Some notes received on Bob Corbett's e-mail list.

January 1, 1999

Yacine Khelladi

I'm aware of 2 Muslim prayer rooms in PAP (or temples but not real mosques) one is in ruelle Vincent (lalue) managed by Br. Loukman Bilal (he is Haitian and I think he is one of the people who started claiming Bookman was Muslim) and another in delmas 18 that was opened by those UN Muslim soldiers, Pakistanis I was told but I've never been there.

Indeed some Africans slaves were Muslim but how many? Islam entered Africa 700 hundred years before Columbus and many Muslim kingdoms/dynasties lasted until 18 century in subsharan Africa. Some Muslims may have been slave traders and other made slaves them self's and transferred in new world. I'll be very happy to find references or studies on this particular aspect (Islam/slaves). An argument that is often used to convert is that the very first muezzin (the guy who call for prayer) in Islam, was a just liberated slave and a black man called BILAL (in the times of the prophet Mohammed (SAW) 7th century in what is now saudi arabia). In some dominican book on maroons (i guess writen by Carlos Esteban Devis) i have read references on that Muslim-origin slaves started several revolts in hispaniola. Also I always read that Makandal was a Muslim but how do we know that? was he also a "sorcier"? Were those Muslim descendents particulary rebels?

In what Voodoo concerns, I have heard/read in a CD called "fond des blancs fonds des negres" a recording and its writen comment on a "mandinga" ceremony (mandingue are Muslim group in African sahel region) that seems to de devoted to "Allah" (God in arabic). I was told by boukman's singer Lolo that this ceremony takes place near Balant near Cap Haitien in December. Last week i was at Lakou Badjo for this Nago ceremonies on kings day, and those rhythms sound very similar to the Gnawa north African rhythm. Gnawa are some kind of "sosyete" who practice rituals that could be compared to Voodoo but with Islam refernces/synchretism, with Islamized "loas" (7 families), trances, dances, animal sacrifice, etc., in my home country that is Algeria... (I actually live in Port Au Prince). Indeed Metraux give reference on this senega loas that are saluted with "salam". also I wonder what is "salamasala" that i hear in many non-ritual songs?

Bob Corbett wrote
January 13, 1999

I am currently reading the 1951 novel of Cuban author Alejo Carpentier. [Note from Nov. 7, 2001: I'm now not sure if this was from Carpentier's novel The Kingdom Of This World    or his novel Explosion in the Cathedral.]

One of his characters is telling the story of the history of slave uprisings and rebellions in the Caribbean.

In the midst of this one reads:
"Only 7 years ago, just when it seems that White Supremacy had been re-establish on the continent, another black Mohammedan, Bouckman, (sic) had risen in the Bosque Caimain in San Domingo, burning houses and devastating the countryside"

Obviously, since this is a novel, Carpentier does not cite any source, but he seems to have held this view by at least 1950.

Bob Corbett

March 12, 2001

Bebe Pierre Louis

"Are they many Islamic influences in Vodou today?" asks Jim.

I am going to advance eight points to show Islamic presence in Vodou and let you judge for yourself.

  1. Boukman, our famous hero of Bwa Ka-Iman, has been described by historians as Islamic. His name has also been written as Boucqueman. Though, he came from Jamaica, the first part of his name has nothing to do with "book" but rather with Bouk, meaning "village". In Mali, the chief of the village was, until a few years ago and maybe up to today, referred to as the Bouqueman (pronounced: book-eeman) or the village Iman.

    The question is the object of many discussions and those who believe that Bwa Kayiman means Wood of the Caimans rely on the fact that several maps of the North, dating from the time of the colony, bear such names.

    Vodoun, as an historical reminder, makes a few references to our Islamic ancestors but from that to say that Islam has influenced Vodoun, I doubt it.

  2. Lwas like Kongo Mousayi refer to the famous Kango Moussa usually and wrongly referred to as Kankan Moussa, who was Islamic.
  3. I was told that the people possessed by the Lwa Amin, in the Amin Lakou, in the Gonaives region, did not speak Creole but expressed themselves in "language" repeating two words: "la" and "ila" which sounds something like: "la ila ila la". It's probably the well known "La ilaha illa 'llah" of Islam which is the first part of the Shahada that means, "There is no god but God" (The Shahada is the Profession of Faith that all converts to Islam must recite).
  4. Alfred Metraux reports having seen in the Marbial Valley the lwas Amin, Siniga and Banbara as a triad in the hounfo of Manbo Mina. Those Nations were already very Islamized which might explain their unusual behavior as he describes them.
  5. The boat of Agwe-ta-oyo is called IMAMOU. In Mandinka and Arabic languages Almamy was the designation of "Al-IMAMU" or "Al-Imam", the person who leads the Prayer, or in some cases, the chief of the community, and/or a member of the Imami Muslim community. This should be particularly interesting for those who research who discovered America first! It is reported that one of the nominees is a Moslem from the Mali Empire by the name of Abu-Bakr who led a huge expedition, at least century before Christopher Columbus, into the "unknown seas" and never returned.
  6. 6.Dede Magrit was the name of the founder of the famous hounfo "Nan Kanpech" that dates from the time of Independence. Dede is usually perceived today as a Manbo because of her feminine name but in Arabic, Dede means: "father, ancestor, grandfather". King Henri Christophe, it is said, was very wary of her (or his?) activities and kept a constant watch on the hounfo from the Citadelle. It would be more understandable if, in reality, Dede Magrit was a man since at that time Moslems were reputed to be great warriors and could have been seen as a threat to the Northern Kingdom of Haiti.
  7. There is also the prayer mentioned in a previous post, during which the participants answer: "sala malekum" as each "Nation" is saluted.
  8. Many Lwas do not accept the offering of a pig for sacrifice. That absence might be significant.

    Was Islam a major belief system in Haiti? I don't think so. I am sure that it still can be found in some places but mostly in family traditions. There are remnants of the religion in Morne Rouge but I was told that it was disappearing.

As time passes, it becomes hard to distinguish the origin of certain rituals probably because it is totally negligible to the practice of Vodoun. However, our religion being basically an ancestral religion doesn't forget those who were the precursors of our Independance.

Bebe Pierre Louis


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