WHAT IS HAITIAN VODOU
• It is a syncretic religion meaning that it incorporates various beliefs and practices.
• Haitian Vodou is an official religious belief that has ties to West African religions and Christianity.
• The word Vodou comes from the West African word Vodun which means “spirit” or ‘god”.
• It is practiced world wide in various forms.
• In Cuba it is called Vodu and Vodum in Brazil.
• It is often confused with Louisiana Voodoo which is it’s own religious practice separate
from Vodou, although the two originated from the same West African Vodon.
• On April 5, 2003 Vodou became recognized as an official religion in Haiti.
WHERE DID IT COME FROM?
• Haitian Vodou came to the Americas in the Caribbean by way of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade during
the 17th century.
• It came from the West African religion of Vodon to Haiti during this time.
• African religious practices were greatly suppressed and West African slaves were forced to convert to
HISTORY OF HAITI
• In order to understand the religion on Vodou it is important to also have a background of the history
• Vodou is the dominate religion in Haiti along with Catholicism.
• The island of Hispaniola was “discovered” by Columbus and occupied for the Spanish in 1492.
• Indigenous people of the island were practically exterminated by Spanish colonizers who began
importing slaves from West and Central Africa.
• During the 17th century the French occupied the western third of Hispaniola . What is now called
Haiti was once called Santo Domingue. Within 100 years the population of slaves grew from a few
thousand to almost half a million.
• In 1791 with the ratio being 10 slaves to 1 citizen the slaves led a rebellion that eventually won them
their freedom in 1803 with Santo Domingue being renamed Haiti in 1804 when the French declared it
an independent nation.
• Haiti then became the first black republic in the world and the second nation in the western
hemisphere after the United States to win its independence from a European power.
TIES TO CHRISTIANITY
• When slaves were brought over to the Americas they were forbidden to practice their native religions and were
converted to Christianity.
• In order to still keep the traditions of their own religion they would take some of the aspects of Christianity and
incorporate it into their native religion to hide the fact that they still held on to their traditions.
• Many people who practice Vodou consider themselves Christian.
• There is a strong parallel between Vodou and Catholicism.
• The statues of saints used to represent the Loa.
• There are days designated to the Loa for celebration and honoring like the feast days for the Catholic Saints.
• People who practice Vodou believe in a supreme being called Bondye who does not interfere in human
affairs. This is where the Loa or Lwa come into play as spirits that act as a link between humans and
• The Loa are invited to possess a believer during a ritual so that the spirit can directly interact with them.
• It is important to note that this is not demonic possession but more like the individual acting as a medium for the spirit.
• Love and the support of the family are important along with giving to the community and the poor.
• There is a belief of soul dualism: Gro Bon Ange (big good angle) and Ti Bon Ange (little good angle)
• Gro Bon Ange is the biological aspects of an individual placed by Bondye at birth
• Ti Bon Ange is the personality and defines the person as an individual.
THE LOA AND THE SAINTS
• Since forced into Christianity and forbidden to practice their native religion the slaves would associate their Loa
with the Catholic Saints in order to hide their religion from the slave masters.
• Each Loa or Lwa has duties and works that they carry out for people that include love, happiness, work, and health.
• Many of the Loa and Lwa parallel the Patron Saints of the Catholic faith.
• Here is a small list of Loa/Lwa and their Catholic Saint counterpart:
Danbala St. Patrick or Moses
Legba St. Peter
Papa Gede St. Gabriel
• Vodou is one of the most misunderstood religions.
• The misunderstanding began when French slave owners became scared of the practices that they had never
seen before and outlawed the practice. The French slave owners saw Vodou as evil and dangerous and this
belief spread until other colonies saw the African religion as something demonic.
• Hollywood has done a huge part in perpetuating the stereotype of Vodou and its counterpart Voodoo as
something involving zombie, animal sacrifices, the use of voodoo dolls (which have nothing to do with
Haitian Vodou) for harm, black magic and demonic possession.
• It has been mistaken for the non-religion Hoodoo which is considered folk magic and is often the basis for
Hollywood movies dealing with Vodou and Voodoo.
• Many believe that the Haitians made a pact with the devil through Vodou in order to gain their freedom in
1803 from the French.
FORMALITIES AND RITUALS
• Since there is no central force to define or implement custom each Temple or Spiritual House operates
independently which can lead to variability in practice and theory.
• Instead of churches and congregations and parishes Voudouists have houses.
• Each house is headed by a priest called a Houngan for men and Mambo for women.
• These titles are earned upon completion of extensive training.
• They do not receive a salary but during ceremonies donations may be collected. It should be noted that they do charge
for public services such as readings.
• A Fete is a spiritual party that may be dedicated to a particular Loa usually on their feast day.
• Readings are done privately by the Hougan or Mambo for a fee. They use cards, candles, and other items.
• Spiritual Baths are used to help a client achieve a particular goal such as removing negativity and to open
doors of opportunity.
• A Wanga is a spell to request money, love, revenge, work, and other items.
• Gad is a form of protection. It can protect people from negative Wanga and injury.
• There are many rituals and ceremonies that are practiced within Vodou.
Vodou Flag: Used as a focal
point to facilitate religious
experiences. Usually very
shiny and glittery.
Altar: The focal point and a place
for the individual to connect with
their Loa. Sometimes includes
objects such as candles, statues of
Saints, and liquor.
Veve: Is a symbol that
acts as a beacon for the
Loa. Each individual Loa
has their own symbol. It
is usually drawn on the
floor using a type of
REFERENCES AND WEBSITES
• The Haitian Vodou Handbook by Kenaz Filan