Friday, January 15, 2010

Meet the devil!

From what I've been able to piece together, this is probably the "devil" that Pat Robertson and other hyperchristianists are referring to when they talk about Haitians having made a "pact with the devil" to help win their freedom from France. That's right: the "devil" is the Catholic St. George.

Wade Davis (Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie, University of North Carolina Press 1988, pp 225-226), describes the event this way:
The historic gathering was invoked by the maroon leader Boukman Dutty and was held on a secluded knoll at Bois Caiman near Morne-Rouge on the night of 14 August 1791 (Bastien 1966). An old woman possessed by Ogoun, the god of fire and metallurgical elements, drew a cutlass and sacrificed a pig. The leaders of the revolt were named—Boukman himself, Jean François, Biassou, and Jeannot—and one by one the hundreds of slaves present swore allegiance
My conclusion: the “pact with the devil” thing is the ethnocentric interpretation by Christian outsiders of a Vodoun ceremony. Vodoun is a syncretic religion that fuses West African beliefs and behaviors with Catholic ones. But of course, these Hyperchristians, past and present, take any deviation from their version of “religion” to be paganism, devil-worship, etc. The irony is that the lwa Ogoun’s iconic image (the painting is borrowed from a Vodoun web site) is that of St. George, the dragon-slayer; it makes sense that this would be one of the lwa called forth at a ceremony in which people were preparing for war.

[Update Jan 16 2009]

Other sources, including the Sage Encyclopedia of African Religion (vol 1, p 262) suggest that the lwa that possessed the old manbo at Bois Caiman in 1791 was Ezili Dantò. She is the country cousin of Ezili Freda, and she is, apparently, pretty feisty: a good source of support for a revolution. Her icon image is on the right. She also has a web site at the American Museum of Natural History.

The same source also identifies the old woman who was possessed as Cécile Fatiman.

1 comment:

  1. If there's one thing I know about Vodoun, it is that is a syncretisic faith practice. As I've said elsewhere, a lot of ordinary Haitians are perfectly happy to go to church on Sunday, and then go out and involve themselves in some Vodoun practice(or ritual, or whatever you call them), afterwards. They don't see any contradiction. But of course, to the Pat Robertsons of the world, this is absolute anathema.
    Anne G


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