This article originally appeared on Amanda Bazil’s blog on May 4, 2019. With her permission, we reposted it on our site in honor of Caribbean Heritage Month.
Primitive, vile, and shameful.
These words are part of a usual line up used to describe vodou, a Haitian religion and practice created by the descendants of Dahomean, Yoruba, and other African ethnic groups to preserve the true identity and culture of its people.
Yoruba Religion (Ancient Africa)
After attending an info session on demystifying Haitian vodou, hosted by Harvard graduate Dr. Charlene Desir, a Haitian scholar and insanely passionate person, with a panel of two female university scholars whose names I unfortunately can’t remember right now (I know, I’m terrible!), I received immense insight into the truth surrounding vodou.
In my own conclusion, I realized the issue is not that Haitians and most of the diaspora are appalled by vodou because they believe its rooted in evil, it’s the causation of that belief.
The hate of the ancient practice can be owed to the traumatizing effects of a mixture of post-colonial indoctrination, a lack of self and therefore cultural awareness and understanding, and fear of all things Afro-centric, or a fear of ourselves and who we truly are.
The demystifying Haitian vodou info session was the first of its kind that I ever attended, and through Dr. Desir and the panel of educated scholars, I’ve learned the following:
- It’s rooted in deep ancestral knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.
- It carries and sustains the rich history of the Haitian culture as well as its African lineage.
- It’s the unpopular secret behind the most successful African slave revolt in World history.
- It helps restore balance and heals people and its community.
It carries with it the kind of healing power that I believe could help some of the issues that plague the black community now: mental health, generational trauma, colorism, battle of the sexes, the broken home, violence, loss of community morals, virtues, and values, etc. It’s an old practice that could be the link to help us get where we want to go, but first we must understand where it came from.
Originating from Benin, a country in West Africa, vodou is an ancient practice and tradition that has existed for centuries. The large part of an African community’s livelihood existed and depended on it. Many to this day still continue to practice vodou, and because many live free of outside influences like Eurocentric philosophy and its beliefs, they are empowered, not imprisoned, by their belief system.
But unlike the people of Benin, blacks living in the Americas and Caribbean have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with PTSS, or Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome, which has altered their ideals surrounding who and what they are.
Catastrophic turning points like the trans-Atlantic slave trade which has displaced millions of different African tribes who’ve held different practices and beliefs of their own, have had everything original to their identities stripped from them. Imagine having to be stolen from the very home you live in now and being brought to a whole new place. In this new place, you can no longer have your name, rep the city you came from, claim to be your parent’s child, you cannot speak your own language, wear your clothes/jewelry/shoes, and are told the independent functioning being that you once were was a lie and that you’re in fact but an object that is nameless, soulless, powerless, and completely devoid of any ounce of humanity.
Does this new “assignment” sound right? Of course not. The indoctrination of the slave was so brutalizing that it convinced people of great ancestral spirit and knowledge that we were simply wrong. Centuries later, after feats of attempting to reclaim our humanity, we are now living in a time where the privilege to reconnect with our roots is at an all-time high, and yet we still choose to wallow in the generational enslavement that has tainted us since being in the womb.
A Call to Action
We choose to allow our timeless customs and traditions to be vilified by entities like colonial rule, the rise of Eurocentrism and its cultural influence over the world, and the degradation of everything Afrocentric.
By unconsciously and foolishly obliging to these false narratives, we’re allowing ourselves to remain lost. The greatest form of trickery this world has ever witnessed is the successful attempt whiteness has made in confusing blackness into thinking it fears, misunderstands, and hates itself.
It’s time to stop being afraid of the truth, start undoing the lies, and learn about who you really are.