Lately Vodou – a conglomeration of African beliefs and rites combined with some catholic practices – seems to be under attack in Haiti. It is one of the most tolerant and non-violent religions in the world. Vodou’s devotees are mostly 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.
Sociologists and anthropologists are inclined to define religion as an abstract set of ideas, values, or experiences developed as part of a cultural matrix. From immemorial time, man’s self-consciousness enables him to wonder at the mystery of existence and allows him to rationalize to the best of his ability. In a hostile environment in which accidents, marvels, and calamities reduce him to a defenseless creature, man was forced to use his imagination for explanations. His fears and curiosity obliged him to overlook mundane things in order to unconditionally surrender before the infinite.
Under favoring circumstances, man traced his beatitude to a deity or god. However, when hit by natural cataclysms or sufferings, he is inclined to blame malignant demons or God’s anger. Thus, the local coloring, and poetic details may differ but we can safely say that all the religions including vodou, are one, in essence.
With swords, bullets and conquests, the major religions such as Islam and Christianity annihilate millions of local religions. The few surviving ones were subsequently called cult, black magic, sorcery, paganism and superstition. The conqueror has always imposed his religion and his god on the conquered.
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.
As we all know: “one’s religion is someone else superstition”. Hollywood and the Christian Church usually link Vodou to vampires, human sacrifices, and devil worship. Meanwhile, Vodou is one of the most pacifist religions. The Haitian voodoo was never involved in any crusade, jihad, and inquisition. Instead, many times in history, vodou adepts were victimized by Christian believers. Yes, there are animals’ sacrifices in Voodoo. But most of the ancient religions, including Judaism have some form of animals’ sacrifices.
Voodoo like Christianity and Judaism believes in one God, a very abstract and omnipotent Force. Then, there are a multitude of deities called Lwa , like the Catholic saints who act as intermediaries between humans and God. Those spirits are believed to rule over the worldly matters such as family, love, happiness, justice, health, wealth, work, and harvest etc.
One of the least celebrated facts about vodou is that more than 60% of all Vodou activities are about healing. Healers use herbs, with the help of Lwas. Besides the healing aspect, if we must take into consideration voodoo’ social utility, its psycho-therapeutic benefits and its roles in music and painting, we can deduce that Vodou is a way of life, a moving spirit which manifests itself in everything.
And the renowned Swiss Anthropologist Alfred Métraux in his book Vodou in Haiti sums it up more elegantly: “Voodoo gives its adepts an escape from a reality which is often sordid. Within the framework of a Western-type civilization, it is a many-sided institution suited to various uses- but an institution, above all, in which a man can participate with his whole being”.(pp 365) . The religion in its totality is a religion of love, and charity.
Ironically, the world prefers to accentuate on a few isolated incidents committed by certain individuals and charlatans to demonize it. We can not incriminate any religion for crimes that are committed by wicked individuals who happen to be Christian, Muslim and vodouist.
Haiti current economical situation predisposes many foreigners to view vodou as fatalistic. They also fail to mention that all religions have some fatalistic elements and religion was not originally cut to deal with material things. The spiritual, the mythical the unseen and the mysticism are its province. And Dr Paul Brunel was on point when he stated that :”Irrespective of one faith or religion, human being is capable of sublime and destructive acts”.
Also, certain with a lot of European sensibilities blame Voodoo for being backward. They fail to understand that all the religions, including Christianity, have some outdated details that do not align with modern science. The mental development is the result of keeping almost half of the population illiterate.
For more than 200 years, members of the elite are the ones who have been traveling and studying in the greatest learning centers throughout the globe. Ironically, with their knowledge ,monetary and political might ,they never take an active role into providing structures , schools, infrastructures, jobs, and greater opportunities to the uneducated masses.
In Sum, Voodoo is sometimes seen as a satanic cult. The western world wickedly associates it with devil worship. However, as a religion, Voodoo is simply poised to deal with the universe’ spiritual forces and enables its devotees to keep a perfect harmony with himself, with others, and the spirits that affect his life. It encourages its believers to a clearer understanding of life’s natural processes and the spiritual universe. If Religion were to be something of the heart, unaffected by dogmas, prejudice and racism, we all would harmoniously and unconditionally live by the Koran’s precept: “Our God and your God are one and we submit to Him.” (Surat al-‘Ankabut; 29:46)