The Solace of Vodou for Haitian-Americans

After the 2010 Haitian earthquake there was quite a bit of attention on the religion of Vodou, though largely that attention was not positive. Immediately after the quake there were triumphalist smears from figures like Pat Robertson, and allegations that it was Vodou that held Haitians back from progress. While there were emerging “Vodou voices” rising up in defense of the religion, most notably Max Beauvoir, but more often than not the centrality of Vodou to many Haitians was often ignored. So it is a breath of fresh air to read Silvana Ordonez’s piece on Vodou among Florida’s Haitian-American community for the Miami Herald, talking about how the faith brought solace and re-connection after tragedy struck.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPj0Lmp-UNg

“A Voodoo ceremony makes you feel as light as a feather,” explained [Mambo Ingrid] Llera. “That’s where we go for therapy. We don’t go to the doctor, we go to Voodoo.” In ritual ceremonies, which typically last from several hours to several days, Voodoo practitioners pray, sing and dance to the rhythm of drums. “A wonderful combination to get connected with the unknown world, which is the spiritual world,” she added. “That’s where we release it all and find strength.” Since the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, more Haitians in South Florida have reconnected with Voodoo, according to local practitioners. “They have no choice, but to go back to their roots. It is registered in their DNA, this is who they are, this is where they feel more comfortable, this is where they can forget things,” said Llera. Llera has also witnessed a interesting phenomenon: a wave of young Haitian-Americans joining the religion of their ancestors.”

There’s been a quiet trend of Haitian-Americans re-embracing Vodou for years now, but its been only sporadically covered by journalists. These younger converts seem more willing to speak out about their faith, and a show willingness to fight popular misconceptions.

“Gone, for most, is the shame that used to be associated with the stigmatized religion. Unlike some of their parents who practiced Vodou in secrecy, the newcomers to the religion invite friends to Vodou ceremonies, have altars in their homes and work to shatter the stereotypes.”

While still small, there seems to be a growing number of Haitian Vodou practitioners who are raising their public profiles. For instance, last year saw the production of a Canadian documentary entitled “Real Voodoo” which looks at the effects of anti-Vodou rhetoric in Haiti, and interviews Haitian-Canadian practitioners like La Belle Deesse.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBkHouCTt3o

“Based on the people seen in this film, those who practice voodoo seem to be more likeable, more  relaxed, happier in their lives and more open-minded toward others and their beliefs, than the people who rail against it.”

Haitian Vodou in its homeland faces immense challenges, from anti-Vodou violence, to aggressive proselytism by Christian groups receiving federal funding from our government. At the same time, Vodou tourism is held up as a potential economic goldmine for a Haiti that wants to rebuild itself. Lost in this push-pull is the lives of Vodouisants worldwide, and how their faith nourishes and sustains them. As the Haitian diaspora grows, and Haitian Vodou becomes a point of pride within those communities, we could see a new paradigm for this faith, how it is received by non-initiates, and how these practitioners interact with their motherland. It is far too easy to lose sight of how Vodou serves its adherents in the lofty geopolitical and cultural discussions about Haiti and its future, forgetting that Vodou is a source of solace and enrichment. Silvana Ordonez’s article is a welcome corrective to that trend.

About Jason Pitzl-Waters
  • http://www.facebook.com/EdAHubbard Ed Hubbard

    This is a excellent article, and I am always praying that we can set up a permanent mission to allow better interaction in our community. I know it is a pipedream, but I love big dreams.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    An excellent article and an excellent write-up by Jason! Not only is this a much needed corrective as far as Vodou goes, but it is also a very welcome corrective concerning the beneficial role in general of religious beliefs, ritual, and prayer in helping us to deal with death and loss. Too often these aspects of religion are denigrated (even by some Pagans) as only appropriate for the simple-minded or those who are emotionally “weak”.

  • Kilmrnock

    I fully agree with what jason has said here . As an American Pagan i fully support our Voudon brothers and sisters right to practice their beliefs as they see fit . Unfortunatly they are the most recent target of the Evangelical missionaries . The taped short comments by a few of these missionaries are truely disgusting, and unfortunatly familiar to us pagans .Tis the same type of crap they accuse us of doing, just recycled and aimed at another victum.The pagan community needs to support these people , help where we can .We have heard and been victums of the same nonsence way to long ourselves , to idly stand by and watch others be victimised .In the history of the Celts all thru the not to distant past , the pagan ways in our native homelands where the targets of Christian missionaries , not to even mention what they did to the Native Americans , not that long ago. this kind of stuff needs to be stopped. Kilm

  • Peter Duybing

    Your understanding of the pervasive influence of Vodou on Haitians is right on the money. It is well known in Haiti that some Haitians are Christians and but all Haitians believe in Vodou.

  • Obsidia

    The “Real Voodoo” film is interesting. I have talked with many Vodou practitioners during the past 2 years and what strikes me is how similar they are to we Pagans! We all have our love for the land and the elements in our blood. We also connect with our Ancestors and carry the creativity of the Spirit. Their culture is so vibrant and much of the Vodou music and art shows a depth of soul and love of life. We are enriched by this religious tradition! May our interaction be fruitful and may we support each other in positive ways, for the good of all, according to free will.

    Here’s a podcast with Madame Evonne Auguste. This was done before the earthquake. I’ve been trying to find her…haven’t had any luck so far. Anybody know if she is still around?

    http://www.blacklooks.org/podcast/


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