Misinterpretation Of African Based Religions: Vodou

2091 words - 8 pages

There is absolutely no human group which does no react to the changes, disturbing events and crises which the dynamics of history introduce into the physical or cultural context to which the group belongs. Any quick change, an internal or external conflict whatever, produces a crisis. To each crisis, society responds by slowly developing new forms and new means to bring about balance within the limits of the particular cultural group. Sometimes the crises and wounds are so serious that they threaten the vey existence of the group. Their whole existence seems to be on the line. In such a case, the most secret and active forces in their whole culture are mobilized so as to develop adequate means for their liberation. These means are the forces of religious life.

These are the words of anthropologist and religious historian Vittorio Lanternari. Through the lens of Lanternari Haitian Vodou can be examined. Throughout history political and ideological considerations of the West have given rise to many misinterpretations concerning the nature of Haitian Vodun. Vodun has received a reputation for being superstitious “Black magic”. Practitioners of Haitian Vodou have historically not objectified the religion as such but rather said that they “serve the spirits.” This connects to the way Vodou challenges the boundaries that the concept of “religion” seems to presume, from transformative assimilating aspects of Roman Catholicism to centrally incorporating healing processes. The ascribed identity of Vodou reflects a great deal more about Haiti’s place in the geopolitical order over the past two centuries than about the set of complex of beliefs and rituals. Due to a colonial mentality that dismisses all non-Western cultures as barbarous, Vodou has now been condemned. In particular when Vodou is referenced in regards to Haiti is most often discussed as a religion of resistance. Some scholars misinterpret Haitian Vodou as a form of a resistance rather than a continuation of African traditions. Rather than seeing Vodou as a religion that came to fruition during a time of resistance, it is better to examine the ways and which Haitians called upon forces, including their Vodou religion, to mobilize in order to develop adequate means for their liberation. Yet and still the West has long viewed and continues to view Haitian Vodou through a distorted lens. In the nineteenth century as, the Republic of Haiti suffered from a unique degree of economic and political isolation implemented and enforced by the powerful slave holding empire as nations that surrounded it, Vodou was commonly represented as the ultimate antithesis of civilization, as a case of African superstition reborn in the Americas. Upon further examination it becomes evident that Vodou is not an expression of the racial and cultural resistance of an oppressed class of people within a hostile society but a legitimate religion that stems from another way to think about and engage with world.

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