Questions about Vodou

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Questions about Vodou

Post by admin » Tue Sep 09, 2003 12:18 pm


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?

    [/*:m]
  • 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?

    [/*:m]
  • 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.

    [/*:m]
  • 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]
What do those practices and counter-practices have to do with vodou? I am not looking for idealistic or fatalistic answers, but for answers based on facts of absolute reality.

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.

Gifrants

Reply

Post by Gifrants » Thu Sep 25, 2003 9:43 pm

While I have been blamed many times to bring the stereotypes about Haitian people, those questions you did ask have nothing with vaudou.

Why?

Because no houngan or boko can SAY they have to call any Lwa or Lesen to kill someone. The use of those biological poisons has nothing to do with Vodou. This knowledge of how to kill is not the predicament of Vodou. The knowledge of how to heal IS the predicament of Vodou.

No hougan or boko can SAY they have the permission of any Lwa or Lesen to kill someone. A houngan or boko will tell you --yo rele Djab la. Yo pap di w yo rele Zanj lan, yo rele ginen an, yo rele lwa a.

Once again, those questions are not about Vodou.

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Post by admin » Fri Sep 26, 2003 12:25 am


Thank you, Gifrants, for informing me that those questions are not about Vodou. After Ezili Danto's remarkable exposes on Vodou on Ann Pale, I too would like to believe that zombies, loups-garous, champwel have nothing to do with Vodou. I did not set out to denigrate Vodou, and though the title of this thread may not be an accurate one, I thought I made it clear in my text that I was mostly interested in concrete answers to the questions that I raised rather than seeking to engage in any polemic concerning the nature of Vodou. This is a very interesting point nevertheless, and it raises these two observations:

1. It appears easy to make categoric statements about what Vodou is not, while it is devilishly difficult to establish just what Vodou is (no pun intended). My guess (just an educated one) is that both you and Ezili would agree that my questions have nothing to do with Vodou. Yet, you and Ezil
i have understandings of Vodou that are truly worlds apart. Ezili does not see any legitimacy whatsoever in your concepts of Vodou, as expressed on this forum. In turn, you have made it plain that the Vodou Ezili Danto writes about is not the Vodou that you know. And clearly, if I thought that Vodou constituted of wanga or black magic, zombies, loups-garous and champwel, I would not be speaking about the Vodou that both of you know. What an interesting dialectic!

In any case, you'll be glad to know that I do not necessarily associate black magic and Vodou... that is, I do not associate them on an intrinsic level... I do not equate the two... but this does not change the fact that Vodou and black magic are associated in a myriad ways in the minds of Haitians and foreigners alike. In fact, I am not at all concerned about foreigners' misconceptions about Vodou, which they learned about primarily from the B-grade Hollywood movie variety. But talk to most Haitians seriou
sly about zombies, and inevitably the word bokor comes about. Talk to them about wanga or black magic, and inevitably the words houngan and manbo come about. So, in bringing about those so-called "stereotypes", I am certainly not making reference to any alleged "low mental level of the Haitian people", but simply asking very frank questions about these matters. To say that those questions have nothing to do with Vodou is debatable. Regardless, they remain unanswered to this day.

2. My second observation relates to the perception of political correctness when discussing Vodou in general with Vodou intellectuals (certainly not with Christian fundamentalists). To you, for instance, Vodou cannot be elevated to the status of a religion, because it is too concerned with people's material needs and not at all with the afterlife, the soul, or even God. Yet, surprisingly, you become concerned
about stereotypes when questions are raised that may (or may not, depending on the correct answers) associate the "non-religion" to Haitians' real practices that WE ALL KNOW ABOUT OR HAVE HEARD ABOUT. I am then led to wonder the following: Is there a dark side to any religion? Is there a dark side to Christianity? Is there a dark side to Islam? Is there a dark side to Judaism? Could there possibly be a dark side to Buddhism? And last, is it remotely possible that there is a dark side to Vodou as well? Are all religions, when you strip them of stereotypes and prejudices supremely beautiful? Of course, we know that other school of thought that maintains that religion is simply the opium of the people.

Beauty, Dark side, Opium... do those concepts co-exist? You be the judge.

Finally, let me remind everyone who comes to this most interesting forum category in Ann Pale, the basis of this particular thread. Unlike the others, it is not about what Vodou is or what Vodou is not, but about some
very specific practices and specific beliefs of Haitians. Please recall the following statements in my original request.

[quote]I am inviting some comments on the following points. I hope that they will provide the basis for a concrete</b> discussion of some aspects of Haitian religious or non-religious</b> practices.

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.

r
I am not looking for idealistic or fatalistic answers, but for answers based on facts of absolute reality.[/quote]
Will someone answer my call?

Gifrants

To Guysanto

Post by Gifrants » Sat Sep 27, 2003 12:20 pm

I must ask you also: Can any institution that has a clear mission statement be blamed or ostracized because of the actions of the leaders of this institution?

As far as I know, there has been one perfect teacher on this planet, he was the Messiah. He was Jesus, one of the Sons of God. He was such a perfect model that even today for most of us, we beleve He is Light, the Way and the Truth.

I know that the Lwa, the Zanj or Lesen swore to be faifhful and loyal to him, so much that they have become indispensable to maintain the communications between us and a higher hierarchies in the heavens.

What do they teach us, to us who have been baptized, and named Ginen? They have taught us to be good. Can they teach us to be perfect? Yes, they can. What would be the consequences of such a direct and close contact teaching? That would open a much wider door to this other world for us, and our presence on this planet would be a
very challenging one.
Why?

That answers your question--Notion of power and control.

When you know what most people do not know, and what when you know gives you a REAL AND TRUE ASSESSMENT OF YOUR SUPERIORITY OVER OTHER PEOPLE, it does take a lot of WISDOM AND SELF CONTROL NOT TO RULE THEIR LIVES.

It is in this context that most religious institutions, thrru their ledearship, have become so dogmatic, have become so rich and powerful. That is outrageous to me because the relation between God and every one of us is A PERSONAL ONE. The role of the religion is to show us, to train us how to make this personal communication much easier. Religion has nothing to do with our pain and suffering the way today religious leaders, preachers are going around the world helping THOSE THEY CAN CONVERT, AND SHARE THEIR FAITH WITH. The notion of control and power is still behind THOSE SO CALLED ACTIONS OF FAITH. What then happens to those who want their help but do not want to share their faith? Obviou
sly, they will have no business to be among those people.

Vodou by itself does not preach or not teach anyone how to harm anyone. If today, and it is happening, some people are committing evil actions, while they hail Vodou, I would love to know where in Vodou they have learned how and why they should do so. Vodou does not have a dark side. Some people in the past and even today are abusing the trust that has been placed on them, not by the lwa, not by the Zanj, not by Lesen, by us to reflect the good deeds of being better human beings.

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Post by admin » Sat Sep 27, 2003 3:12 pm


[quote]I must ask you also: Can any institution that has a clear mission statement be blamed or ostracized because of the actions of the leaders of this institution?[/quote]
Generally not, unless that institution also backs up the actions of the leaders of that institution, overtly or covertly, or does absolutely nothing to distance itself from such actions. An example of such a covert action might be an edict from the Vatican to the American dioceses to cover up the misdeeds of pedophile priests. I am sure we could all think of many other examples. Institutions cannot be blamed for everything, but they do bear responsibility for the actions of their leaders too, you know.

Anyway, my intent never was to blame or ostracize. I don't know how many times I need to say this. Perhaps we should just close this thread and I will reintroduce my questions in another post wit
h a different title. Your points are well-taken but they absolutely do not answer the questions that I asked. We are going nowhere with this. Unless someone else can bring some clarity to these issues, we should perhaps leave it at that.

Thank you for your insights, anyway.

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