The Emerging Vodou Voice

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 21, 2010 — 9 Comments

I have some more post-earthquake Haitian Vodou coverage. First,  WBUR in Boston interviews a Haitian-American Vodou priest from New York about his faith, and explores how Vodou is helping survivors in Haiti cope with this massive tragedy.

“Erol Josue lost more than two dozen friends and extended family in Haiti’s devastating earthquake. The Voodoo priest, who lives in New York, says he has spent the past week saying traditional Voodoo prayers … Voodoo is playing a central role in helping Haitians cope with their unthinkable tragedy … even as Haitians mourn the death of tens of thousands of people, Voodoo gives them an eternal perspective, says Max Beauvoir, the supreme servitor of Voodoo, or the highest priest, in Haiti.”

In addition to interviewing Erol Josue and Max Beauvoir, they also speak to Elizabeth McAlister, a Vodou expert at Wesleyan University. McAlister has been busy defending Vodou since the earthquake hit, writing sympathetic pieces for Forbes and Newsweek/On Faith. They are all part of a growing chorus of pro-Vodou voices that have emerged since Pat Robertson, David Brooks, Rod Dreher, and other commentators have implied, directly and indirectly, that the religion is partially to blame for the depth of the tragedy, and for Haiti’s ongoing social and economic problems.

Not that this has stopped the anti-Vodou onslaught. While Robertson has been (somewhat) muted after the outcry he caused, the Robertson-founded Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) is staying “on message” concerning Vodou in Haiti. Running a “earthquake bringing Vodou practitioners to Christ” story.

“The Haitian government officially recognized voodoo as a religion in 2003. More than half of the country’s 9 million people are believed to practice voodoo. But for Polestier, the earthquake brought serious doubts about her religious practices. “I’m going to leave it. I’m going to leave Voodoo,” Polestier vowed. “It has brought me nothing but anguish.” It’s a sentiment Camille has heard repeatedly over the last few days as Haitians struggle to understand their hardships. “So many people are accepting Christ,” he said.”

Stay classy, CBN. Leaving their Robertson-connections aside for a moment, the CBN story feeds into a larger undercurrent of post-earthquake pro-missionary sentiment among (predominantly) evangelical Christians.

“A religious ministry group based in Albuquerque is hoping to provide comfort in Haiti by sending hundreds of electronic audio Bibles to earthquake survivors. The group, Faith Comes by Hearing , plans to ship 600 Bibles this week. “The people are thirsty for words of comfort, and they’re asking us for the Bibles,” said spokesperson Jon Wilke … Shortly after the 7.1 earthquake struck Haiti, group members rushed to figure out how they could get the Bibles to the disaster zone…”

I just bet they did! What “opportunity” to swoop in and evangelize while people are experiencing trauma! Still, one wonders if this zeal, and Vodou-demonizing, will ultimately backfire. It’s hard to say what religious narrative will dominate in the months, and years, to come. Could we see a stronger, resurgent, Vodou? Just as many younger Haitian Americans are exploring the faith?

In the meantime, one of the positive outcomes of this terrible tragedy may be the thrusting of Vodou, so long misunderstood, into the spotlight. We are starting to see the appearance of Vodou blogs, as American adherents try to gather news from Haiti. This emerging Vodou voice, along with a growing number of sympathetic scholars, could help shape public opinion, and give journalists better sources to turn to when exploring the religion.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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