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#2770: On Vodou's role: Antoine replies to Bebe Pierre-Louis (fwd)

From: Guy Antoine <GuyAntoine@windowsonhaiti.com>

You (Bebe Pierre-Louis) said in response to my previous post:
"I feel that you are pervaded by many preconceived ideas and you
would like to see them rebutted in a manner acceptable to you, to
better defend yourself in a very intolerant society."

"Well, perhaps you are feeling a tad too much.  Preconceived ideas, we
all have them, and I welcome your willingness to debate them in honesty
devoid of sarcasm.  But generally, I feel that there is a connection
somewhere between religiosity and superstitions, and I do not claim that
superstitions are solely the attribute of Vodou.  At least on that score, I
know better. However, the question that I would like you to explore is
exactly how much do ignorant superstitions feed into Vodou, and what
role does Vodou play to either a) cultivate them (fear is conducive to
religion... you'd better believe it !); b) to defend itself against in an
to maintain the authenticity of its teachings and brand of spirituality.

Though I am not a Vodouisant, I have learned much about the beauty
inherent in Vodou.  A modest reference is an article that was published
on my site, at http://windowsonhaiti.com/w98501.htm , entitled "Wisdom
and Beauty in Vodou".  But I would be nothing short of hypocritical if I did
not acknowledge that there are certain aspects of Haitians' spirituality
that I find deeply troubling, such as the attribution of every personal
misfortune to a spiritual cause.  More than that, I also believe that this
counterproductive to our human development.  I can categorically say
this without any "supposed" preconceived idea about Vodou.

For balance with respect to the latter, I would just say that while for some
Christianity is a way of life based on love of God and "Thy Neighbor", for
many others it is based principally on fear of one's fate in the afterlife.
In other words, the fear of Hell is something that preachers have mightily
capitalized upon to keep people in check, and often to keep the donations
coming.  They cherish the idea of God as a mighty "Papa Doc", who is
rather unforgiving of human frailty (lack of loyalty) and condemning his
sons/daughters to His Fort-Dimanche (where one has no hope of ever
getting out)...  The story related by Kathy Grey with respect to the
of "Bois-Caiman" (Bwa Kayiman) is one of the worst examples of
imperialism masquerading itself as  righteousness that I have heard of in
a while.  Where I differ with Kathy is in her presumption (?) that most if
all Christian clergy in Haiti is guilty of the same behavior.

And what about a Saint for every conceivable ill or need?  I know about
this...  How similar or dissimilar is this to the practice of Lwas in Vodou?
And what about the very similar pattern of world apparitions of the Virgin
Mary and Lasirenn or Erzili?  Do I see a common thread here?

Please don't worry about my preconceived ideas.  I have them simply
because I am human.  I welcome all efforts leading to enlightenment.
You are talking to a skeptic, not someone with an agenda.

You said:
"how many so ignorant mothers do you personally know to have killed
their babies by crushing cockroaches in their milk?"

Good point, and I'll readily concede it to you.
Personally, I only know of ONE SUCH CASE, and cannot even attribute
for sure any mortality to this practice.  People I have talked to in Haiti
have even explained that this practice might even strengthen the children's
immune system (if they survive it).  As they say "mikwob pa touye Ayisyen"
(bacteria do not kill Haitians).  But I was led to believe that the practice
was widespread.  I have not conducted my own research in that regard.
So I may well be wrong about this!  Furthermore, it does appear that I
have attributed that causality of death, without forensic evidence.  For
this  I plead guilty.  But this is due more to my aversion to roaches
(those hellish disgusting flying creatures) than to preconceived ideas
about Vodou, believe me.

You said:
"I, sincerely, think that most babies who die in their infancy, die of
dysentery, from undrinkable water in places where there is no drinkable

I believe that you are right...  100%.

You said:
"On that subject, it may be news to you but you should know that until the
missionaries invaded the country and started explaining to their disciples
that Lwas didn't exist, there was clean water holes, springs, etc.  They
were sacred places for spirits such as Agaou, Simbi and others...  Today
it's a different story, those places are
quite polluted. I prefer the time when they were respected and we didn't
have those terrible health problems."

That sounds like quite an indictment of the missionaries.  What year was it
(or thereabout) when this so-called invasion of the missionaries happen,
and what is the historical record of that environmental degradation?  I
understand of course that this is only circumstancial evidence.  But as
such, can you make a strong rational claim to it?  I am interested in this
line of argumentation...

You said:
"I have heard a doctor in Haiti blaming a Hougan for treating burns by
covering it with spider web and sending them to bath at Source puante...
Can the Haitian people be blamed for doing with what nature offers them?"

No, Haitian people cannot be blamed for doing with what nature makes
available to them.  I hope you haven't concluded that I was blaming them
for this.  It is my strong belief that the natural and herbal medecine
in Haiti (and elsewhere) has much to offer to the modern world.  In fact,
you are quite right to point out that in many cases when modern medicine
fails, it advantageously goes back to its roots. But not every natural
prescription is necessarily good for you.  Not EVERY bitter plant is
necessarily good for "sugar" (diabetes).  And the world will have a hard
time convincing me that cockroaches are good for anything (other than
our free-range chickens).  But listen,  I will let you in on a secret :  I
really have any disposition to counter your argumentation with respect to
empirical medicine and generational wisdom.  If you suspect otherwise,
you may have simply misunderstood me.

You  said:
"Now, do you sincerely think that Vodoun who never gets a penny from
anyone should start schools? What about the Government who spends
billions of US $ in the name of the Haitian people (see our national debt)?
Don't shift the responsibilities, please."

Well, about your claim that Vodoun NEVER GETS A PENNY from anyone,
I am very skeptical.  But I am not armed enough to refute your claim, so I
will let it stand.  Pehaps others will challenge it.  As far as starting
that's not what I was saying either, if by schools you mean buildings where
one goes to learn.  I was talking about a basic education about health and
hygiene (including sexual behavior) that Vodou clergy could well promote
(if they are not doing so already), and do it on a large scale.  You are
me not to shift the responsibilities of State and Clergy.  But until we have
firmly established a tradition of state responsibility and accountability in
Haiti (which could take a very long time), should we simply throw in the
towel and say "that ain't our problem, it's that of the state".  Who
suffers from this waiting game?  I value your idea of a responsible state,
but until we get there, we need all the help we can get... from all
religious or secular.

You say:
"Don't count on me to educate the Vodouists that their religion is nothing
but agglomerated superstitions. Vodoun is our history, culture and religion
and, personally, I don't see much else to be proud of."

That Vodou is nothing but agglomorated superstitions was not my contention.
Why aren't you addressing the issues that I raised (such as the harm caused
to Haitians by our superstitious penchant, and how this is either nurtured
our religious inclination or distinct from it) instead of making statements
as the above that aim to distort what I have actually said.

You say:
"I recommend you to read  www.Vodou.org, the article "Of Herbs and
Energies", it might help in changing some of your presupposed ideas."

Thanks, I'll check the reference.  But I believe that you have a lot of
"presupposed" ideas about my "presupposed ideas".  Let's learn to listen to
each other better.

With respect.

Guy S. Antoine
Look thru & Imagine!