Primarily, I was astonished to learn that Voodoo is a religion and furthermore a derivative emerging out of the world’s oldest religions originating out of Africa since the conception of human civilization. It is extensively adept across the world; takes different forms and calls for distinctive meaning and application in various cultures. However, to enrich understanding, this paper will explore the significance of Voodoo and its impact on that country.
Haiti is nestled amongst a group if island known as the Greater and Lesser Antilles. It is actually plotted in the Greater Antilles with its closest neighbors being Puerto Rico, Cuba and Jamaica. With its names reflecting that of Indian vernacular, translates ‘mountain or high land.’ Additionally, it consists of a population of approximately seven (7) million inhabitants, official languages of French and Creole and a capital of Port-au-Prince. The island’s geographical boundaries is outlaid with the Atlantic Ocean at the north, the Caribbean Sea at the south and two thirds at the eastern end is owned by the Dominican Republic whereby the Wind Canal separates it from Jamaica and Cuba. Nonetheless, according to (Louis, 2007) Haiti also called Boyo and Quisqueya by the aborigines and was inhibited by a people Christopher Columbus called Indians. They lived a simple life and their primary diet consisted sweet potatoes and corn. Undoubtedly, industrialization propelled them ahead of their time. They made pottery and axes
that allowed them to construct dugout canoes from big trees. In addition, ‘Zemes’ were the multiplicity of gods they worshipped whom they served through the means of their priests (butois) who were also physicians. To add further, they were animists as they served all kinds of natural creatures such as the sun, moon, lightning, stones and trees. Generally, they enjoyed pleasure and fun and spent a great deal of the time in leisure. Unfortunately, this assurance and peace were disturbed by the arrival of the Spaniards in 1492. Firstly, they changed the island’s name to Hispaniola and compelled the Indians to do hard work they had never done before. For example, digging gold mines that favored Spain and the Spanish settlers. To enumerate, throughout the sixteenth century, into the seventeenth century (1664-1789), a massive slave trade flourished between Africa and the Caribbean islands where a growing importation of slaves created a larger imbalance between white and black populations. Despite this rapid shift, the colonizers maintained power by employing internal destructive tactics. However, in 1625, a war was eclectic in the struggle for dominion between the Frenchmen and the Spaniards with the French succeeding in the conflict with the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697; resulting in the renaming of the third part of the island to Saint Domingue. Retrospectively, Colbert in France adopted provisions made by the Code Noir (Black Code) in 1685. This highlighted the struggle and inspiration for blacks to revolt in the view of claiming their freedom. It outlined the various methods used for example, guerilla warfare (marronnage) which depicts the state of a slave who runs away from a master’s plantation, poisoning, Voodoo magic, mass revolts and killings). Nonetheless, emerging in 1791 and culminating in 1804, the Haitian Revolution globally recognized as the first and only successful slave revolt in history, records approximately 500,000 slaves being freed during this period.
Though commonly unrecognized, Voodoo appeared to have been at the root of the revolt (Loney, 2014). Essentially, Haitian Voodoo practice deeply embeds and transcends across the general psyche and acts as a mechanism for survival and a boosted catalyst of radical politics. As the Afro-Haitian diaspora centralizes its political, economic, cultural and spiritual domains on this, there is reflection of the coherence between the sixteenth century and a modern day oppressed group of people. With this in mind, Voodoo practitioners describe this as an ‘experience’, which produces an interdependence or association between the living and the dead and body and soul (Kamerling-Brown, 2016). Although, the French notion Bon Dieu (God God), ascended, Voodoo practitioners maintained their belief in Bondye, their one and only creator. Similarly, to the Yoruban God, Olorun, Bondye is closely associated and does not interrelate with human undertakings. When comparing the Voodoo religion and Christianity, the apparent difference is that Christians do not elaborate on expensive rituals to appease God. At the time of the development of Haiti’s colony under the French rule, Catholic priests were sent by the mother country to evangelize salves. In 1941-42, some elements of the Catholic Church waged an all-out physical, holy war against Voodoo. Shrines and peristyles were torched, mambo and houngans were beaten and often times killed during these attacks. Under those circumstances, Voodoo was forced into exile and survived underground. Even by this, its popularity grew tremendously which eventually resulted in the Catholic hierarchy halting the war and making peace with Voodoo practitioners.
Undoubtedly, the criticism of this religion continues post war by foreigners on the island. Mainly as it was, viewed as the competing religion and they were fearful of the shift in power dynamics. Others championed it as being the devil’s worship but even with this label, its practice continued to grow across the globe and to date roughly eight million people are avid followers. Nonetheless, Voodoo’s existence dates back to the origin of human civilization. In fact, it is noted as holding an integral role in the cultural fabric in Haitian-Afro diaspora. With its name spelt various ways (Voodoo, Voodoux and Vodou), ritualistic practices are frowned upon and seen as elaborate. For example, spirit-possessed dances secret languages and special diets consumed by priests and priestesses are popular ritualistic beliefs in the religion. Another is that the spirit presence of dead ancestors is felt walking during hooded dances and touching the dancer during this ritual is recounted as being dangerously powerful and can result in the offender’s death.
Throughout history, it has been perceptive that Voodoo is linked to darkness and its practitioners engage the religion to invoke hex spells and summon evil spirits on their adversaries (Hiebert, 2002). Although this may offer some truth, philosophically, each grouping on people relatively perceives the world uniquely. In essence, interpretation of culture differs from one base to another (Kraft, 2010). For example, North America fragrantly correlates Satanism with Voodoo and vice versa. Many forms of research denotes that this demonization of the religion is solely to maintain western supremacy by the dominating fractions. Further, bigoted lenses have been used to emphasize complex demonic rituals instead of the one’s which are instrumental in the religion’s structure and rather act as the practitioners method of connecting with the divine realms. Moreover, Fandrich, 1999 asserts that Hollywood’s film industry has been very instrumental in pitching the widespread misrepresentation of Voodoo rituals and Haiti. She further alluded that the disparagement continued through the productions of big screen films, for example, Serpent and the Rainbow (1998) and Skeletal Key (2005). Both which made their global indent with modern depictions of Voodoo being a vicious form of witchcraft. However, in reality anthropological research has made known the central aspects of the spiritual traditions of the Afro-Atlantic diaspora, to be much more than three-dimensional. Refuting the unflattering notions used to emphasize racial and cultural variances.
In contrast, far from the spooky appearance crafted by Hollywood films, many Haitians see Voodoo as playing a key role in restoration of the country’s image. Now as the religion’s messages of joy and cooperation promote renewal among locals, and weighs influence on the country’s cultural traditions which draws economic fruition to communities especially those that had been devastated by the earthquake eight years ago. To date, for example, the southern city of Jacmel, best known for harvesting, is currently a colony for artists. Visitors from round the world flock to the island to purchase papier-mache and other hand designed creations. In addition, it’s sought after for the alluring beaches, beauty and rich historical background. In the same fashion, on a larger scale, Air Transat and other tour operators has introduced local art and cultural tours across the island. According to an article in the New York Times, Haiti has become a popular tourist destination where international hotel chains operate and flights to the island has increased substantially. Cruise ships arrived in their abundance and offload visitors in Port-au-Prince as they embrace the pleasures of shopping in paradise (Times, 2017). In spite of all of this, Haiti’s function is one, which can be assessed as mixed with both progress and setbacks visibly stout. For example, road infrastructures and policing enforcement has improved but the country’s institutions are weak and there is very little political will to support them (Times, 2017). Altogether, despite these improvements, it is clear that Haiti may no longer maintain a tourist hot-spot status. The stop-start nature of the fledgling tourism industry has not been kind to some would-be entrepreneurs who also have a vision for what Haiti could offer travelers.
However, if communities absorb direct ownership and ably have a financial stake in projects, this can enhance general living conditions of its citizens. Opportunities in the tourism sector are closely linked to other sectors: telecommunications, electrical power systems, and transportation. Additionally, government is exploring new destination sites and is embarking on the construction of approximately one hundred and fifty miles of roadway en route to Saut-d’Eau and Bassin Zim waterfalls. During recent years, three hundred and forty-five million dollars was inoculated into tourism, its industry and additional major investments. Commendable progress has been developing toward economic stabilization since 2010, as astute financial policies have been implemented driving inflation to an astounding decline of single digits. Output growth has increased per capita, as other major priorities are incorporated and speak to critical issues, namely derelict infrastructure, insubstantial security status quo, transforming public enterprises and enhancing health, low economic intermediation and education. Furthermore, greater effort is needed in order to extend higher-level priority financing, as it would be the catalyst required to stimulate domestic revenue as well as improve and implement spending capacities. Fundamental legislature is another crucial component necessary to revolutionize banking codes, judicial systems and curtail corruption in lieu of helping government goals of unremitting social expansion, commercial growth and poverty decline. Overall, although this favorable outlook lends promise, significant trials remain looming. Ideally, asphyxiating the general bottlenecks (institutional and structural) will be key in achieving advanced growth.
Conclusively, one can recapitulate that Haiti’s impoverishment originates from the invocation of the Voodoo religion (Brown, 2013). Although this bares fiction, argumentatively, several scholarly theories directly counters the renowned beleaguered poor reputation the religion ascribes. Furthermore, this paper underscored Voodoo as a religion, its impacts on Haiti and would have given analysis through the domains: history, touristic culture, literature, television and film. With particular attention placed on movie genre (horror) which exploits the religion and projects its striking correlation between violence and terror. It can be asserted generally, that Voodoo has gone unchallenged allowing racist anxieties to operate in popular discourse unchecked. While the public image of the Haitian-Afro diaspora continues to be improved by its religious leaders, it appears imminent that Voodoo and its imaginary doppelganger have entwined destines and until these messages are unmasked publicly, the reputation of this religion will remain bound by its tarnishing double.