Monday, November 27, 2006

Haiti'n it

Christianity has a long history of melding with local cultures, religions and rituals. More often than not it has helped shape many contemporary societies. What is most interesting is to see how Christianity was shaped by these interactions, as opposed to the shape that it may have left.

For instance in Ireland (and some of Scotland) one can survey the land or even a graveyard and see a stamp of the interaction between local culture and imported religion with the Celtic Cross. The Celts had been a long standing tribe that had developed their own sense of culture and art. When Christianity was introduced in 432 AD (some argue 460) by St Patrick, his first moves were to recreate local festivals, so as to attract locals and then preach what he believed to be the word of God. Even here it was necessary to have Christianity submit to local practices so it could then be embraced but by the rules and practices of the locals.

Another example would be Mexico's national holiday, "Dias de los Muertos" (or 'Day of the Dead'). When the Spanish conquered Latin America in the early 1500s, they found that although they were able to eradicate masses of people without any effort, the local culture was going to be harder to erase. For almost more than 3000 years the Aztecs had practiced their own beliefs without any interference and upon the introduction of Christianity they continued to do so with very little restrain. In fact, since all attempts to wipe out their practices failed by the Conquistadores, public events like "Dias de los Muertos" were simply moved to Catholic Holidays and Gods, Saints and Holy Figures were equated with one another. As a result, even today 'Dias De Los Muertos' although primarily an Aztec influenced holiday has varying degrees of Catholic influence, such as Crosses on Floats, statues of Saints on alters and Candles which represent the light of Christ.

What is most ignored and without a doubt most significant is how Christianity was altered and helped shape the nation of Haiti.

Haiti first became the worlds first independent black nation in 1804 after a long bloody revolt. Although initially dominated by Spanish rule, Haiti for a long time served as a slave colony to the French who importated slaves from West Africa. What needs to be recognized is the fact that in the West African regions of Ghana, Benin and Nigeria that Yoruba (along with Bakango and Igbo) were dominant animist religions and were easily exported to Haiti by the Catholic french.
Not unlike both Mexico and Ireland, a new culture with new rituals were founded. However, rather than become simply part of the landscape or embraced as a national holiday, Voudun (or Voodoo) inspired decades of fear amongst a weak empoverished populace.

Haiti is reknowned for its successive unstable goverments that have led to brutal in fighting between neighbourhoods and political rivals. One of the few goverments that lasted longer than 4 years was that of Papa Doc Duvalier and his successor and son, Baby Doc.

In 1957 Dr Francois Duvalier won the Haitian national elections on a platform that appealed primarily to the poor lower class afro-haitian community. It is not long after his election (which was helped by the Haitian army) that he begins to create a private army called "The Tonton Macoutes" named after a Voudun spirit who 'catches people and makes them disappear forever'. Oddly enough this becomes common practice in Haiti as anywhere from 20, 000 - 60, 000 people disappear and/or are murdered at the end of this horrid saga.

To make matters worse Papa Doc openly dresses like Baron Samedi and claims to be a high priest (as well as BFF with Jesus). Within the next seven years (1957-1964) Papa Doc evades an invasion, an assasination, jails the head of the Tontons then kills him and reportedly teams up with the CIA. It was only 7 years after that that Baby Doc Jean-Claude Duvalier at the tender age of 19 takes over the goverment while his father is on his death bed.

It would appear that Baby Doc was equally as brutal but somewhat less religious. Apparently he may have made up for that in corruption as when he did finally flee for France in 1986 (with the assistance of the American goverment, they both hated commies), Haiti happened to be millions of dollars poorer (its pretty hard to imagine that it was even possible at that point).

Even in current times and politics Voodoo (and private armys dedicated to Voodoo saints) are prevelant. It has been suggested that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former catholic priest, was elected with the aid of both Voodoo priests/priestesses and voodoo gangs like the Cannibal Army (who later turned against him). It has been speculated that popular singer and Voodoo priestess, Anne Auguste lead a great deal of these militias in honor of Jean-Bertrand.

Currently there are gangs that rule both suburbs and areas in the countryside and are often referred to by both locals and media as 'Chimeres' or 'Nightmares' in creole. What is very interesting is the fact that in 2003 Voodoo was finally recognized as a state religion in Haiti. Guess who was President at the time... Jean-Bertrand. What would be very curious to see is how and whether Voodoo still affects and influences daily life for the common haitian man or woman, as well as whether or not it Voodoo is involved in how local goverment politics play out. Seeing as it wasnt that long ago that Baby Doc was threatening to come back to Haiti to reclaim his throne, its probably not that far off the mark. I guess neither is the old saying "80% of Haiti is Catholic but 120% of it is Voodoo".

Ooooo, footnote, that i really should have worked in here, Mother Theresa was a close friends of the Duvaliers, seriously, look it up. Im not kidding.

Mother Theresa and Michele Duvalier, no shit.


Post a Comment

<< Home