their subjugators through ritual.

To this day, the mystique of Vodou is primarily associated with that of Black Magic, yet in doing so, one risks straying from key positions in relativity that escape like sand through the fingers of fallacy. We often assign Black Magic only within the confines of Haitian culture and religion; lest we forget, under the shadow of The Cross, for example, did more Black Magic and bloodlust run unmitigated and globally widespread behind the guise of religion in ways that will likely never be matched.

Lest we forget, it was Black Magic itself by the French cloaked in the garment of cross and crown that first decimated the original tribes on the island, that which made room for the coming slave trade of other decimated tribes from even further away, to ultimately lay claim to the birth of Haiti herself.

Lest we forget, today in America we still allow a known terrorist organization that murdered and intimidated innumerable citizens for generations through the Black Magic of burning crosses to remain nearly as commonplace as a country club - born out of a nation that laid colonialist groundwork in the same fashion as its fellow unappeasable conquerors to the south, that which brought unprecedented destruction upon the land and their inhabitants.

To better understand Black Magic as a whole, we must take a closer look at what it truly is, and the many cunning forms it has historically presented itself worldwide.

Vodou in Haiti however, has been rather highly misconceived. Like other belief systems, it too has its light and its dark, as it is practiced openly for the greater good of humanity on the island by one-fifth of the population, and supported in daily drumming, song, and dance by a great many more.
It is however not reticent in the slightest to put forth energies to avail the full spectrum and breadth of the human experience.
It is a practice of energies; how one chooses to utilize those energies through intent and ritual is similar in nature and degree to any other, the only difference being that which we seek to construct through our own inability to draw the sweeping parallels.

Davidione Pearl

Freelance writer, musician, photographer, and philanthropic traveler.

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Volume 11, Issue 3, Posted 10:21 AM, 03.01.2019