From email@example.com Thu Apr 10 11:00:09 2003
Date: Thu, 10 Apr 2003 08:44:17 -0500 (CDT)
From: Bob Corbett <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Haiti mailing list <email@example.com>
Subject: 15255: Bellegarde-Smith: Vodou is fully recognised as a religion in Haiti (fwd)
From: P D Bellegarde-Smith <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Port-au-Prince, April 5, 2003 -(AHP)- Vodou is henceforth to be fully recognised as a religion, empowered to fulfil its mission throughout the country consistent with the constitution and the laws of the Republic, pending the adoption of a law relating to its legal status.
The presidential decree dated April 4, 2003 relating to this decision indicates that all Vodou chiefs, temple officials, officials at a sacred site, as well as all Vodou organisations or associations are empowered to file a request for recognition by the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs.
According to the decree, the recognition granted by the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs will have the specific effect of enlisting assistance and protection from any constituted authority. The temples, sacred sites, and Vodou organisations or associations, endowed with the rights and prerogatives associated with their functioning, may obtain qualified support from the State, the decree indicates. Vodou chiefs and temple or sacred site officials are invited to take an oath before the presiding judge of the appropriate civil tribunal. Once they have taken the oath, the Vodou chiefs can be empowered to officiate at baptisms, marriages and funerals.
This decision by the government is based on a set of articles in the constitution and the laws of the Republic. The presidential decree considers that Vodou is an ancestral religion, an essential element of national identity. The authorities consider that it is the duty of the State to protect the cultural heritage of the nation, especially considering that Vodou practitioners, who represent a considerable portion of the Haitian population, have demonstrated through their efforts their desire to structure their institutions, and considering also the participation by Vodou practitioners in the social, political and moral development of the Haitian people.
Vodou leaders greeted the decision by the governmental authorities with satisfaction. According to one Vodou leader, Evrony Auguste, this decree puts an end to 500 years of exclusion and discrimination to which Vodou practitioners have been subjected.
This is good news for practitioners of Vodou who for centuries have
been marginalized , Mme. Auguste observed. She sees President
Aristide as the new black Spartacus who has understood, she said, the
need to place all religions on an equal footing.
Louverture, President Aristide advocates equality among all
Haitians, she emphasised. Evrony Auguste also invited the Vodou
community to unify itself in order to better defend its newest gains,
fearing that other sectors may try to put sticks in the spokes of
their wheels following the president’s decree.
She recalled, for example, that tens of thousands of Vodou practitioners were killed or persecuted following the downfall of the Duvalier regime in 1986 by people who she said wanted to finish off this religion. The intellectual authors of this massacre and their henchmen, though known to the public, were never arrested, or punished under Haiti’s system of justice, she remembered.
Hundreds of thousands, indeed millions of Haitians practice Vodou even when they are officially recognised as devout Catholics or Protestants. For a long time (and perhaps today as well) and for various reasons a great number of Haitians have tried to conceal the fact that they consulted Vodou priests and priestesses. Known practitioners of Vodou have at times found themselves barred from, for example, receiving baptism, first communion, marriage, or funeral rites. Children of practitioners have also found that they might not be admitted into certain Catholic or Protestant schools.