Written by: Jonathan M. Katz
Dressed in white, symbolic of their purity, Voduisants begin a ceremony by reading prayers of thanks aloud with a priest. (Photo by: Troi Anderson)
It was the height of the summer solstice, the brightest day of what had already been a long, hot year in Haiti. But deep within the caves outside Saint-Michel de l’Attalaye, beneath the mountain-ringed northern edge of the island nation’s central plateau, there was no light. Troi Anderson had to feel his way along the cool limestone walls and follow the worshipers’ singing to find his way to the Vodou ceremonies below. A photographer based in Oregon, he had come for the pilgrimage of St. John, an annual event that generally draws hundreds of participants.
Vodou has roots in the religious traditions of West and Central Africa, where most Haitians’ ancestors were born, and in the Roman Catholicism of European colonizers in Africa and the French who colonized the western third of the island of Hispaniola in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its beliefs and practices were forged in one of the most brutal slave regimes the world has known.
The religion honors a supreme creator god who is considered too remote to reach directly. Worshipers venerate intermediary spirits, such as the orisha gods of the Yoruba people who inhabit what is now Nigeria, Benin and Togo, and figures from Haitian history. The faith is decentralized. It is practiced creatively, not prescriptively, which helps to account for the differing forms practiced elsewhere, such as in New Orleans. Like many great religions, throughout its history Haitian Vodou has provided both solace and an intimate sense of community to the oppressed.
This sense of Vodou as a primitive practice also shaped American impressions of Haiti. The U.S. military occupied the country from 1915 to 1934, during a formative period in the U.S. empire-building in Latin America and Asia. Marines who served on the island, and journalists who covered them, returned with lurid tales of what they called “voodoo” and characterized as black magic. Pop-culture distortions, in both books and films, weren’t far behind. In 1932, the year after Bela Lugosi starred in Dracula, he played an evil sorcerer in Haiti named “Murder” Legendre in White Zombie.
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/explore-timeless-world-vodou-haiti-180963673