Skip to content

THE BONDAGE OF HAITI

January 13, 2010

By Victoria Day

“For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.” (Mark 13:8 NASB)

Another devastating earthquake, this time in Haiti.  The United States, as well as other countries, has pledged humanitarian aid but there is more to be done in this country than provide material assistance.  Let’s take a look at the country in terms of its religious demographics.

“One common saying is that Haitians are 70 percent Catholic, 30 percent Protestant, and 100 percent voodoo,” said Lynne Warberg, a photographer who has documented Haitian voodoo for over a decade.

In April 2003 an executive decree by then president Jean-Bertrand Aristide recognized and sanctioned voodoo as an official religion, even though Roman Catholicism holds the title of state religion:

According to Wikipedia:

“The state religion is Roman Catholicism which 80-85% of the population professes. 10-15% of Haitians practice Protestantism. A significant yet unknown percentage of the population also practice Vodou traditions but these claims are denied by a significant amount of the strict Roman Catholic populace. Haitians that do practice both faiths however tend to see no conflict in these African-rooted beliefs co-existing with Christian faiths.”

Haiti was under the rule of French colonialism and forbidden by law (Code Noir) from practicing their religion – a spiritist/ancestor worship that had evolved from African origins.  Although the Roman Catholic Church did its best to suppress the practice of Voodou in Haiti, the religion thrived under the persecution.  During the Haitian revolution that began in 1791 and ended in liberation from French colonialists in 1804, a 60 year old schism developed among the Catholic clergy.  Unable to control the religious and political factions within the population, the Vatican began to withdraw its white colonialist priests.  Haitian priests, more tolerant of their ancestral religion, were ordained.  Because of the mystery practices of Roman Catholicism, it was easy to integrate the spiritism of Vooodou into it.  In fact, in Voodou, spirit deities are referred to as ‘miste’. It is estimated that most of the population continues the practice of voodou within the outward appearance of Roman Catholicism.    

Voodou altar with Catholic icon circled

“…a process of syncretisation took place on Haiti (or Saint-Domingue as the territory was then called) where some voodoo loa (spirits) became identified with Catholic saints and some Catholic saints became loa in their own right.”  (Filip Borkowy, “Barrister or Bankrupt blog”)

Although there are many ‘sects’ of Voodou, it is common to begin the first part of its liturgical ceremony with a series of Catholic prayers and songs; the last part ends with the with the lighting of a candle and an “Our Father” and “Hail Mary.”  What is sandwiched in between deals with spirit possession and the worship of their pandeist deity, Bondye.  Because Bondye is considered unreachable, the ceremony is focused on contacting lesser spirits known as ‘loa’ or, as aforementioned, miste.

Although Roman Catholicism is listed as the state religion, the practice of Voodou is predominant within the country and it has incorporated itself into it for practical reasons.

From Haitiwebs.com

“Mostly for appearances sake, the enslaved Africans adopted Catholicism. Outwardly, for social appearances, they would practice Catholicism. This helped keep them out of trouble with the law as well as with the plantation owners. It also helped them gain social recognition among the Europeans. They would attend Sunday mass and take communion. No other choice was given them.

Yet whenever possible they would use the catholic rituals to carry out their own beliefs. Therefore, when dancing and singing was abolished, because of fear from Voodou practices, the enslaved Voodou believers would dance and sing to the Catholic saints, having them represent Voodou laws.”

As far back as 1722, there are cases of Catholic communion and the use of Holy Water mixed in with Voodou beliefs and rituals (Metraux, 45). There are also instances of enslaved people falling ill and calling for a priest to help them, thinking that receiving a sacrament will cure their illness. From these cases we can see that the intermixing of Voodou and Catholicism is a process which has been taking place for centuries.

Conclusion

When looking at Voodou practiced in Haiti today, it is evident that it is a unique religion. Originating with West African religions it has changed greatly. The use of many catholic symbols are evident as an integral part of Voodou rituals. Many Haitians practice both religions today. For these people there is no contradiction in such a practice. Each religion has its time and place and fulfills a different need. Since many people for centuries have had to practice both religions, Catholicism in order to be socially and politically acceptable, and Voodou in order to relate to their ancestry, it has become a social norm in today’s Haiti. As Leslie G. Desmangles notes in her book The Faces of the Gods, “Because Voodou was not allowed in the colony, they learned to conceal their practice of these traditions behind the veil of Catholicism.”

As you can see, the people of Haiti are steeped in spiritism and are lost souls.

Voodou ritual

“We’ve always been the majority religion in Haiti – it’s never been illegal to be a voodooisant,” said Mambu Racine Sumbu, an American voodoo priestess who has been practising in Haiti for 15 years.”

As we contemplate the effects of the earthquake and what our responsibility is toward the afflicted, let’s not forget the affliction of the souls of these people.  Pray for them that not only will they recover physically, but that God would do a great miracle in their hearts and deliver them from the bondage of Satan.  May God be glorified.

 

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haitian_Vodou

http://www.haitiwebs.com/emagazine/content/view/376/155/1/1/lang,en/

http://barrister.typepad.com/barristerorbankrupt/2006/10/polish_haitian_.html

http://www.hauntedamericatours.com/

news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/americas/2985627.stm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Haiti

The following videos may contain disturbing images.  Caution advised

Plaine Du Nord Voodou ceremony

Haitian Voodou

Advertisements
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: