After the 2010 Haitian earthquake there was quite a bit of attention on the religion of Vodou, though largely that attention was not positive. Immediately after the quake there were triumphalist smears from figures like Pat Robertson, and allegations that it was Vodou that held Haitians back from progress. While there were emerging “Vodou voices” rising up in defense of the religion, most notably Max Beauvoir, but more often than not the centrality of Vodou to many Haitians was often ignored. So it is a breath of fresh air to read Silvana Ordonez’s piece on Vodou among Florida’s Haitian-American community for the Miami Herald, talking about how the faith brought solace and re-connection after tragedy struck.
“A Voodoo ceremony makes you feel as light as a feather,” explained [Mambo Ingrid] Llera. “That’s where we go for therapy. We don’t go to the doctor, we go to Voodoo.” In ritual ceremonies, which typically last from several hours to several days, Voodoo practitioners pray, sing and dance to the rhythm of drums. “A wonderful combination to get connected with the unknown world, which is the spiritual world,” she added. “That’s where we release it all and find strength.” Since the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, more Haitians in South Florida have reconnected with Voodoo, according to local practitioners. “They have no choice, but to go back to their roots. It is registered in their DNA, this is who they are, this is where they feel more comfortable, this is where they can forget things,” said Llera. Llera has also witnessed a interesting phenomenon: a wave of young Haitian-Americans joining the religion of their ancestors.”
There’s been a quiet trend of Haitian-Americans re-embracing Vodou for years now, but its been only sporadically covered by journalists. These younger converts seem more willing to speak out about their faith, and a show willingness to fight popular misconceptions.
“Gone, for most, is the shame that used to be associated with the stigmatized religion. Unlike some of their parents who practiced Vodou in secrecy, the newcomers to the religion invite friends to Vodou ceremonies, have altars in their homes and work to shatter the stereotypes.”
While still small, there seems to be a growing number of Haitian Vodou practitioners who are raising their public profiles. For instance, last year saw the production of a Canadian documentary entitled “Real Voodoo” which looks at the effects of anti-Vodou rhetoric in Haiti, and interviews Haitian-Canadian practitioners like La Belle Deesse.
“Based on the people seen in this film, those who practice voodoo seem to be more likeable, more relaxed, happier in their lives and more open-minded toward others and their beliefs, than the people who rail against it.”
Haitian Vodou in its homeland faces immense challenges, from anti-Vodou violence, to aggressive proselytism by Christian groups receiving federal funding from our government. At the same time, Vodou tourism is held up as a potential economic goldmine for a Haiti that wants to rebuild itself. Lost in this push-pull is the lives of Vodouisants worldwide, and how their faith nourishes and sustains them. As the Haitian diaspora grows, and Haitian Vodou becomes a point of pride within those communities, we could see a new paradigm for this faith, how it is received by non-initiates, and how these practitioners interact with their motherland. It is far too easy to lose sight of how Vodou serves its adherents in the lofty geopolitical and cultural discussions about Haiti and its future, forgetting that Vodou is a source of solace and enrichment. Silvana Ordonez’s article is a welcome corrective to that trend.