Voodoo in Haiti
A typical ceremony begins with a Roman Catholic prayer. Then three drummers begin to play syncopated rhythms. The attendees begin to dance around a tree in the center of the yard, moving faster and harder with the rising pulse of the beat. The priest draws sacred symbols in the dust with cornmeal, and rum is poured on the ground to honor the spirits. One woman falls to the ground, convulsing for a moment before she is helped back to her feet. She resumes the dance, moving differently now, and continues dancing for hours. It is perhaps no longer she who is dancing: She is in a trance, apparently possessed by voodoo spirits. Voodoo is the dominant religion of Haiti it is said that Haitians are seventy percent catholic, thirty percent protestant and one hundred percent voodoo. In April 2003 an executive decree by then president Jean-Bertrand Aristide sanctioned voodoo as an officially recognized religion. I personally think it should be recognized as a religion in the same way Judaism or Christianity is. The tradition of Voodoo goes back 100’s of years. Voodoo means spirit during a voodoo ceremony the believers gather outdoors to make contact with the Loa, any of a pantheon of spirits who have various functions running the universe, much like Greek gods. There is also a responsibility to care for beloved and deified family spirits and to honor a chief god, Bondieu. At the ceremony, the houngan or mambo which are also priests sacrifices a sanctified chicken or other animal to the Loa. Participants then ask the spirits for advice or help with problems. More than half the requests are for health. The Loa talks to prophecies, to give advice, or warnings, while the believer is possessed. Other messages are sent through the priest and sometimes come later in dreams. Voodoo spirits are believed to become tired and worn down and humans have to feed these spirits during the ritual. Every spirits has a distinct identity. Some spirits are loving and good, some are impulsive or demanding. Haitians believe that the Loa most often express their displeasure by making people sick. West voodoo has been portrayed in zombie movies and popular books as dark and evil, a cult of devil worship dominated by black magic, human sacrifice, and pin-stuck voodoo dolls none of which exist in the voodoo practices that originated in Benin. Haiti voodoo began as an underground activity. During the 1700s thousands of West African slaves were shipped to Haiti to work on French plantations. Slaves were then baptized as Roman Catholics upon their arrival in the West Indies. Their traditional African religious practices were viewed as a threat to the colonial system and were forbidden. Practitioners were imprisoned, whipped, or hung. But the slaves continued to practice in secret while attending masses. What emerged was a religion that the colonialist’s thought was Catholicism but they were outfoxed. It was easy for Haitians to put two faiths together, because there are many similarities between Roman Catholicism and voodoo. Both venerate a supreme being and believe in the existence of evil spirits or demons and in an afterlife. The belief system of voodoo revolves around family spirits called loua or m who are inherited through motherly and caring ways. The Loua protect their kids from misfortune. Families must feed the loua through these rituals in which food, drink, and other gifts are offered to the spirits. There are two kinds of services for the loua. The first is held one time a year and the second is conducted less frequently, only about once a generation. Many poor families, however, wait until they feel a need to restore their relationship with their spirits before they conduct a service. Services are usually held at a sanctuary or on family land In voodoo, there are many loua. Although there is considerable variation among families and regions, there are generally two groups of loua, the rada and the petro. The rada spirits are...
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