Religion And The Insurrections In Haiti

1565 words - 7 pages

From the beginning of the colonial revolutions in Haiti, there were varying explanations given for the influences that led to the revolutions. Was it the ethnic divisions brought about because of slavery? Was it the influence of the enlightenment thinking that encouraged revolt? There are a number of factors that are mentioned, but the affect of religion (in particular Catholicism) is usually overlooked. Catholic religion played an integral part in the revolts, being used as a tool for slave rebellions, as a means to syncretize the varying rebel factions into a unified rebel group, and as a means to challenged centralized governance.
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” (Dubois, 5) The slaves experienced a harsh reality in Saint-Domingue, many suffered from constant beatings, rapes, abuse, forced labor until death, etc. Life on the plantations was particularly difficult, and this was in light of the fact that Haiti was the richest colony in the New World. Masses of wealth was accumulated by the white upper class elite, exporting large amounts of sugar cane and coffee to economically benefit the motherland of France. It was estimated that over 1 million of the 25 million that were living in France were living off of funds generated from colonial trading. The slave colonies would prove to be a economic and social means of change within the mother country of France. (Dubois, 21) But even more interesting, by the time 1791 arrive, Saint Domingue is a colony that finds itself caught in a web of divisions. Political turmoil within the colony would lead to an eventual splintering of racial groups, the planters, poor whites, and gens de couleur, fighting amongst each other, and leaving a power vacuum open for insurrections that would ensue from slaves. (Burkholder and Johnson, 354-355)

II. The character of the actual religion (religious syncretism)
Catholicism within Saint-Domingue, as with other Latin American countries that were evangelized/ proselytized by the Catholics took on its own dimensions. For one, because there were so many ethnic/tribal groups that came from West Africa, places like Benin and the Kongo (Dubois, 43) , once they arrived to Saint-Domingue, they were introduced to a totally different society with varying races and different colors of skin, etc. According to Dubois, the African would enter In African culture, their religious views defined their worldview and how the world functions, as opposed to the Christian West, where there is a supposed separation of Church and State (a sphere where religion is separate.) In the African worldview, religious syncretism was common, and this religious syncretism would play an important apart by acculturating the slaves into their newly colony, and binding them together not only in the institution of slavery, but with a unified religious worldview. (source) But the formulation of religious syncretism did not stop with the African religions becoming intertwined, but were particularly adjoined with Catholicism. Similar to the Aztecs and other Latin American groups conquered by Catholic countries, the African religions syncretized with Catholicism, taking on their own particular identity with a religion called Vodou. (Bell, 196)
Bell says, ““Haitian Vodou, which has its deepest roots in the religions of the several tribes of Africa’s west coast, also makes use of a great deal of Catholic symbolism, many of the fundamentals of charismatic Christianity, and at least a few beliefs and practices of Hispaniola’s indigenous Indians, some of whom did interact with African born slaves – especially in the mountain retreats of the runaway slaves who were called...

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