First published: Fall 1997
While to the outside world the folk religion of Haiti – Vodun or Voodoo as it's popularly known, is shrouded in mystery and dark myths, to Vodunists, their religion is a consoling and sustaining dialogue with the loas, the spirits. Vodun encompasses an exceedingly complex religion with elaborate rituals that are rich in symbolism. Vodun evolved over thousands of years and derives from ancient African rites and beliefs brought to the New World by slaves. Under French rule 700,000 African slaves were used to work the sugar cane fields, generating tremendous wealth for plantation owners. Hundreds of thousands of slaves died under inhumane conditions. Through their blood and toil, Haiti became the most prosperous colony in the New World.
Throughout the Americas and the Caribbean – wherever the Atlantic slave trade brought them – people of African descent secretly nurtured their spirit worship. In the face of colonial suppression, slaves outwardly accepted the forced worship of Christian saints as counterparts to their own ancient spirits. Thus a syncretized religion was born, one unknown to the blancs.