[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

7345: Dialog between Vodou and Christianity in Haiti and in the USA (fwd)

From: Racine125@aol.com

The recent threads on scholars and Vodou have had me mulling for a while!  I loved Professor Harris'
post on the topic, and as I reflected on it I realized that there is a fundamental difference in the way that
American and Haitian academicians, *generally* speaking, have approached Vodou.

The older studies were almost always done by Francophone Haitians - "ethnologues",
"anthropologues", and so on.  These individuals came from the minority social class that was most
unlikely to avow membership in a Vodou congregation.  They studied from a distance, at least
ostensibly, and were not usually "participant observers".

American academics in my experience (and I say this sort of tongue-in-cheek because of course I am
also a university trained "Master of Science") come to Haiti with much more willingness to experience
the setting of Vodou as much as the activities of a peristyle, and with much more willingness to
participate in those activities.  Witness the number of American researchers who are proudly kanzo! 
Then compare this to the number of initiates among the old guard.

Now, I am not suggesting that either approach is any better than the other.  Detached observation has
it's value, as does the accelerated acculturation provided by participant observation.  What is important
to me is the context of the observation.  By this I mean the assumptions on which the observer will base
his or her conclusions, and the ends to which they will be used.

I want to caution against a tendency to try to "legitimize" Vodou.  Vodou is already "legitimate", it is a
religion with millions of adherents, and attempts to "legitimize" it merely support the notion that
something is illegitimate about Vodou, and that it is the duty of Vodouisants to explain ourselves
placatingly to a judgemental greater society.

For example, and I am not picking on Ruckles, I love him, here is a sentence framed in the context I am
talking about:

"One thing I emphasize to people here in the States is that Vodou is a real religion, one which Christians
should dialogue with, just as we dialogue with Islam and Judaism."

Here is Krista White's version of the same sentiment:

"Unfortunately, there's going to be a long haul before Vodou is likely to be accepted into a dialogue
with Christianity..."

It doesn't matter if Vodou is "accepted into a dialog with Christianity"!  This language pre-supposes
that Vodouisants live in envy of such a dialog, and that it is in the power or Christianity to grant or
withhold "acceptibility" to Vodou!  Not so - Christianity is a religion and so is Vodou, neither one is in
a position to grant "acceptibility" to the other.

Now let me rewrite the first sentence:

"One thing I emphasize to other Vodouisants like myself here in Beluthahatchee-
MeNoSenYouNoCome is that Christianity is a real religion, not just a collection of superstition
revolving around ceremonial cannibalism and vampirism of a man who died several thousand years ago. 
Just as we dialog with the Makaya Bokors, we should dialog with the Christians, no matter how strange
we privately feel that they are."

Vodou is the majority religion of Haiti..  Vodou is the majority religion of Haiti.  Vodou is the majority
religion of Haiti.  I feel like I would go on!  There is no stigma attached to Vodou per se among the vast
majority of Haitians, to the contrary Vodou is respected and supported, and people who are kanzo at
whatever grade are considered fortunate.  Any stigma exists in the minds of the outside researchers,
who have been told over and over, "Vodou is stigmatized".  It's a remarkable phenomenon!

In Haiti the dialog between Vodou and Christianity is largely one-way, and consists of Protestants
railing at us that we are "in condemnation" and will surely go directly to Hell upon our demises. 
Vodouisants do not make Protestantism the topic of harangues in our peristyle, but Protestant pastors
use Vodou as fodder for their rants almost weekly!  Interestingly, Protestants generally refuse to use the
honorifics "Houngan" and "Mambo", and instead characterize our clergy as "bokor" or "loup garou".

Between Catholicism and Vodou things are calmer, but not much better in any other way.  There has
never been a serious attempt at reconciliation since the "rejecteur" campaigns back in the days when
we were called the "slaves of Satan"!  Until present I don't believe a major Christian religious organ,
Catholic or Protestant, has attempted to invite respectful dialog with any noted Houngans or Mambos,
much less simply agree to a climate of respect for the Haitian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of
religion for all Haitians.

I am not sure exactly how the American clergy will view Vodou and it's priests and priestesses, once
Vodou becomes visible enough in the USA.  I am looking forward to watching Episcopal bishops
wrestle with their commitment to socially progressive action when they are asked to help fund public-
health programs which take advantage of the function of peristyles as social centers.  I suppose that
really fundamentalist Protestant sects will probably continue to blast us into everlasting fire and
brimstone, but who knows, maybe the American Jews will take us, there are a lot of Jews in Santeria
and I have initiated my share in Vodou!

I'm joking, and my point of course is that it matters not a jot to Vodouisants if Christians find us
legitimate or not.  I don't give a toot, and I'm not joking about that.  Vodouisants are much more
conscious these days, and no "rejecteur" campaign is ever going to happen again.  If we are
discriminated against illegally we will fight back!  I really do not care what Christians think of us, I only
care what they do to us. 

Our congregations are in poverty!  More than three quarters of our people do not get enough to eat. 
The men of my peristyle are unemployed or underemployed, the women are employed in grinding
drudgery or penny marketing, they are of course uninsured for health care, and so on.  THAT is what I
care about, not whether Christians consider our religion legitimate!

This past week I have had one hounsi kanzo gravely ill, one associate priest with typho-malaria and his
wife likewise, a close friend with a foot injury sustained while cultivating.  As head of household I am
supposed to help with medical care, and feed dependent children of my sick members for a day or two,
and so on.  In the meanwhile, I am not expecting any NGO or maybe USAID to come galloping in with
funding for me in particular or Vodouisants in general - remember when Jesse Helms, that evil soul,
threatened to shut down USAID, and why?  Because they were funding Planned Parenthood organ
PROFAMIL's work using songs about reproductive health issues that were culturally appropriate for
majority class Haitian women.  "Tantamount to supporting witchcraft", were his exact words, I believe.

It's incredible the total lack of social services available to Vodouisants in Haiti.  There is no parallel to
the "Adventist Hospital" or the "Ecole Meres" or whatever, we do not run our own schools or clinics,
and THAT is what I care about, not whether the worthy "Meres" will ever smile at me!

Professor Patti K. Harris took her students on a quantum leap to higher knowledge indeed, when she
involved them in development activities in Vodouisant communities.  The next quantum leap will be to
assist those communities to obtain alternative funding for Vodouisant-run schools and hospitals, and for
public assistance programs centered in peristyles.  As we develop our own social structures, that
mystical magical "stigma" will fade away in the minds of those who imagined it in the first place.

Peace and love,

Bon Mambo Racine Sans Bout Sa Te La Daginen

"Se bon ki ra" - Good is rare
Haitian Proverb

The VODOU Page - http://members.aol.com/racine125/index.html

(Posting from Jacmel, Haiti)