Figure 1Bois Caïman Ceremony, painting by Ernest Prophéte.
In 1791, the black slaves present in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (Haiti at the time) came from several different kingdoms. Most of them were from West Africa or, what we Haitians call “Guinea”.
These African kingdoms were the Kongos, Ardras, Yorubas, Bantus, Bambara, Malinka, Fons, Nagos, Igbos, and many others. Each of them had their own beliefs and traditions.
After more than 300 years, even if the colonizers systematically stripped the slaves of their African identities, these women, and men still succeeded in creating a new identity for themselves. They gathered pieces of memories of what they knew and what was left of their heritage. Heritage such as their traditions, languages, beliefs, songs, and dances and combined them into one, which became something unique. And this unique thing is what we call the Haitian Voodoo.
Why Haitian Voodoo and not just voodoo. Well, it’s because not all of the slaves that came from Africa practiced voodoo, it was the people from the Ardra and the Yoruba kingdoms that did. For us Haitians, voodoo is the religion that combined all these pieces and traditions of all the different cultures that evolved on the island for more than 3 centuries.
Even if most of the Haitian voodoo traditions came from Africa, some of them came from the Europeans and the Taïnos (indigenous peoples of Haiti).
For me it’s more than a religion, it’s a way of life. Voodoo is known for its dark side as being used for witchcraft, dark magic, zombies… But it’s not just this. The Haitian voodoo is a religion based on resistance, a human connection. It’s freedom, it’s a way to connect with our ancestors, a way of life where you are always fighting something.
For example, when you greet a Haitian and you ask them “Sak pase” (what’s up) they will answer “nou la, nap boule” (I’m okay, I’m burning). Wherever we start, even in our greetings, you can see that resistance. We are survivors. This resistance came from our ancestors in Africa, continued during the times of slavery, and continues until this day.
Even if we, all Haitians, don’t practice voodoo as our religion by its dances, songs, and its principles, we can say that voodoo is a part of each of us. That is, we live by its principles. Principles that emphasize on the importance of community, such as living together, looking out for each other and acting as a family. But also, principles based on respect. Respect for the nature that gives us life, respect for our ancestors that fought for us, respect for our community that looks after us, respect for all woman and man as we are all equal. Respect for people of all colors, respect for life, and respect for the country.
If today Haiti is in the situation that it is in, it’s because we Haitians forgot these principles. We forgot to live honorable lives. We no longer respect our fellow citizens, nor our nature nor our country.
Our ancestors didn’t fight so we could die hating each other or be in the mess that we are in today. We need to remember our past and learn from our heritage.
As a Haitian and a black woman, I always remember, “no matter how hard it is, don’t give up. You got it in your blood, and you are going to rise”. Like my ancestors that fought for my country and succeeded, I will rise, the black community will rise, and so will my country.
- Ania de Chavigny
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