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7065: Vodou's status in Haiti (fwd)
Who says Vodou "has not achieved the practical status of a religion" in Haiti? It would be better to
say that the Haitian government has not *yet* recognized reality and acknowledged Vodou officially.
The Vodou religion most certainly has it's "practical status" - the status of the majority religion of Haiti!
This is what these discussions of Vodou perpetually overlook. The so-called "stigmatized, secretive"
status of Haitian Vodou is only so to those coming in from outside with those stigmas firmly in mind. To
the average Vodouisant, we are not stigmatized, we are respected! We are not secretive, we have big
dances right out in the open in peristyles where everyone can see us. I certainly do not hesitate to
respond to the title, "Mambo!" in greeting, any more than a Protestant pastor would duck a greeting of,
Therefore, I do not agree with Bebe that the "basic and crucial issue was the one of recognition of
Vodou as a religion" by the Haitian government or by the academic community or whoever. We do not
need recognition by others to tell us what we are. The Haitian government's recognition of
Vodou as a religion is after the fact whenever it comes.
Organizations like Bode Nasyonal and Zantray could be of great use in improving life for Vodouisants
through all sorts of collective action. Unfortunately they are not. These organizations are not structured
for collective action, instead they tend to concentrate power in the hands of one charismatic individual,
always male. Neither do they share the political orientation of the majority of Haitians, in fact just
before the United Nations Multi-National Forces intervened in Haiti at the request of elected President
Aristide, Zantray threatened armed anti-Aristide actions in the north of Haiti. (By the way, after Herard
Simon, the organization was headed for a time by Reginald Bailley, but I don't know who is the "head"
Now to the question, "Do you consider a passer-by who enters a hounfo to buy a wanga, a
Vodouisant", I would answer yes. The person who pays a Mambo or Houngan to make a wanga for
them is not just an ignorant passer-by who tripped and fell into a peristyle! That person has a spiritual
belief system that tells them the outside world can be influenced through magical means, that the person
best qualified to do this magic is a Mambo or Houngan, and that it is appropriate to compensate the
Mambo or Houngan for their time with a payment of cash. Of course this is not the entire definition of a
Vodouisant, far from it! Vodou is not exclusive - the same person who paid for the wanga may go to
Catholic mass and sometimes even to Protestant services. It's no secret that some of our better-paying
clients are Protestant pastors who want wanga to increase their enrollment.
Houngans and Mambos are not arrested or prosecuted for holding Vodou services, or for performing
wanga, that's absurd. When Cedras was in power sometimes we had to pay off the little FRAPH thugs
and attaches to get them to leave us in peace when we held a dance, but since that scurvy crew is no
longer at the helm we don't have that problem any more.
"Lalwa pa rekonnet wanga", the law does not recognize wanga, is standard operating procedure in
Haitian courts - you can not accuse a person of murder by means of wanga, for instance. What is
punishable is very much like what we call "confidence schemes" in the USA, you know, "Your money
is cursed, give it all to me and I will cleanse it". When a Houngan or Mambo or bokor or malfecteur or
whoever rips off a client, then there is the possibility of the victim making a complaint.
The same type of conflation was in operation during the dechoukaj - for historical reasons, a higher-
than-average number of Houngans became Macoutes, to their shame. In the dechoukaj, Macoute
Houngans fell, but in general they fell because they were Macoutes, not because they were Houngans.
Here in Jacmel the Vodouisant community is very large, very active, and very proud of ourselves. I
can't for the life of me imagine the Jacmel police raiding a bat guerre, much less invading a djevo!
Good gosh, no.
The most important issue to me is not getting people outside Vodou to "recognize" us as this or that. In
a country where the UN estimates 61% of the population is malnourished, to me the number one
priority should be getting our congregation members out of poverty, getting their fair share of food relief
and medical aid in the meantime, getting educational opportunities, and so on. These are all political
rather than spiritual goals, and I do not suggest that the Vodou religion align itself again with any
politician, president, or movement at all. I do however urge conscious Vodouisants to take active part
in progressive political and social movements, *as citizens*.
Peace and love,
Bon Mambo Racine Sans Bout Sa Te La Daginen
"Se bon ki ra" - Good is rare
The VODOU Page - http://members.aol.com/racine125/index.html
(Posting from Jacmel, Haiti)