I chose to explore the culture of Haitians who practice Vodou, a religion also known as Voodoo, Vodun, Vodoun, Voudun, and Yoruba Orisha. I have just returned from a vacation in the Caribbean (Punta Cana, Dominican Republic), which shares an island with Haiti. While there, I met a man from Haiti and was reminded of a bizarre experience I had in 1998 when I was ridden by an orisha (loa) during an inner-city Christian church service. Thus, I thought this would make an interesting subject for this assignment. To make things simpler in this essay, I will refer to this group simply as Vodou or Vodoun.
Introducing Vodou and Haitian Culture
Vodou is a Caribbean religion blended from African religions and Catholic Christianity. Long stereotyped by the outside world as “black magic,” Vodoun priests and priestesses are also diviners, healers, and religious leaders, who derive most of their income from healing the sick rather than from attacking targeted victims.
Vodou comes from an African word for “spirit” and can be directly traced to the West African Yoruba people who lived in 18th and 19th century Dahomey. However, its African roots may go back 6,000 years. Today, Vodou is practiced most commonly in the country of Haiti and in the United States around New Orleans, New York, and in Florida. Today over 60 million people practice Vodou throughout the Caribbean and West Indies islands, as well as in North and South America, Africa, and Britain.
During days of slave trade, this religion fused with Catholic Christianity. Therefore, in this current century, children born into rural Haitian families are generally baptized into the Vodou religion as well as in the Catholic church.
Those who practice Vodou believe in a pantheon of gods who control and represent the laws and forces of the universe. In this pantheon, there is a Supreme Deity and the Loa-a large group of lesser deities equivalent to the saints of the Catholic Church. These gods protect people and give special favors through their representatives on earth which are the hougans (priests) and mambos (priestesses).
The Loa (also Lwa or L’wha) are spirits somewhat like saints or angels in Christianity. They are intermediaries between the Creator and humanity. Unlike saints or angels, they are not simply prayed to; they are served. They are each distinct beings with their own personal likes and dislikes, distinct sacred rhythms, songs, dances, ritual symbols, and special modes of service.
Rituals, Behaviors, and Practices Associated with Death and Dying
Haitians who adhere…