Religion is one of the vital parts of human life. In every society, this institution is significant in shaping the inter-human relations, culture, human interaction with the environment, and political life. There are tight connections between nature, environment, politics, and religion. Religious beliefs provide people with explanations of some natural phenomena, such as earthquakes, death, or illness. The belief that a supreme being is managing the universe offers consolation to many.
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Voodooism is religion confined within Republic of Haiti of other Caribbean islands. Haiti Island is characterized by religious diversity, including Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Voodooism. Even though, voodooist is not the only religion on the island, it is the dominant one (Brown, Bollyman, & Sourghan 29). Voodoo religion plays a critical role in all areas of Haitian life, including politics, morals, environment issues, and social tendencies.
Any religion cannot be understood well without taking into consideration the other beliefs, with which it interacts (Desrosiers, & Fleurose 122). Despite many Haitians identifying themselves as Catholics and Protestants, Voodooism is widespread and practiced by the majority of population (Brown, Bollyman, & Sourghan 29).
Voodooism is not a homogenous religious system. It is diverse in terms of regional beliefs and practices (Brown, Bollyman, & Sourghan 29). According to Brown, Bollyman, and Sourghan, the religion seems to originate from West African culture and spiritual traditions. The religion is a part of the people’s identity, and forms a part of Haitians cultural background (Desrosiers, & Fleurose 122).
The term “Voodoo” means “spirit”. In Haiti, the Voodoo gods or deities, also called loas, represent the African ancestral spirit, some biblical figures, and deceased family members (Desrosiers, & Fleurose 156). They are believed to be the guardian angels to the Haitians. They are believed to protect the devotees and followers against the curse or a spell of an enemy (Desrosiers, & Fleurose, 159).
Despite the fact that 80 percent of Haitians is Catholic, Voodoo remains the national religion (Brown, Bollyman, & Sourghan 29). Majority of both villagers and urban dwellers believe in some aspects of Voodooism. Although Voodooism is more of a traditional religion than a modern religion, the believers believe they can coexist easily with Catholicism (Brown, Bollyman, & Sourghan 56). In fact, adherents of Voodooism consider themselves to be Catholics, and do not perceive Voodoo as a separate religion (Brown, Bollyman, & Sourghan 56). On the other hand, Brown et al claim that there are Roman Catholics in Haiti who claim to “serve the spirits” of Voodoo and do not find the practice as something contradicting Catholicism.
The Voodooists refute the misconceptions that Voodoo is demonic and devilish practice and sorcery (Courlander, & Bastien 189). They distinguish service to family spirits from sorcery or practice of black magic. The religion revolves around family spirits also called the loas (Courlander, & Bastien). These spirits are believed to pass from one person to another through paternal or maternal blood lines. Children inherit the spirits from their parents. Voodooists believe that the loas protect their children from harmful omens and misfortunes. The families in return feed the spirits with food and drinks during their sacral rituals. They invented the rituals service to please the spirits. Voodoo has many periodic rituals; some are annual, and the other takes place once in a generation. The families meet at a sanctuary on family land where they conduct a service to their loa (Courlander, & Bastien 189).
There are diverse loas in the Voodoo religion (Courlander, & Bastien 191). They vary according to families and regions. Despite the variations, there are two main groups of loas. These are the “rada” and the “petro”. The rada spirit is a noble spirit or a “sweet” spirit, and it has African roots. The petro spirit, on the other hand, is a “bitter” spirit; it is evil and demonic and has Haitian roots (Courlander, & Bastien 195).
The loa spirits have distinct identities and are anthropomorphic (Courlander, & Bastien 195). There can be beneficial, evil, capricious, or even life-demanding spirits among them. Loas most commonly display their displeasure by bringing sickness to the home of their gamily. Voodoo priest can diagnose and treat such illnesses with magic. The Voodooists believe that loa are not spirits of nature, and they cannot cause rain or make crops grow. The loas are family spirits that accompany the family members during their lives (Courlander, & Bastien 195). The loas of one family do not have influence or power over members of other families, and, therefore, cannot harm or protect them.
Loas usually appear to family members in their dreams. In dramatic events of people’s lives, they can be reached in trances. Many Haitian Voodooists believe that loa are capable of temporarily incarnating the bodies of their "children" (Curlander, & Bastien 200). Different people, mostly women, enter trances, during which they cognize the character of a loa. People in a trance often “feel giddy” and remember nothing after they regain a normal state of consciousness (Courlander, & Bastien 200). The believers claim that the loa are able to replace the human personality temporarily. These obsession trances occur during rituals, such as sacrifice rite or a traditional Vodoun Dance in honor of the loa. When loas appear to obsess people, they explain warnings or causes of disasters, catastrophes, illnesses, or misfortunes. The loas most often engage the crowd gathered around them through such things as flirtation, jokes, or accusations (Courlander, & Bastien 201).
Voodooists also believe there are loas that can be paid to protect from evil or bring luck. They believe that persons can bribe spirits to attack their enemies by making them ill. These beliefs include legends of witchcraft and zombies (Courlander, & Bastien 208). Zombies are -half-spirits and half-people, whose souls have been partially separated from their bodies. In hard times, Haitians turns to boko, who are specialists in magic and sorcery. Voodoo has several secret spiritual communities, whose members actively practise sorcery (Courlander, & Bastien 210).
Voodoo priests or specialists (female - manbo, and male – houngan) mediate between spirits and humans through trance and divination (Brown, Bollyman, & Sourghan 15). They can diagnose illnesses and reveal the origins of any misfortune. They are responsible for performing rituals to appease dissatisfied ancestors or spirits, or to repel magic and spells. Many voodoo priests and specialists are skillful herbalists, who treat various illnesses (Farmer 23). Each of these specialists develops his own reputation for effectiveness.
The priests are most often summoned to offer help in times of trouble or distress to provide guidance, remove the problem or transform the situation (Desrosiers, & Fleurose 22). The loas can inhabit or posses the body of a devotee. The spirits choose whom to posses. Women are believed to have a higher likelihood than men to be obsessed (Desrosiers, & Fleurose 200). When obsessed, initially, the individual may appear to lose consciousness and may fall onto the ground moaning and writhing. Once he or she regains consciousness, the spirit or loa can use her or him as a medium to communicate with other people present. The loas can buffer stress, as well as cause it. If a person fails to satisfy the loas’ needs, they may revenge by causing numerous misfortunes, such as poor physical health and mental diseases (Desrosiers, & Fleurose 202).
In Voodoo, the oungan (Voodoo male priest) or manbo (Voodoo female priest) possess all knowledge of the Voodoo tradition. They have supernatural powers, and the society respects them highly. According to Voodooism, the boko is considered to be a professional magician, who can invoke or bribe spirits to send spells, curses, transmit malevolent spells, or help someone to achieve personal aims and goals. According to the research done by Farmer (19), Catholic, Protestant, and Voodoo informants acknowledge the possibility that illnesses and misfortune can be “sent” spiritually. Therefore, one’s ill-wisher can use the spiritual or supernatural powers or beings to cause harm to his or her enemy. Voodoo causes a lot of mistrust among members of community or society.
The Christianity opposes Voodoo religion and terms it as the demonic practice. Christians consider serving the spirits and other Voodoo rituals to be devil worship. They do not associate themselves with the believers of Voodooism or those who practice it. Despite the fact that Voodooists claim to have the same God as the Christians do, Protestants and Catholics claim that the practices of the cult indicate the presence of idols worship. Some Protestant preachers, such as Pat Robertson, termed Voodoo as a belief that originates “from the devil.” He claims that catastrophes that befall the island are a sign of God’s condemnation and punishment (National Geographic n. p.). Robertson commented that the Haiti Earthquake disaster was a punishment to Haitians for having concluded “a pact with the devil” two centuries ago. Protestants view the recognition of Voodoo as a state religion by Aristide in 2003 to be a “renewal of the covenant” with the devil (National Geographic n. p.). The Protestants claim that the high level of poverty in Haiti is largely caused by idolatry practiced by Voodooists. Protestant missionary considers the practice of witchcraft and sorcery in Voodooism to be the base for un-prosperous society (National Geographic n. p.).
This local religion plays a crucial role in health care system. Voodoo is active in providing social services to its believers. Voodoo constitutes health system within it, which includes spiritual healing practices, disease prevention activities, healthy way of living promotion, as well as, promotion of personal wellbeing (Courlander, & Bastien 310). Voodooism offers information on methods of promotion, prevention and treatment of any health problems. It comes up with theories of diseases, prescriptions, treatment intervventions, and for behavioral change congruent with commonly held explanatory models.
A first level of interpretation of disease in Voodoo is founded on the need to have a harmonious relationship between people and the spirit world of the ancestors. In addition, Voodoo’s importance in healthcare involves the role of sorcery or magical attacks when the health of a person is the victim of a charm. According to the illness causal explanations of Voodooism, the health and illness of an individual depends on his or her connection to place and tradition in the moral and social sense that includes the gods and the ancestors (Courlander, & Bastien 312).
Protestant, Catholic, and Voodoo religious practices in Haiti help Haitians cope with physical and emotional problems. Moreover, they provide an alternative or a parallel system of healing. Religion to the Haitians offers a sense of belonging, consolation, structure and purpose (Courlander, & Bastien 312). Religion serves to increase self-esteem of a person, alleviate despair, as well as provide hope in extremely difficult and trying situations. Health professionals, who are working in Haiti, sometimes may and should consult Voodoo, Protestant, or Catholic spiritual leaders for cooperation, because they can motivate or encourage patients to seek help and stick to recommended treatments (Courlander, & Bastien 312). Therefore, religious leaders can serve as ‘co-therapists’ or ‘consultants’. Patients may trust them more readily than the conventional health professionals or medical institution.
The connection between Voodooism and Haitians’ everyday life is complicated. Not only Voodoo religion does serve to bring together and unite the community in a spiritual sense, but their meetings also allow the Haitian village residents to sort out and solve any problems the society might be facing, even if it has nothing to do with the religion (Desrosiers, & Fleurose 150). For instance, when it came time for field work on their farms, most workers would often use this opportunity to organize and plan work parties. Therefore, through Voodoo, everybody can work the land with the least amount of time, work, and expediencies.
This means that the practice of Voodoo not only brings together workers, but also families. The power of the Voodoo religion has been relevant at the family level, strengthening family union and keeping alive a system of society organization that results in tolerable life within a large society with neglected individual and societal needs. The truths that Voodoo has helped to bring together and keep families is significant, because it allowed the religion to shape itself during the Atlantic Passage, seemingly unending years of slavery, and destructive influences of society (Desrosiers, & Fleurose 150). The role of Voodoo in the family and society, therefore, is one of the uniting features and a close tie.
Over the decades following the revolution and continuing up to the 21st century, Haitian Voodoo has transformed from a religion, practiced only on some plantations in secrecy as a mean to unify a dispersed people, a religion that help to unify the whole nation. Today, the religion forms an integral part of history and culture of Haitians.
Voodoo religion played a pivotal role during the period of emancipation. Apart from the fact that the revolution was fueled by a Voodoo ceremony, the religion enabled the Haitians to meet together, it shaped cultural and political ideals, and served as the main arena for pro-independence speakers to convey their message (Courlander, & Bastien 234). During times of slavery, Voodoo meetings and practices were officially banned and forbidden. That, however, did not prevent practicing the Voodoo rites in secret. This active defiance and subversion of authority set the base for larger resistance. Later, Voodooism was formally legalized when the Constitution was written up (National Geographic n. g.). However, influence of Voodooism on the revolution can be traced by the fact that prominent Voodoo religion officials initiated the revolution, while other leaders brought the message of emancipation and freedom throughout Haiti (Courlander, & Bastien 240).
The connection between Voodooism and the nature and environment is not clear. However, after the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, Voodooists came out open and claimed that some Voodoo priests had warned about the catastrophe. The fact that they believe that loas, or spirits, can cause calamities, the Haitians view environmental disasters, such as floods, to originate from dissatisfied spirits. There is some agreement between this belief with that of Protestants that the catastrophe originate from divine being unhappy with their religious practices.
Haitians faced much historical injustice and the continuous structural and political violence of global economic policies. Haitians learned to maintain hope in the face of severe adversity. The people still believe that their future will improve and that education and religion will help them do away with poverty. Voodooism in Haiti contributes to their hope and offers them a sense of control over their future..