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Vodou

Vodou

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Based primarily on an amalgamation of spirit and ancestor cults and healing traditions brought by African slaves to the New World, and secondarily on African and European forms of folk Catholicism, Vodou (Voodoo) is the most popular religion among Haitis eight million citizens, most of whom are peasants. It is also practiced by a sizable minority of the two million Haitian immigrants (and a small number of converts of diverse ethnic backgrounds) in the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, and North American cities like Miami, New York, and Montreal. The first Vodou practitioners in the United States were the African and Creole slaves of French plantation owners fleeing the violence of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), who settled mainly in New Orleans, where the religion remains part of the citys religious fabric, sometimes practiced in concert with Hoodoo, a form of African American folk spirituality that is also based on ancient African traditions. Like any religion, Vodou is a system of symbols, beliefs, and practices that provides its adherents, whether in Haitian or American society, with a sense of meaning and purpose in life, a means of communing with the sacred, moral guidelines, a source of personal identity and group solidarity, and the courage to face lifes struggles.

Vodou emerged in the sixteenth century among enslaved Africans and their descendants in the western region of the Spanish Caribbean colony of Santo Domingo, which became the French colony of Saint-Domingue in 1697 and eventually the Republic of Haiti in 1804. Although possessing deep roots in West Africa and Central Africa, the religion is more correctly identified as African-derived or African-based rather than African, even if the term vodou (whose original meaning in the West African Fon language is spiritual entity) was reappropriated by practitioners of traditional African religions in West Africa in the twentieth century to designate their own religion. Like Santería and other major African-derived religions in the Americas, Vodou is an example of diffused monotheism, meaning that the sacred power of a single creator god, called Bondye (Good God) or Granmèt (Great Master), is diffused through a pantheon of divinities, which in Vodou are called lwa, and throughout nature. As such, the lwa are deeply enmeshed in nature, and each lwa is associated with some natural force or feature, like rivers, rainbows, the earth, and the sea.

From the beginning of the sixteenth century to the end of the eighteenth century, a total of some 800,000 enslaved Africans were brought to Santo Domingo/Saint-Domingue, the majority from the West African Fon and Central African Kongo ethnic groups. Numbering relatively few and facing opposition by slaveholders, Catholic missionaries managed little success in evangelizing slaves beyond administering the legally required sacrament of baptism. The syncretism that would thereafter characterize Vodou thus resulted, as Catholic saints merged with African spirits, and crosses, holy water, and rosaries joined spiritual forces with amulets that slaves refashioned from African traditions, which proved remarkably resilient in the face of the unspeakable oppression of slavery.

Prior to the Haitian Revolution, a multiplicity of African religious traditions thus persevered in Saint-Domingue, whose sugar plantations made it Europes most lucrative colony. To speak of Vodou prior to the revolution is therefore somewhat anachronistic, as three of the religions cornerstones were not laid until the second half of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century: (1) the unity of purpose of the Haitian Revolution, as exemplified by the powerful ceremony at Bwa Kayman in August 1791, led by a prototypical Vodou priest named Boukman Dutty, which is widely credited with having sparked the revolution; (2) the integration of essential African religious traditions that were being practiced during the colonial era in clandestine maroon settlements of escaped slaves in the islands mountains and forests; and (3) the acceleration of the adoption of Catholic elements (especially hagiography) during the period of the great schism between Haiti and Rome from 1804 to 1860, when the Vatican refused to send Catholic priests to the young nation. After the schism, the Catholic Church, in alliance with the Haitian government, orchestrated several formal campaigns to suppress Vodou. These ultimately failed, however, and today the religion enjoys protection under the 1987 Haitian constitution, while in 2003 its baptisms and marriages gained legal recognition in Haiti.

Vodou has always been heterogeneous and decidedly uncentralized, relying on neither the teachings of a founder, nor scripture, nor formal doctrine. In some parts of Haiti, for example, the religion is primarily characterized by ancestor veneration, and elsewhere by cults of spirits of West African origins, such as Ezili, the female lwa of love, sensuality, and feminine power, and Ogou, the male lwa of iron and all powers associated with metals. The Vodou pantheon is divided into two principle rites: the rada, whose lwa are cool and serene; and the petwo, whose lwa are hot and feisty. Many lwa have manifestations in each rite. Rada and petwo cults are supplemented for most practitioners by the veneration of their ancestors (zanset or lemò, the dead). Collectively, the lwa, zanset, and lemò, along with angels and Catholic saints, are identified simply as the mysteries (mistè ).

Principal forms of communication and contact with Vodous mistè include prayer, praise, ablutions, offerings, spirit possession, drum and dance ceremonies, divination, and animal sacrifice. These rituals overarching aim is to ensure, establish, or reestablish harmony between practitioners and the mistè, or to protect practitioners from sorcery (wanga ). In the event of bad things happening, Vodouists consult with ritual specialists (female: manbo ; male: oungan ), who perform divination and orchestrate ceremonies (which most often take place either in temples (ounfò ), family burial compounds, or public cemeteries) to provoke spirit possession and thereby enter into communication with the mistè in order to discover the cause of the underlying discord, disease, problem, or misfortune, and to determine and prescribe means of reestablishing harmony, healing, or achieving relevant solutions. Further drum ceremonies may be prescribed, while others are held according to a liturgical calendar derived from Catholicism.

Harmony between humans and the mistè and healing comprise Vodous raison dêtre. In general, such harmony requires the ritual appeasement of the mistè, whether through splendidly artistic communal drum and dance ceremonies, animal sacrifice, or more frequent personal devotions such as praising and feeding the lwa. Healing, meanwhile, often involves herbalism and ritual baths. Leaves, water, song, dance, drums, blood, healing, and communion with the sacred are thus what Vodou is truly about. It is a dignified and complex religion of survival, resistance, and African roots that is quite the opposite of the ignorant and racist stereotypes that malign Vodou in Western imagination and media.

SEE ALSO Haitian Revolution; Peasantry; Religion; Rituals; Roman Catholic Church; Santería; Slavery; Zombies

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Desmangles, Leslie G. 1992. The Faces of the Gods: Vodou and Roman Catholicism in Haiti. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Hurbon, Laënnec. 1995. Voodoo: Search for the Spirit. Trans. Lory Frankel. New York: Abrams.

Hurston, Zora Neale. 1995. Folklore, Memoirs, and Other Writings. New York: Library of America.

Métraux, Alfred. [1959] 1972. Voodoo in Haiti. Trans. Hugo Charteris. New York: Schoken.

Terry Rey

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Voodoo

Voodoo

Voodoo is an animist religion that consecrates a cult to Loas (gods) and to the ancestorsthe cult of ancestors constitutes a system of religious beliefs and rites which are used principally to reinforce the social system as well as the dependence of the familyand at the same time, voodoo spirits, guardians, deities, or forces of nature. Voodoo originated in Africa, specifically with the Fon, Yoruba, and Ewe tribes. Geographically, those ethnic groups can be found throughout Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria. More than a religion or a cult of death, voodoo plays a major role in everyday life through the symbolization of the African traditions for the Haitian people. Voodoo is far from a uniform worship, but evolved differently from one region to the next.

Voodoo is more than a synthesis of different African beliefs because it incorporates significant influences from Christianity. The word voodoo comes from the Fon language, spoken in Benin, meaning "a kind of power which is mysterious and, at the same time, fearsome." Voodoo is invested in all parts of Haitian life and has a considerable influence on each person and on each natural element. The voodoo pantheon consists of many Loas, which are generally associated with a Catholic saint. Despite the existence of these Loas, voodoo is essentially monotheist; in their conception, the Loas are neither more or less than the intermediaries between God and the human ones.

The cult of voodoo appeared in the New World with the African slave trade, which began in Haiti during the 1700s. The slaves brought with them these African traditions. There are also some variations of this cult in Brasilia and in Islands of Antigua. Voodoo involves a mix of different ethnic beliefs and it rapidly became an important element of cultural cohesion for the slaves, who came from different cultures and used different languages.

According to the tradition of voodoo, humans enter into communication with the Loas in a very ritualized manner. The Loas are capricious and they will only be of help if one comes into contact with them correctly through the elaboration of different rituals (according to the Loas one wishes to contact). The voodoo service takes place in the oúfo (voodoo temple) and this ritual must be officiated by a hougan (priest) or a mambo (priestess). Voodoo adherents attribute illnesses and deaths to the wrath of angry ancestorshence, the considerable importance given to the ritual and appeasement ceremony. The voodoo ceremony embraces several elements, including music, dance, food offering, drumming, and animal sacrifices.

The ritual Rada, which is used in the initiation rite, involves the "Good Loas" who have come from Africa, and who represent the lost mystic world. Inside the voodoo ceremony, the Rada Loas are the first to be served; they represent the guardians of custom and tradition. The Rada Loas play an important function through the different healing processes and their principal characteristic is the fact that all of their actions are directed toward good. In opposition, the ritual Petro involves "Bad Loas," which originated in Haiti. The Petro Loas are considered to be the masters of magic. They embody a kind of relentless force. As the ethnologist Alfred Métraux describes, "the word Petro inescapably conjures up visions of implacable force of roughness and even ferocity" (1972).

The Rada and Petro rituals use both defensive and offensive magic, and can help to obtain justice for someone who has been wronged. The ritual of possession, which appears in the Petro ritual, constitutes the most important way to connect the spirits or ancestors with human beings. A possession crisis appears when the voodoo practitioner is in a situation of marriage with a Loa and becomes his "horse." The possessed person suffers from amnesia, which is explained by the fact that no one can be at the same time god and human. This possession crisis generally appears in a ceremony called Manger-Loa and constitutes the major happening in the voodoo ceremony.

The voodoo conceptualization of the world involves the belief in continuity between life and death. In voodoo, death is perceived as a regeneration of all society if the various death rituals and the burial services are well executed. Also, considerable importance is attributed to dead persons and the regular maintenance of the tomb. Thus the cult of voodoo succeeds in attaining a reconciliation between the world of the alive and the world of the dead.

See also: Zombies

Bibliography

Davis, Wade. The Serpent and the Rainbow. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985.

Derem, Maya. Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti. 1953. Reprint, New Paltz, NY: McPherson, 1983.

Métraux, Alfred. Voodoo in Haiti. New York: Schrocken, 1972.

GENEVIÈVE GARNEAU

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voodoo

voodoo (vōō´dōō) [from the god Vodun], native W African religious beliefs and practices that also has adherents in the New World. Voodoo believers are most numerous in Haiti, where voodoo was granted official religious status in 2003, and in Benin, where the religion has had official recognition since 1996. Similar observances are found in Jamaica, under the name pocomania, and in parts of the United States and in the Guianas. A highly developed voodooistic religion known as candomblé is found in Brazil.

Although the magical aspects of voodoo are related to beliefs and practices found throughout the world, the basic features of voodoo were brought by slaves from W Africa, particularly those from what is now Benin, where the beliefs are still widespread (as many as 60% of the people of Benin practice voodoo). Voodoo contends that all of nature is controlled by spiritual forces which must be acknowledged and honored through offerings and animal sacrifice; ecstatic trances (a means of communicating with the gods and spirits) and magical practices play an important role in its ritual. In the New World, Christian elements were introduced, and the African deities became identified with various saints. At various time attempts have been made to suppress voodoo, but voodoo survived and continues to flourish.

See also magic; Santería; zombi.

See A. Métraux, Voodoo in Haiti (tr. 1959); F. Huxley, The Invisibles (1966).

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Vodou

Vodou, vodum, vodun, voodoo, or voudou (Fon, in Benin, vodu, ‘deity’ or ‘spirit’). The name given to the folk religion of Haiti, developing since the 18th cent. among the rural and urban poor, but despised by the other classes until intellectuals began to defend it in the 1930s as the Haitian national religion. French Roman Catholic elements are synthesized with African religious and magical elements derived from slaves of Dahomean origin. In 1996, the African origins of Vodou were reaffirmed when the ban on Vodou was lifted in Benin, and its validity as an indigenous religion was recognized. The effective divinities are the capricious loa, representing ancestors, African deities, or Catholic saints. They communicate through dreams or descend during the cult ritual and ‘ride’ their devotees while in a trance state; to encourage this, the loa's own symbolic patterns (veves) are laid out in flour on the ground. For the first half of this century the RC Church launched ineffective anti-vodou campaigns, aided in 1941 by the government forces destroying vodou temples. After 1957, the ruling Duvalier family courted vodou for political reasons

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voodoo

voo·doo / ˈvoōˌdoō/ • n. a black religious cult practiced in the Caribbean and the southern U.S., combining elements of Roman Catholic ritual with traditional African magical and religious rites, and characterized by sorcery and spirit possession. ∎  a person skilled in such practice. • v. (-doos, -dooed) [tr.] affect (someone) by the practice of such witchcraft. DERIVATIVES: voo·doo·ism / -ˌizəm/ n.voo·doo·ist / -ist/ n.

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voodoo

voodoo Religious belief of African origin. It is prevalent in parts of Africa, but is better known as the national religion of Haiti. Adherents believe in the reincarnate qualities of Loa, which include deified ancestors, local gods and Roman Catholic saints. Loa possesses the believers during dreams or ceremonies, which include dancing and hypnotic trances.

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voodoo

voodoo a black religious cult practised in the Caribbean and the southern US, combining elements of Roman Catholic ritual with traditional African magical and religious rites, and characterized by sorcery and spirit possession. The word comes (in the early 19th century) from Louisiana French, from Kwa vodũ.

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voodoo

voodoo use of or belief in sorcery, etc. current among W. Indies and U.S. Negroes and creoles. XIX. — Dahomey vodu.

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voodoo

voodoosadhu, Tamil Nadu •hairdo • Pompidou • fondue •hoodoo, kudu, voodoo •Urdu • amadou • Xanadu

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