I am inviting some comments on the following points. I hope that they will provide the basis for a concrete discussion of some aspects of Haitian religious or non-religious practices.
- What is the difference between a houngan and a bokor? One version that I have heard describes the bokor as a well-versed houngan who has decided to use his great knowledge of the creed and practice of Vodou combined with his vast empirical knowledge of the medicinal or poisonous properties of indigenous plants and other forms, to perform deeds that are often malefic, in that they cause harm or death to others. The bokor allegedly does so in exchange for a lot of money. In other words, he is a "gun for hire". Is this a fanciful way of looking at it, or an approximate description of the reality?
- Do champwel e
xist? Do loups-garous exist? Do zombies exist? Or should I say what exactly is a champwel? What is a loup-garou? What is a zombi?
- I believe that I have come within spitting distance of a zombi or two in Haiti when I was young, and I will never forget those encounters. There is also a fair amount of documentation on the zombification process and the well-established work of a Haitian psychiatrist (Dr. Douyon) who worked to rehabilitate some alleged zombies back to normal life in their former social environments. Yet, I also remember a few years back Dr. Desmangles who knows infinitely more about Vodou than I do state that zombies do not really exist outside of our popular imagination.
I don't think that it is necessary to even evoke the Hollywood's B-movie variety and fanciful notions of zombies. However, my own notion of a zombi, which may be naive, is that of a person who is given to drink or eat a formula that slows down his/her metabolism to the point
that the person appears dead and that no pulse can be detected even by a medical doctor (barring some sophisticated and unavailable equipment). After this person is buried, some paid workers go, usually at night, to disinter him or her. The next sequence of events would have the "dead person" be administered an antidote.
Questions that immediately come to mind: How is the antidote administered? How long can the person stay buried before the real death comes along? Is it a matter of hours or a matter of days?
Finally, as the person "comes back to life", he has lost most of his/her mind (probably due to the damage caused by the reduced oxygenation of the brain cells), and therefore becomes unusually pliant to single-mindedly serve the ends of one master. This zombi or slave can then be made to work on his master's land, or be traded to another master (allegedly bokors trade their slaves, to escape detection of their practices), and generally be made to carry various tasks without any question
whatsoever. They obey their orders.
What I have described above is my limited understanding of the facts. I readily admit that I have no expertise on the subject. I am not even implying that all this has much to do with Vodou per se, though most people that I know believe that there is a strong connection between the religion (or the way of life / the Haitian identity / the essence of one's existence, etc) and the processes related above. I do not mean to offend, nor do I mean to misinform. I am seeking some clarifications from you and will not get involved in any polemic on this issue. This is definitely not my field. Whatever part of my queries you feel can be discussed openly on a forum like this, I will be most appreciative when you do.
- I have previously mentioned the counterpractices related to the fears associated with zombification. Some of those consist of actually paying someone to decapitate and to dismember the body to make sure that it will n
ot be "re-awakened" and zombified. I know this sounds horrific, and thank God, I have never witnessed this myself, but I know someone whom I trust 100%, and on whose authority I could speak with a lot of specificity. She witnessed this behavior in a community in the South of Haiti, which I will not name because for all I know this practice might be widespread, and therefore not represent anything singular about that community. She also knew very well the people who were involved. Furthermore, it appears that this was not at all an isolated incident. She's only seen it once, but had heard of the practice before and after that particular experience.
How did she come to witness it? She actually hid behind a grave in the cemetery, when this group of men came (she had heard family members talk of their suspicions and their desire to prevent the zombification of their loved one by concrete and decisive preventive action). She also got wind of the fact that some people would be paid off to carry this g
houlish act. Actually, it's even more horrific when people are cut in pieces when they are alive, I would admit -- as were the case in some well-documented military and paramilitary acts of political repression, the sort of which will not deserve impunity in a million years).[/*:m]
It's predictable that some will pounce on me just for even raising those questions. But let me say this: I respect Vodou as the religion most practiced by the people of Haiti, and I am keenly aware of its key role in bringing about the political independence of Haiti, nearly 200 years ago. I certainly have always cherished the epic story of the Haitian Revolution. It's in my blood, as it is in the blood of all Haitians whom I have met. My intention is not to praise or denigrate Vodou, on a spiritual level. Let's j
ust say that I am less than a neophyte when it comes to these matters. I have even heard people that I do respect claim that you cannot extricate Vodou from the Haitian, because Vodou is the "essence" of being Haitian.
What do you make of all of this? Do you have some answers to the above questions.