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Date: Fri, 28 Jul 1995 16:24:21 -0700 (PDT)
From: Bob Corbett <bcorbett@crl.com>
Subject: Re: H28: Introduction to Haitian Voodoo: Reply
Message-Id: <Pine.SUN.3.91.950728162345.11187f-100000@crl2.crl.com>
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 27 Jul 1995 11:59:41 +0059 (EDT)
From: jeffrey altepeter <jaltepet@world.std.com>

Comment on Bob Corbett, Introduction to Voodoo

By Jeffrey Altepeter <jaltepet@world.std.com>, 28 July 1995


While reading your intro to Voodoo, a few things came to mind. First and foremost, I wonder why it seems invariably necessary to begin any discussion on Voodoo with an almost defensive position. If I were to have a conversation with fellow students about Judaism, for example, it would not be necessary for me to begin by asking them to first recognize it as a valid religion. I'm certainly not faulting you for beginning your post with such a defense... just lamenting the need for such a position when attempting a discussion of Voodoo and other religions of African origin.

I can understand that many people have stronger, specific religuous convictions than myself, and that those convictions might cause them to cling defensively to their own religion. I don't want to oversimplify, but it seems that it is mostly a matter of details. But why would a serious discussion of any given religion or idea be automatically interpreted as call for conversion. For example, surely no serious Christian is threatened by a discussion of Judaism (or the mere existence of Judaism)?

In the majority of conversations I've had about Voodoo, the first big "problem" is animal sacrifice. Along with zombies and sex orgies, this seems to be the most horrific idea for many people to handle. Meanwhile, many of these people have freezers full of dead animals, spend their summers barbecuing, and have no qualms about sport hunting (if they don't do it themselves). I could go on, and on, and on... but I'm sure you are familiar with these laments.

A couple more questions and comments:


In the division between Rada and Petwo, you seem to be saying that the former are "good" Loa, and the latter are "evil" Loa. Is there really such a distinct division? You discuss elsewhere the idea that the Loa represent the full range of human potential. It even seems that there is a small amount of overlap or crossover between these two sects. I'm just wondering if Petwo is distinctively and only the "dark" side?


You ask the question, "Is it Voodoo that has caused Haitian fatalism, or is it the history of the African/Haitian experience that has created Voodoo's fatalism?" I think that our brief study of Haitian history certainly supports a good argument for the latter. To argue Voodoo caused Haitian fatalism would be to seriously misunderstand cause and effect.


If the "Catholics took the position, if you can't defeat them, co-opt them," by the early 1950's, they were a little late. It seems apparent that Voodoo co-opted Catholicism a few (hundred) years earlier!

To consider it weird that Voodoo serviteurs practice Catholicism as well returns to the argument about the legitimacy of Voodoo. It is only odd if one considers Voodoo to be somehow anti-Christian. In reality, I am under the impression that those that serve the Loa consider themselves good Christians (Brown, Mama Lola).

Some may argue that the participation in Catholicism is superficial and ritual oriented. This may be true in some cases, and is probably a direct result of the Catholicism of the colonial period. If slaves were prevented from learning much beyond the ritual of the religion (for fear that they would see the hipocracy of their masters) it is not surprising that the foundation of Catholicism in Haiti might be ritualistic.

Voodoo's ability to accomodate the archetypal symbols and ideas of other religions is all the more fascinating in light of the fact that many practitioners of those other religions are unable to even recognize the legitimacy and reality of Voodoo as a religion.