Les prosélytes vont-ils sauver Haïti? (société / culture)

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Les prosélytes vont-ils sauver Haiti? (société / culture)

Post by Gelin_ » Thu Apr 14, 2005 2:02 pm

[quote]...May be you guys out there could tell us when this phenomenon started. Why more Religious music CDs than music Racing and Kompas are sold these days? Pou ki sa plis kamionet taptap avek foto Jesus ke foto Erzuli, papa zaka etc..ap sikile nan lari Poto Prince?[/quote]

[Editor's note: Please read Rasin, Konpa, kamyonèt, Jezi, Ezili, Pòtoprens]

I remember a time when some of our intellectuals (especially from the Ethnology group) were complaining about the constant success and spread of protestantism in the country. They were mainly charging that this phenomenon was going to cause the nation to lose its cultural identity (meaning vodou).

The Haitian people is deeply religious and at least there is religious freedom in the country. People leave vodou for the gospel for many different reasons. In some cases in the countryside, pa
rents who <I>serve</I> would allow (even encourage) their children to attend churches. In other cases, there can be strong opposition to the change. In all cases, however, people have realized (at least from my experience) that putting their faith in the One who conquered death is much more meaningful than to continue to serve papaloco.

There is also the issue of healing and help. People who cannot find help under the peristil usually end up in a church where more often than not they find deliverance. Even hougans sometimes send some desperate clients <I>al pran levanjil</I>. On top of that, if you go deep inside the country, sometimes the only school available in the area is connected to a church. There may be a very good or powerful hougan nearby, but all you'll see is the vèvè and the <I>potomitan</I>. The peasant has observed all these things, and little by little there is a shift of allegiance.

Now, these are just some aspects of the questions...


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Post by admin » Thu Apr 14, 2005 6:22 pm

[quote]The majority of Haitians have never been to a real voodoo temple.[/quote]
First, what is a "voodoo temple" ? Are you referring to the peristyle? Maybe...

In any case, while I am by no means an expert on the subject, I find your estimation (with respect to the majority) highly doubtful. I have often read (and this appears to be corroborated by numerous real life examples) that most Church going Haitians also practice Vodou, as the cultural tradition of honoring their ancestors and deceased family members. That is, Haitians, for the most part, continue to serve their "lwa", whether or not they have espoused Christianity in addition. Houngans and Mambos sometimes contribute to a network of basic social services, ranging from food, medicinal herbs and other plant remedies, to the spiritual needs of the community. In terms of the material aspects however, Vodou cannot com
pete (nor has it ever attempted to, it seems) with the middle-class oriented Catholic Church or the U.S. financed Protestant churches. Rather, Vodou acomodates itself with Christianity, both in its beliefs (syncretism) and practice. Witness the great fluidity which exists between the pantheon of Catholic Saints and Vodou divinities, which are all subordinate of course to God (with the capital "G") or Gran Mèt La. And in practice, even the most ferocious anti-Vodou Protestant may be drawn back to the cult of the lwa, when faced with imminent personal tragedies (as insurance against Jehovah's occasional forgetfulness or inattention).

I think, Michel, that Vodou is a lot more than folklore for most Haitians living in the countryside or the lower urban classes. Of course, people who are better educated through a Western style of education and materially better off often have a much greater measure of control over their lives. This material independence often translates to spiritual independence as well.
How many Haitians will experiment with Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and so forth? I am sure that some of them do, but I am willing to bet that they are all upper-middle to upper-class.

And then, you have those whose religion resides only in the questioning. I think you have met at least one of them on this forum.


Post by T-dodo » Sun Apr 17, 2005 11:12 am

In all of the discussions in these posts, I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I strongly believe in freedom of religion. On the other hand, besides Bois-Cayman, my perception of voodoo practice in Haiti has been almost entirely negative. Of course, that is not an excuse for murder nor for another religion to illegally attack voodoo clergy and destroy their property to promote its own. The legal system in Haiti failed the voodoo clergy by not being able to protect their property. But, freedom of religion aside, what is the contribution of voodoo to Haiti after Bois-Cayman and our independence that is worth fighting for that much?

Most of what I learned of voodoo that seems credible comes from my reading of Manbo Racine's writings and others on the Corbett list. She did not deny that death penalty was a common sentence within that religion. For one thing, if you don't believe in the death penalty I can't see how you can justify inclusion
in such a religion. Even if you beleive in the death penalty, that death penalty being sanctionned outside of the country's legal structure - regardless of what you think of the latter - does not suggest a certain guarantee for fairness in application.

Now, going back to the issue of contribution to Haiti, I was primarily exposed to voodoo when I was a child in the form of the atmosphere of fear created by those who were reporting stories of what they knew about it. I can't seem to remember anything positive about it. By positive, I mean benefits to the community in educational terms, economical terms, physical well being, or spiritual well being. Its contributions in Bois-Cayman sealed the union of slaves and freed former slaves that led to our independence. If I missed something positive the voodoo religion did for Haitians after that, please someone tell me. While I cannot give you examples to back up that statement, but I heard a lot of reports when I was a child of the voodoo clergy using their
power to sexually abuse their disciples, make money at their expense, just to name a few. But again, for a religion that uses death sentences to settle any score what is a little sexual abuse? Orchestre Tropicana's song "Superstition" underscores some of the cliches about voodoo that were seeping through to me as a child.

One of the areas of positive that could have been pointed out is in the domain of health care. But the record there is mixed at best. Most of the voodoo clergy, from what I understood, calls themselves healers. But, I am not aware of any contributions they made in this area. Besides, there were many anecdoctes where their actions have delayed adequate treatments that could have saved a life has the patient contacted medical doctors. Instead, their disciples wasted time chasing spirits instead of a surgical operation that could have removed a tumor, or medication that reduce clogged arteries, or antibiotics that fights a nasty infection. This is not asking too much of their medicine.
Other alternative types of medicine have gained some respect. Acupuncture is now paid for by some health insurance policies. And certainly, chiropractic care has been for some time now. I can attest to that. In 1988, I had back pains that did not allow me to sleep for more than two to three hours at night before sharp pains in my back forced me to wake up and stand for about one hour before the pain dissipated. X-rays did not reveal much. Doctors considered surgery with no guarantee of a cure. At that time, I considered chiropractors as charlatans - yes, they sometimes make claims that their trade cannot back up - but after two years of pain with no results from the doctors and testimonies from people who use chiropractors, I decided to give them a try. With adjustments of the vertebrae and ice pack treatments by chiropractors, I have been sleeping more than 8 hours for more that a decade now pain free. Can anybody tell me what part of medicine that the voodoo healers specialize in. Certainly, to my knowle
dge, no insurance covers them. I could not help it when I heard, on a radio station in Miami, a voodoo clergy advertising that "he can help people with almost everything" and asked them to come and see him with the troubles they are having in life. I did not hear it for a long time, but I did at least once on that station.

So, what I am saying is I don't seem to be able to see the positive side of voodoo. In fact, the negatives outweigh the positives. Like I said earlier, if people want to practice that religion, they should be able to do it freely. I strongly believe in freedom rights, such as religion. But, when it infringes on the right to life, freedom of religion takes a back seat. In addition, I cannot understand advocating for that freedom of practicing voodoo right when there is no positive contribution that can be cited and the practice leads to violations of other human rights. To me, there is a major conflict here.


Post by Shellony » Mon Apr 18, 2005 10:20 pm

I usually stay away of discussions about religions for my own personal reasons but this time I have decided to say something.

First of all, I would like to say that as Jean Marie, for the most part, my experience with Vodou has been negative. Is it because I am christian? I do not think so because I also have some negative experience with the way christianity is practiced in Haiti (I mean the way it was taught to our people who, unfortunately, cannot read, or choose to follow the interpretation of people who first read it to them even though what they read seems to be different from what they were taught). I should say that I was born and raised in a christian family and therefore have not gotten a chance to know about certain details that go on in a vodou temple. However, I have proofs that certain practices in the religion do not contribute to the progress of the country or humanity. I am from Leogane and I know all these places m
entioned in the above article (Bongniotte, Chritianville although what they call La colline is Known as Nan colin. La Colline is a different place in Leogane.)

I remember in February 1994, there were words that a well known 19 year old yound man was missing. He was my classmate in primary school. He was missing since Thursday night and I will skip all the details but he was found " antere kanpe anndan la sal kay you ougan nan zon lan ak you chen nan mitan janm li you kok anba bral e you je kat nan menl." He was unearthed in the presence of his father, friends of his family, several hundred people fron the neighborhoods of Matthieu, Bongnotte etc, and several police officers or army members ( before 1994, they were all the same to me) and a "juge de paix". The "houngan", his father who is also a vodou priest and the "Laplace" were arrested but the houngan was killed by the population which grew to at least a thousand people. I will always remember that Saturday. The other houngan was released t
he next day (a sunday) but their property (about 14 houses were all burned)

Later that year, there were words that the same thing happens at another houmfort in Darbonne (near Matthieu) but this time a person from far away was used. By the way, the reason why the juge de paix asked the houngan to unearth whatever was underground was because a woman head with wig was found under his bed.

There are other examples of that.

Secondly, as Jean Marie pointed out, many people died because they believe that their diseases have supernatural causes and decide to go to a houngan instead of a doctor. I knew of a girl who had typhoid and malaria. Her mother believed that the paternal grandmother was responsible for the illness and decided to see a vodou priest. Even though another family member who did not believe in these things took the girl to hopital sainte croix out clinic where the diagnosis was made and medications prescribed, the mother was so convinced that it was her "evil" mother
in law who did not love her, she refused all medications and decided to go to the vodou temple where the child expired after drinking the portion prepared by the priest. Later the mother became pregnant of another child and had very high blood pressure. She was more than convinced that it was her mother in law again. Even though her husband took her to see a doctor she tought that could not help her much and when her BP got so high she could not even see, she finally accepted to go back to the doctor and she died from ecclampsia.

These things happen over and over again. One poor lady of my neighborhood has been blamed so many times for the death of children when in reality these children died from diarrhea (infection, then dehydration).

I am sorry but I can't help but blame many of those houngans who do not have the courage to tell the sick people and their families that they can't help them. Instead they see them as opportunities to make money. (Many of these families spend so much a
t these "peristil" that they have nothing for funeral. The sad thing is not that they do not have money for funeral but that their family members die from preventable death.

What will I say about people who can't afford something for themselves, but give it to the houngan (or the loas) so that their families can be protected, put food that their children can't afford to eat in "kalfou", and many more like that.

Now when I turn on the other side (christianity). I see two different things. On one hand there is what is presented by the Bible as Gelin usually says and on the other hand there are many many more practices, some are closer to the bible than others. (I could not do the same thing for Vodou because I do not know of a book, if it exists, that present the principles of this religion.) I believe in what is presented by the Bible but I have some negatives experiences with some of the current practices. For example, as Gelin always says, "l'armee celeste" has some of the same prac
tices as Vodou. They nourish the same idea that your neighbor may be evil and may be killing you or your family members. These things nourish hatred, unfortunately. These people are also known as christian. I have problems with noises at night when people are supposed to be sleeping. Many protestants, armee celeste, and vodouists do not respect their neighbor's right to peace and silence especially at night. Other things include sexual abuses that Jean-Marie mentioned in Vodou but that we see across religion (vodou and christianity) It may be more acceptable in the vodou world (the christian church condemns it) but it exists everywhere.

Some pastors, while denouncing the houngan for "dechepiye" the adepts are doing the same thing when they make the church goers believe that God asks them for $100 they do not have.

Those church goers, are mostly poor people who immigrated to America but their pastors stand in the way of their economical progress. Unfortunately, people who used to be Vo
dou adepts are sometimes more likely to give what they do not have because they are used to the beliefs that if they don't something bad will happen to them.

One of my most negative experiences with some christian practitioners is the fact that they keep saying that Haiti is "maudit". I consider these people as "restavek blan" and I do not believe they can do anything positive for Haiti. They do not know the meaning of democracy or freedom. How can you want to be the leader of a democratic movement when the people is under the "malediction". What does democracy mean? Are they going to feed the people what ever they want? How can a "maudit" people choose what it wants? How, even, can a "maudit" nation choose a blessed leader? The last time I checked, all these leaders wanted to go to election. Are they going to be elected by a selected group of blessed people (maybe "une assemblee constituante" under a different constitution)?

way, I think these leaders should come with different names because I do not think that they will get elected if it is really the people of Haiti who are choosing a leader. They may have established schools, hospitals, "dispensaires", given food and chlothing but if they do not respect the Haitian for who he/she is, they will not get his/her trust.

Sorry if I do not write in a coherent way. I feel a little lost today ( my vocabulary is even affected. Some of the words I put in French, it's just because I can't find them in English). But I hope the essence of what I say is understood.


Post by T-dodo » Tue Apr 19, 2005 7:19 pm

[quote]Jean-Marie, Shelony, you may have had negative experience with Voodoo, but I wonder if you had been raised in the Voodoo religion, whether you would have had the same reaction.......
[quote]Like any religion, Voodoo has its negative sides too. Which religion does not?
As I said, it happens that in Haiti, this religion has been so vilified over such a long time that many of us "educated" have been brainwashed and we tend to perpetuate the brainwashing. The irony of it all, just like Kreyòl, you find so many foreigners interested in our culture who will go to Haiti, conduct thorough studies of the religion, and come back and give you lessons about it.[/quote] [/quote]


I will plead guilty that I have been brainwashed. My exposure to the voodoo religion was through friends and domestic help raised in it telling me their stories. They had fil
led my sleep as a child with nightmares.

Although in what I wrote I did not compare voodoo with other religions, since you mentioned it I will draw two disturbing distinctions which served as the basis for my comments. For voodoo, punishment of hell is real and it's on earth after the so-called death, in the form of zombiism. For most of the other religions referred in this post - catholicism and protestanism - punishment of hell is after death not on earth, and perhaps imagined. The other difference is that the voodoo doctrine advocates and condones illegal activities and violations of human rights openly while the other churches mentioned do not. By that I mean poisoning people to death or making them disabled for life. And I can guess the book you mentioned above confirms that.

Now, you indicated that both religions have negatives. And, you are right. Their clergy, being humans, makes mistakes. As an example you gave, both of them have members of their clergy doing bad things. Both of them
have clergy who commit sexual abuses and financially abuse their followers. But that is the result of human imperfection not religious doctrines. I am not aware of the churches' doctrines, and perhaps the voodoo ones, which advocate those sexual and financial abuses. I can't say much about the voodoo ones because I don't really know them and have no particular interest in knowing either. More than you think, I beleive those who want to practice voodooism should be left alone doing it as long as they are not teaching and conributing to the violation of the human rights of their followers and those who are not followers as well.

Serge, as far as empathizing with the voodoo followers, I have not felt condescending about them. I realize that voodoo fills a void in their life. I have great respect for what you call "moun andeyò." As a child I had frequent contacts with them. In many respects, they were more social than my neighbors and had more respect for people than you find in the major cities of Ha
iti. As an example, when you visit the house of a "moun andeyò," the first thing they did was offering you coffee. They are almost as respectful of their fellow visitors as Japanese appear to be on TV except that they don't bend their heads down as a sign of greeting. The habit of giving the family bed to the visitor in Haiti, I beleive, comes from those "moun andeyò." But does their religion has to humiliate them as much as it does? I don't think so. My guess is that voodoo would have been more defensible if human rights violations were not part of its doctirnes.

Also, your comparison with kreyòl does not cut it with me. I have a good american acquaintance who wrote and read kreyòl long before you, good samaritains on this forum, forced me to do it. The reason is I was lazy to learn kreyòl because I had no particular need and use for it. But long before most of you on this forum learned to read and write in kreyòl - I am going on a limb here specualting but I would welcome any challen
ge in the name of learning - I was already a strong advocate for education in kreyòl and making it the national language. The reason is that through his Sunday afternoons editorials in the early 1970s, Jean Dominique on Radio Haiti and later Haiti Inter had convinced me that the quickest way to adult literacy in Haiti was in kreyòl. And improvements in adult literacy in Haiti meant to me, then and still today, the quickest way to economic progress and prosperity for all Haitians. In other words, it is not their blackness that causes their poverty, their misery, their underdevelopment and their politically-victimized status. It is their ignorance! I did not need to learn kreyòl to be educated. I was one of those fiortunate ones in Haiti who was taught French and could learn in that language. Your comparison of kreyòl to vodoo in terms of our attitude as educated Haitians towards them may be true for some but not for me. My problem with voodoo is its values, not pure bias.


Post by T-dodo » Wed Apr 20, 2005 5:49 am


Whether it is islam, or voodoo, or any other religion using radicalism or othodoxy that leads to violation of human rights, they will always be a target until they clean their acts. By that, I mean removing the human rights violations. I certainly indicated in my two posts on the subject the coalescing benefit of voodoo at Bois-Cayman and on our independence movement. Like Haiti, voodoo has not done much since.

By the way Serge, I did not feel targeted. You were just generalizing, even though you were partly right. I used my personal example to prove to you that brainwashing has its limits and that sometimes it does not explain a difference in opinion. In the case of voodoo, I would agree with you that the religion has been demonized by western civilizations. But voodoo should take some of the blame as well. It needs to clean some of its acts.



Post by T-dodo » Wed Apr 20, 2005 12:43 pm

[quote]In that respect, the self-righteous behaviour of those extreme right religious leaders of the Republic Party in this country is something frightening and extremely dangerous to me.[/quote]

You are absolutely right. I am with you on this one. In fact, they should have known better. For, their ancestors were victims of it which explains partly why they are here today.

[quote]So from my perspective, to say that "voodoo has not done much since " is all relative.[/quote]

Serge, I qualified my statements on voodoo at the beginning. I would like to be informed about this. If someone can point to some accomplishments that outweigh the negatives of voodoo, I would learn something. I learned a lot from Kathy Grey on Corbett. It is too bad we don't have someone with that kind of knowledge on this forum. Perhaps, and that is very possible, I have not been pa
ying attention to what has been happenning with voodoo. If someone knows, please tell me.

[quote]However, although I am not an expert on the subject, I am no sure that "zombiism" is part of the Voodoo doctrine. As far as the voodoo doctrine which "advocates and condones illegal activities and violations of human rights openly..." I am not sure that is the case either. I hope some expert on the forum can clear that up.[/quote]

Serge, I wrote this based on my recollection of Kathy's description of the inner working of the religion on Corbett and also of Wade Davis' book "The Serpent and the Rainbow." In the latter, he investigated the chemical properties of that toxin. But stories in Haiti abound, and Shelony 's were very supportive of that statement. Assuming my representation is right, that is illegal and violates human rights. They also have their own laws, when violated is punishable by death. You can't ignore that death penalty is part of the voodo re
ligion. Perhaps, I am wrong. But, from the stories I heard it was always present. The zombiism part follows the death sentence part. Is it part of voodoo? I am the wrong person to answer that question. But, I understood it is an intricate part of it. Maybe I am wrong. I would be happy to be enlightened about it.


Post by Gelin_ » Thu Apr 21, 2005 10:28 am

[quote]...Who has authority to define what constitute the "real christianity", the "real Vodou", the "real Islam".[/quote]
It's a difficult task, but one can always try by looking at the founder of each religion/faith, specifically by considering and analyzing their teachings and personal life</B>. This can be done for the gospel of Jesus as well as for islam, but a different approach may be needed for vodou as practiced in Haiti.


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