Even though the official religion of Haiti is Roman Catholicism, the national religion that most people follow or combine with Catholic practices is Voodoo. Most Haitians practice and believe in some of voodoo. Due to few similarities between Catholicism and Voodoo, the majority of voodooists preach the fact that their religious beliefs and practices can live in harmony with Catholic practices and beliefs. There are several misconceptions about Haitian Vodou as being sinister or having to do with zombies and black magic. Let’s explore what Haitian Vodou is actually all about.
History of Haitian Vodou
In the 1700s, when Haiti was called Saint-Domingue before Haitian Independence, is when the Africans were brought over to work as slaves from the Kingdom of Dahomey located in West Africa (now called Benin). Vodou is a derivative of the term Vodu which comes from the language spoken by the Fon tribe from West Africa. Vodu in their language means, ‘spirit,’ or ‘god.’ Haitian Vodou can be seen as a combination of the West African Vodun practices alongside the slave owners’ practices involved in the religion of Roman Catholicism. The West African Vodun was practiced primarily by the Ewe and Fon people of West Africa and, thus the amalgamation of the Taino people of Haiti alongside the Europeans is what influenced Haitian Vodou.
Belief System of Voodoo
Vodou has a belief system that revolves heavily around worshipping of family spirits, who are known as loua. The loua are protectors of the children in families, thus the families would need to hold rituals periodically in order to feed the loua. The rituals involved the offering of gifts, drinks, and food to the family spirits. The two main kinds of religious services that are held for the spirits: annual ones, or once in a generation. These services are mostly held on family land at a sanctuary. Many loua exist and are different in accordance to the regions where the families were located and their beliefs. The loua are usually of two types: the petro and the rada. The petro are known to be bitter spirits who demand more extreme sacrifices. The rada spirits are known to be the sweeter variation of loua. The concept of petro spirits seemed to have developed in Haiti whereas the rada spirits seem to have originated in Africa.
Voodoo has been very misleadingly represented through media. Most images of voodoo found today do not show the basis of voodoo that is the importance on family spirits. The majority of voodooists in Haiti call themselves Roman Catholics do not consider Vodou a separate religion. Roman Catholics who practice voodoo actively serve the loua and do not perceive the practice as anything deviating from Roman Catholicism. Sorcery is still actively practiced by Haitians who have made many secret societies in order to do so. They also believe in zombies who, for them, are people or spirits who have souls that have only partly withdrawn from the body.