Review of Video: Voodoo and the Church in Haiti

Bob Corbett

The film opens in what appears to be a Voodoo service. However, it soon becomes apparent that this is show-Voodoo, or tourist-Voodoo. In fact, the image of manufactured Voodoo is the dominant image I have in this video.

The filming is often choppy, purposely so, looking ever so like a Charlie Chaplin movie. I found this treatment of Voodoo dance quite disturbing. My images of Voodoo dance is of a slow moving, gracefulness which conveys a sense of the intensely sensual, but sacred as well. The quick moving, choppy dancing of the video destroy the grace and beauty of the dancing.

The film does root Voodoo in the history of the country and emphasizes its origins in the lives of the maroons, the runaway slaves. The history is good, and we learn of the role of Voodoo in the revolution.

But where is Voodoo today, and what is its connection to the Roman Catholic Church in Haiti?

This is a slow moving, oddly choppy film, which teaches us very little. Shockingly, though we hear a fair amount about Voodoo in Haitian history, we hear absolutely nothing about Roman Catholic persecution of Voodoo over the centuries.

We do hear Bishop Gayot's startling denial of Voodoo's religious status and the emphasis on Voodoo as a cultural and recreational reality. He says that they have no choice but to tolerate Voodoo as a social and cultural institution. But, he assures us, if only the people could be converted away from Voodoo and to Christ they would be better off. One cannot help but wonder how much better off Haiti would be if she were free of such cultural invasion as Gayot's.

Indeed, this is the attitude of the filmmakers too. Instead of any deep probing into this exciting and puzzling religion, we are treated to all the media stars of Voodoo; Max Beuvoir, houngan/artist Andre Pierre, Herard Simon and Abouja. The Voodoo portrayed is always the costumed, orchestrated Voodoo of show Voodoo, and never the Voodoo of the masses of peasant people.

This shallow treatment is too bad. Voodoo is a syncretic religion. It is intimately related to Catholicism, though this interrelationship is not explored. The history of Catholic/Voodoo relations is a stormy one which even includes a major war. These historical ties are not even mentioned! Finally, in recent years both the radical Catholic Church and Voodoo have played important, and often conflicting roles in Haiti's politics. Again, not a word of these significant issues are even mentioned.

The interrelationship of Catholicism and Voodoo deserves a more serious treatment.

This 1989 film comes from the University of California Extension Media Center. (2176 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, CA 94704; (415) 642-0460) It is a 45 minute video and can be rented for $45.00 or purchased for $370.


Art, Music, & Dance Book Reviews Film History Library Literature
Mailing List Miscellaneous Topics Notes on Books People to People Voodoo


Bob Corbett