Religion is as old as civilization. From time immemorial, man’s self-consciousness enables him to wonder at the mystery of existence. Confronted with marvels, calamities and sufferings, each community was forced to search on their own with available resources for explanation and salvation. Thus, natural religions like Hinduism, Judaism and vodou were born. Those natural religions are fundamentally based on reason and ordinary experience reflecting their particular environment, and their people’s struggles, passion, hope and worldview. Subsequently many other religions based on revelations by God to man such as Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam came into play. The fact remains that whether natural or revealed, all religions, including vodou, answer the same basics questions of existence. Their poetic details and particular dogmas may differ, but in essence, they play the same roles and purposes. Therefore, a perfect world would not have religions hierachisation. Again, why so many religious conflicts?
It is important to note that revealed monotheist religions are by mere nature non-tolerant, aggressive and violent. If one thinks that he holds the ultimate truth, he will do anything in his power to impose it on the name of his supreme God. As a case in point, Christianity and Islam with swords have conquered most of the world by using force and manipulations to destroy thousands local religions. The conquerors, for the most part have always tried to impose their religions and gods on the conquered. The few resilient surviving religions and their adepts were qualified as cult, satanic group, pagan, and infidel. Vodou is a vivid example of this systemic propaganda machine.
In Haiti, under inhuman conditions, the African slaves away from their family and native land have to rely on their ancestral faith and a few imposed Christian elements to bring solace and unity to their grieving souls and broken spirits. This cultural syncretism engendered in them an inner fortitude and an immeasurable sense of inner freedom. Since education and religion are the most efficient accessory weapons to maintain servitude, African slaves upon arrival in the new world were first baptized as Christians to strip them of any sense of self . The slave masters did everything in their power to destroy the African religions. Maybe they knew that the best way to destroy people is to destroy or diabolize their most cherished beliefs. From that premise everything African became bad and everything that is not Christian was qualified as devil. The Europeans fabricated a sad portrait of vodou as a satanic cult. This is in itself is one of the most odious crimes against humanity.
The slaves who run away from the plantations’ hellish conditions to establish on inaccessible mountainous areas were painted as demonic creatures. And Bois-Caiman, a political meeting prior to the first organized slave revolt was depicted as a satanic pact. As the mighty French army was defeated by the rebellious slaves, they link demonic forces to the indigenous victory . Ironically, most our founding fathers with their Europeans sensibilities instead of choosing the vodou as the state religion preferred to continue treating it as diabolical, a colonial mentality. Subsequently, every social defect and ill was connected to vodou. Without the backing of the state, the elite and the intellectuals, vodou as a religion was doomed to progress slowly.
It is important to note that the Catholic Church was considered a cult until Emperor Constantine’s First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD made it the empire religion. Also no one can deny the input of the intellectuals like Apostle Paul and St-Augustine to Christianity after being converted. Without state backing and intellectual elite to theorize its claims, no religion can compete against mainstreams religions and political machinations. Every religion needs intellectuals to write down their dogmas, liturgy, sacred books, and beliefs and defend its theories and practices. In this sense the Christian Church must be grateful toward Anselm and Thomas Aquinas.
Under Geffrard, as Catholicism became the state religion, and European priests were sent to Haiti to evangelize to those African savages, they delivered sermons which were more like referendum against vodou: the same vodou that was already considered in colonial times as revolutionary, anti- European and satanic. Thereafter, many governments have openly persecuted the vodou religion, even though they are serving an invisible and never-seen God like the Christian God. Until Duvalier regime in 1957, Vodou was an underground phenomenon.
Yes, there are many myths in Haitian culture. Whereas the Christian church instead of debunking them, strategically prefer to perpetuate them in order to conquer more souls. Having so many imaginary demonic entities preying upon our existence, feared Haitians were forced to convert to Christianity in search of protection which is religion’s penultimate essence. Money, food, social acceptability and media coverage, the Christian church keep lunching devastating assaults against the poor, unstructured and defenseless Vodou. Even some of the Haitian gospel songs are “ vodouist” to the core : Kod ki mare-m nan, kod ki mare-m… Jeriko miray la kraze, Jeriko miray la kraze…
To add to our injury, the same Europeans with their anti-African predisposition were also in charge of the educational system. A Europeanized, anti- Africanized, anti- vodou educational system, vodou was metamorphosed as one of the most diabolical sect in the universe. In wanting to be true to ourselves, we will admit that many Haitian Christians are in total agreement with Pat Robertson in describing Vodou as a satanic pact.
As we all know, an often- repeated lie becomes the truth. It was not an accident that a 1863 human sacrifice that was committed by a cannibalistic group in Bizoton, Port-Au-Prince was later reported in our primary school textbook as a vodou ritual. The Christian Church and their cohorts wanted to condition the ensuing generations to see vodou as a wicked cult. However, they overlook the millions lost lives during the Inquisition period on the name of the good God.
In light of the recent increase in vodou attacks, as Haitians, we all must understand that we are all vodouisants against our will. It is a social phenomenon that is manifested in our fairy tales, stories, our dance, our music our worldview, vocabulary, our fears, our reactions, instincts and our myths. We may not practice it but it is all around us and a lot of our close family members and friends are great believers. And most of them are decent people who happen to believe and practice vodou. In essence, the Christian Churches in Haiti were designed as a response to antagonize vodou rather than to mirror image its European counterparts. The restavek phenomenon in Haiti, on our humble opinion, is an extra diabolical problem but was never tackled by the Christian Church. They spent most of their time preaching about bad spirits, Lou-Garous, satan than attacking real social problems.
At a time when many people all over the whole world see us as the poorest nation of the western hemisphere with a satanic religion, we must delineate vodou as a religion from sorcery which is another human phenomenon existing in all religions. Vodou adepts like other religious groups are inoffensive beings who are simply asking for a sense of peace, remedy for ills, protection from evils, security for their beloved ones, spiritual rewards, blessings for the whole community, and hope for a brighter future. And the Haitian Christians must understand that by diabolizing the voudou, we are simply tarnishing our own image as a nation. We can not blame religion for acts committed by criminals, charlatans, and sorcerers.
Vodou will not disappear since it is part of the Haitian matrix. All we can do as Haitians is to improve and incorporate other values to it like Apostle Paul, emperor Constantine , and St-Augustine did for Christianism . Like any human institution, vodou must be dynamic and must rely on Haiti dominant classes to reinforce its pillars. We can not keep blaming the masses for its slow progress and some of its outdated concepts. As Haitians, regardless of your religion, you should not participate in smear-campaign against it. The rest of the world see all of us as Haitians first and put all of us in the same satanic vault , as a nation without considering the level of your Christianity. It is suicide for Haitians, irrespective of one’s faith to vilify Vodou. Vodou is a religion like all the other renowned religions. Many things that fell on Vodou are the products of our mental development secondary to our in existing mass education system and our Health care. With education, jobs, hospitals and an improved mental development , we will be more cartesians.
In sum, our objective was neither to convert nor to force anyone to believe in Vodou . It was a scientific approach aiming as recapturing our real image as a people of love and charity. We neither practice nor believe in Islam but we have been conditioned to respect it as a religion. Conversely, why we do not approach vodou the same way ? We simply wanted to bring to awareness that Vodou as a cultural and religious phenomenon must be respected as such. It is a religion like all the others that champions love and charity. The social ills and particularly sorcery have nothing to do with the religion. And if you have the privilege of knowing some vodou adepts, you will find yourself in sympathy with their instincts of rebellion against injustices and wickedness. To paraphrase Bishop Tutu: the same people who came with a sword in one hand, and a bible in the other hand to enslave us are the same people who came back to qualify the religion that freed us from slavery as a satanic cult. And many of us have believed them and fell into their trap. Such an irony! Haitian Christians, feel free to practice your particular Christian religion that bring you inner peace and fortitude without diabolizing your neighbors’ religion. Your religion should be an end in itself , not a means to denigrate another religion. By doing so, we become anti-religious, auto-destructive suicidal , intolerant, selfish and violent.