Fall 2001

Bob Corbett

The slave owning French justified their slavery in part by the claim that had an obligation to convert the "pegan" Africans to the "true" religion of Roman Catholicism. They made attempts to do this. On the other hand, they were reluctant to allow the slaves to have any sort of group meetings, fearing (justly) that these meetings might well be occasions to plot against the French. Thus, while having the moral obligation to convert the slaves, at the same time they didn't want the slaves to meet in groups even for religious worship.

What was ruled out for sure was any worship of African spirits.

The slaves on their part both remembered their own spirits quite well and did in fact continue to serve them, but noticed there was a certain surface similarity between their own animist spirits and the saints of Roman Catholicism. By using the holy pictures which the French used -- the chromolithographs of the period -- they were able to find a way to provide images of their own spirits in the guise of Roman Catholic saints. Thus, for example, St. Patrick, famous for having driven the snakes from Ireland and pictured in his bishop's attire and snakes at his feet, became a symbol of Dumballah, the snake, Voodoo lwa of fertility.

There are a few chromolithographs on-line and one may find them at:

The Indigo Arts Gallery site

Tony Fisher of that gallery writes: I can help you with two images, at least. They are common ones, the chromolithographs of Erzulie Freda and Erzulie Dantor, which we have republished as postcards/notecards. Go to the Cards section of our site, go the the Catalog section, and look for P-27, P-28 and N-26.


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Bob Corbett