Wednesday, 18 September 2019 09:41 GMT

What is Haitian Voodoo?

Author: Guilberly Louissaint

(MENAFN - The Conversation) For many in the West, Voodoo invokes images of animal sacrifices, magical dolls and chanted spells.

But Voodoo – as practiced in Haiti and by the black diaspora in the United States, South America and Africa – is a religion based on ancestral spirits and patron saints.

Known as 'Vodou' in Haiti, the religion has also served as a form of resistance against theFrench colonial empire.

And unlike many mainstream representations around magic and rituals, scholars have shown how Voodooserves as a form of health care systemby providing religious healing.

A religion born out of struggle

Haitian Vodou was born from the blending ofCatholicism, WesternandCentral Africanspirituality.

In addition, scholars assert that thereligionwas influenced byescaped slaveswho wanted to inspire rebellions under a common spiritual identity.

HistorianC.L.R. Jamesdescribed Voodoo as a'medium of the conspiracy,'meaning Voodoo was at the center of inciting the1791 revolution in Haiti against slavery and colonialism.

In later years – from 1835 to 1987 – the Haitian governmentbanned Voodoo under lawsthat prohibited ritualistic practices. However, as historianKate Ramseypoints out, the laws werealmost impossible for the Haitian government to implement. As early as the 19th century, Voodoo had already become adominant belief systemeven influencing elite culture – even if secretly.

Haitian elites could not openly support the religion. The Catholic Church based in Rome forced Haiti to adopt Roman Catholicism as itsofficial religion .

Over the years, several anti-Voodoo campaigns were launched by theCatholicandProtestantchurches.Systematic attacksonVoodoo templesand Voodoo objects over decades paved the way for this religion to become predominately associated with sorcery.

The contemporary status of Voodoo

In contemporary Haitian society, Voodoo serves in multiple ways. An important contribution is its role in healing. AnthropologistNicholas Vonarx , who has studied Voodoo's role as a health care system, explains how religious spaces can become 'therapeutic sites where the sick goes to seek help in managing illness and other misfortune.'

My researchlooks at how Voodoo is blamed for health disparities in Haiti by the country's elites and international aid groups who ignore its role in Haiti's health landscape.

For many, Voodoo remains associated with sorcery and satanic worship.

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