Defending Vodou in Haiti

In spite of the fact the practice of following Vodou can be discussed as characteristic for the population of Haiti for a long period of time, the attempts to repress the successors and forbid the practice legally were realized several times, and today the public can observe new tries to ban the practice. “While the perception of Haiti as synonymous with Vodou reigns in public imagination, especially abroad, within the republic the religion is under attack again” (Ulysse, G. Defending Vodou in Haiti).

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It is possible to state that the attempts to forbid following Vodou traditionally result in increasing the public’s interest in this religious practice. The contemporary vision of the Vodou practices realized in Haiti and around the globe is influenced by the developed prejudice in relation to the religious practice’s details, and it is associated with the constant attempts to ban the practice legally and prevent any tries to follow it.

However, the attempts to prohibit the religious practice provoke the opposite reaction, and the public’s interest in Vodou increases, stimulating the development of defending movements the possible principles of which are discussed by Gina Ulysse. The current situation in Haiti when the Government discusses the legal project against the superstitious practices can be considered as correlated with the situation described by Kate Ramsey when occupational government’s repression against Vodou stimulated the growth of interest in this practice during the 1930s.

The followers of Vodou as the superstitious practice face a lot of difficulties while defending the principles of their practice, and these rules, as well as the traditional usage of definite attributes and the realization of certain controversial rituals, often cause the development of the public’s negative attitude toward the practice based on prejudice. Today, the attempts to forbid the practice are explained with references to the possible threats and dangers for people which can be associated with following Vodou and performing such religious rituals as a sacrifice.

Moreover, Vodou is the decentralized religion, and its basics are contradicting to Catholicism. According to Ramsey, during the US occupation, the reasons for banning the Vodou practices were also connected with supporting Catholicism, but actions realized had the politically oriented character because Vodou traditionally connected people within the community. Thus, religious practice as the connecting force could be used by the Haitian people in order to resist the occupational government.

However, it is necessary to pay attention to the fact that all the efforts to forbid the Vodou practices legally result in increasing the public’s significant interest in this religion as the opposite reaction to prohibitions. During the 1930s, the US occupational government in Haiti worked out restrictions on following and performing the Vodou practices and rituals by the Haitian population. In spite of the penal laws, the Vodou practices were realized secretly or they were veiled in away. This period is characterized by the intensive progress of the ethnographic study of the Haitian population and its culture.

Thus, a lot of scholars were interested in the aspects of the Vodou practices, and many foreign researchers came to Haiti to see the elements of the rituals. Nevertheless, the laws worked, and any demonstration of religious practices was forbidden. However, the Vodou successors produced “performative and textual ‘surrogates’ of what was banned”. It is possible to speak about the definite ignorance of the laws with references to finding new ways to follow the religion, the principles of which could not disappear according to the officials’ desire and intentions.

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The present-day reaction to the attempts to forbid the Vodou practices is realized in relation to the development of a kind of defending movement. Ulysse states that it is necessary to protect the right to follow Vodou as the religious practice because it is also the cultural tradition of the Haitian people. Moreover, it is important to organize the public against any attempts to use the amendments similar to Article 297. The next significant point to be realized to support the religious, cultural, and social independence of the Haitian people is “the immediate release of all Vodouists unjustly imprisoned under false pretenses with such vile and malicious intent”. Furthermore, the Vodou practices are followed not only in Haiti, and the opposition to the restrictions which involve the aspects of the people’s spiritual life can become international.

To conclude, it is almost impossible to forbid the practices which are connected with the spiritual life of the people because it is almost impossible to prevent people from thinking about something or believing in something. Moreover, the prohibition often provokes the growth of interest in the object which is forbidden. Thus, several attempts to forbid the Vodou practices in Haiti resulted in developing the public’s interest in these religious rituals. This statement is relevant with references to the foreign researches studying the Haitian culture and ethnography during the 1930s and in relation to contemporary supporters of Vodou as the element of the cultural identity. However, the extremely negative reaction is observed toward the restriction laws. Is it possible to state that the government’s measures to limit the practice will work when they become more liberal? It is difficult to predict the reaction of people to the opinions on the inappropriateness of following Vodou spread within the community, but not in the form of strict laws.


Ramsey, Kate. “Prohibition, Persecution, Performance”. Gradhiva.

Ulysse, Gina Athena. “Defending Vodou in Haiti”. Huffington Post.

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StudyCorgi. (2020) 'Defending Vodou in Haiti'. 10 May.

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