(guest post by Inspire Haiti* Board Member, Mitchelle Pierre)
“Voudou” (Voodoo) … a rich and complex paradigm.
As a child, raised in a Haitian household, my parents – devoted Catholics – shared with me many stories about their lives while growing up in Haiti. Every time I complained about doing chores, my mother reminded me that she had to pick coffee in the blistering heat. Also, my “grandmere” (grandmother) traveled miles weekly by horse across the mountains to sell merchandise in order to provide money to feed my mother, her seven siblings and other extended family members. As I grew older and began to inquire about “Voudou” (Voodoo), the stories now included living-dead zombie tales and witness accounts of “danse loi” (folkloric dance ceremony to honor Voodoo spirits).
Throughout my childhood, I enjoyed listing to the music of Boukman Eksperyans, a band from Haiti with international prominence and Grammy-nominated debut album. However, it was not until I became an adult that I learned that this fusion of Haitian and Caribbean rhythms with rock and reggae was “Voudou” (Voodoo) ceremonial music.
As a parent of hybrid children – Haitian-American (me) and African-American (my husband) – it is important to me that I attempt to keep Haitian culture alive through my children. I look forward to the day when, my children are at an age that, I can share with them most of those stories told to me by my parents. But, I pause when I think about those living-dead zombie tales. I worry these stories my promote a negative stereotype rather than celebrate Haitian culture.
I can recall several occasions when my now husband – but then boyfriend – would inquire about whether I had a “Voudou” (Voodoo) doll. I’d laugh as if it were a joke. My husband on the other hand was half-laughing and half-serious. That seriousness came from an assumption that “Voudou” (Voodoo) is based on evil premises and the belief that all Haitians practice “Voudou” (Voodoo). My husband was/is not alone in his thoughts – many of my American friends shared that same sentiment.
Is Hollywood to blame? The first movie that I can recall which promoted the view that Haitians practiced “Voudou” (Voodoo) is The Serpent and the Rainbow. – a scary horror movie. Released in 1988, the movie documents an anthropologist’s journey to Haiti while on a quest for the drug that creates zombies.
What is fact or fiction? Based on my experience, most Haitians are Roman Catholic, while a growing number claim to be Protestant. A majority of Haitians – regardless of religious affiliation – hold at least some “Voudou” (Voodoo) beliefs, usually in the form of superstitions with “Voudou” (Voodoo) roots or living-dead zombie tales.
Some superstitions that I can recall hearing while growing up in a Haitian household include the following:
- Ringing in the ears means someone is talking about you.
- If your right hand itches, you’re about to receive some money.
- If it rains on your wedding day, the marriage will last.
- Someone can do you harm if they possess your hair or cloths.
- A magic powder can be used to resurrect the dead.
Does a belief in superstitions equate to practicing “Voudou” (Voodoo)? If so, Haitians are not the only people who believe in superstitions. Why is it that Haitians have to carry this stigma? What will/do you tell you children about “Voudou” (Voodoo)? Should the next generation help keep living-dead zombie tales alive? Do you believe that “Voudou” (Voodoo) is based on evil premises? Please share your thoughts and experiences.
*Inspire Haiti (http://inspirehaiti.com), a 501(c)(3) public charity committed to improving the living conditions of the Haitians – one person at a time, one community at a time – by providing quality health care, nutrition and education through medical missions.