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7223: Univ.of Oklahoma, Vodou, Scholarship, and My Thoughts (fwd)

From: qret6394 <pharris@ou.edu>

Before launching into my little essay I want to thank list members who
have forwarded  information regarding air carriers to Cap Haitian. It
has been very helpful in planning our summer trip back to Lakou Dereal.

Bebe Pierre Louis raises some important questions engendered by the
relationship between scholarship and its focus on the study of Vodou. He
asks whether this interest is for intellectual satisfaction or purely
for professional activity. I can only speak from my own prepsective and
that is  for me that there is no separation between intellectual
interest and professional activity since my profession is based on
intellectual satisfaction. But more than this it is also inseparable
from, and informed by my own spiritual walk. None of these are
compartmentalized unto themselves, but are highly integated.
I agree wholeheartedly with Bebe Pierre Louis in his observation that
those who have the opportunity to experience the Hounfors (and Haiti at
large) sometimes remain indffierent to the struggles that these
communities are facing, which to me is incredibly amazing in view  of
the overwhelming level of material (as opposed to spiritual) poverty. I
have long made note of the political economy of academia especially with
regard to Vodou... it has built many a career. But I mediate my
statement here by pointing out that a lot of what has been
produced/published by scholars has gone far in some quarters to bring
understaning and tolerance where none existed before( irrespective of
whether this was intentional). How to measure this progress is another
matter. At the University of Oklahoma, two and a half years ago there
were no Haitian Studies courses, and the African American Studies
Program (which only offers a major and minor at the undergrad level) had
no courses which in any way addressed  religious and spiritual matters.
Today three courses are offered 1) African Religion in the New World
(with an almost exclsive focus on Vodou) 2) The African Diasporic
Experience:Haiti, and 3) The Haitian Study Abroad Program. In addition a
fourth course entitled "Afro-Caribbean Philosophy: Negritude,
Nationalism and Resistance" will be offered this spring and will cover
such thinkers as Cesair, Depestre, Dorsanvil, Fanon, Rodney, and so
forth. How did these courses come about? Through one aspiring scholar's
( translated to Ph.D. student) lack of indifference to her experiences
in Haiti. I started with one section of the African religion course and
26 students, the course now runs three sections per semester with 35
students in each (times six semesters). This is just one way of giving
something back to the rural Haitian community... by putting the truth
out there and making others aware of the situation, and how it got that
way....and awakening a move to action. This is not restoring respect,
but creating some.

Another way is by bringing students into the rural community to add a
third dimension to education that classroom lectures cannot provide. In
this regard students work with community members to assist with feasible
development projects. For example we are now working to get wind
generated energy into Dereal....the site of a maroon society whose
temple had been closed for a few generations and has been reopened since
1995 by a woman who left in the early 80's in a rickety boat for South
Florida. She now spends several months out of the year back in her
community. She has reopened and  refurbished the temple, planted Mapou
and other trees, started micro-loans for small community based
industries ( like candle making for example), has built a depot, brought
in animals, and much, much more. She and I work together to combine
mutual education and development for community members and students.Very
often, no, always, this work is done on a tiny little shoestring of
resources and  LOTS of faith.  I have learned through these experiences
and endeavors that giving and receiving are inseparable... each one is
contained in the other. Also I have come to the conclusion that while
the development of theory is important to the discipline (anthropology),
it is much more critical to use the knowledge we produce for more than
just consumption by students and our colleagues...in the utmost it
should be of use/service to those who provide and constitute the living
laboritory for the atainment of that knowledge and enlightenment. What
we glean form our efforts should not be expatriated  for exclusive
use/satisfaction within the academy, but shared in such a way that
allows for the fullest integrity of self-determination ... not the
destructive dependencies and paternalisms whose record of  failure are
well evidenced in the immiseration of the Haitian people.

If anyone is interested in inquiring/chatting about our work/the
classes/the trip/you may contact me off list.

Patti K. Harris
The University of Oklahoma