By Jean H Charles
Chibly Cardinal Langlois in an interview in the Guardian of London has taken the position that voodoo won’t save Haiti. I agree wholly with the Cardinal while I am hastening to add voodoo as mythology might help to do so.
In reviewing the cultural literature of several countries I found out by zooming on Iceland, a mythical kingdom ruled by elves, there is much resonance with our mythical Haiti where trees, springs, and caverns are loci for the loas/ghosts.
Iceland has become a very developed island, with excellent infrastructure and institutions reaching the most remote part of the country; as such the adoration of the elves has become a thing of the past. They are being catalogued and identified only as tourist and cultural attraction.
Whether voodoo is beneficial to Haiti is a controversial topic that surmises passion and name calling. The Cardinal has been fustigated by his own brother in the Episcopate. Yet he was chosen by his own peers for his forceful style of taking no prisoners in framing the debate into the right direction.
The first three founding fathers of Haiti, Toussaint Louverture and Jean Jacques Dessalines (albeit a voodoo practitioner) and Henry Christophe (1800-1820), did interdict voodoo as a religion on the territory. With the Republic of Alexander Petion voodoo became a tool used by all the subsequent politicians to maintain rural Haiti without institutions and without infrastructure while professing a hypocrital belief in voodoo.
Perusing any songs of the Rara (voodoo carnival) repertory you will find the rude cursing of God and of the State by the revelers for leaving them (mostly rural and poor) in abject poverty.
The Cardinal is on target when he says, “If a person is well educated, and has the financial means; he will go to a doctor instead of a voodoo priest. Voodoo offers magical solutions not practical solutions to real problems of health, marital difficulties, lack of education, unemployment, etc.”
I expect to be fustigated as much as the Cardinal; the point is Haiti has to stop masquerading the sacred cows that voodoo as a religion is part of the solution to enter into the road of progress and civilization. The Catholic Church has committed the same error that it committed some 70 years ago when it took the position of destroying the voodoo temples in 1942 in the Operation Rejétée.
I was visiting this weekend the village of Limonade, where Granny St Anne was being feted. The heavy mixture of voodoo and Catholic ritual was suffocating. The parish priest, Father Venitus Chery, took me by the hand to show me the beautiful fence that he has been erecting around the church to prevent the voodoo practitioners from camping in the courtyard of the church.
I told him with the same conviction that the fence is not necessary, they will camp in the plaza right in front of the church anyway. In other words, voodoo practice will be with Haiti as long as Haiti remains a nation inhospitable to the majority of its population. The declaration of the Cardinal will remain hollow as long as the Haitian clergy do not take steps to embark on the civilization process undertaken by the Brittany Clergy for the cities and the towns of Haiti some century and half ago.
The small Haitian middle class is the end product of the nuns and of the Christian brothers that brought the bread of education and civilization to Haiti, preparing six generations of educated lawyers, teachers and doctors that are now nomads all over the world, while Haiti is languishing in its failed state status.
Rural Haiti remains today a no man’s land where decent institutions and viable infrastructure do not exist. The Creole clergy has failed in its mission of continuing the process of education in the hinterland; as such hordes of peasants are knocking on the doors of the cities every day, seeking education, training, health care and jobs.
In rural Haiti, Voodoo was and is the answer to find a job, to get cured and to receive justice. It has been an inefficient vehicle to deliver such services. Voodoo as a religious institution has not built one single school, one single clinic in the entire land. It did not enrich the peasants.
Yet in some regions of the country, the Nippes in particular, voodoo practitioners have found that a candle to St Yves or to St Laurent is much more effective in obtaining justice. Ti St Anne in Anse-a Foleur is courted with more fervor than Erzulie.
And I have the story of my next door neighbor, a beautiful lady in her forties that had a regular Wednesday voodoo practice in her yard. Such practice was stopped right after the earthquake of January 12, 2010.
The Cardinal is in the excellent position of making things happen to diminish the influence of voodoo as a religion in rural Haiti. My empirical observation indicates that we need some 1,000 additional priests and 3,000 nuns to man an excellent system of primary and secondary schools in each one of the 565 rural villages. The good nuns would also run the health clinics, as well as providing training in domestic economy to the villagers.
This is the roadmap to transform not only the Haitian landscape from a failed state to a vibrant one but also Haitian voodoo from a religious manifestation to a cultural mythological experience. It can be shared with the rest of the world along the same lines as Greek or Egyptian mythology, where men live in the Elysian Fields, with all types of delicious fruits as we find in Haiti, such as mango, apricot and passion fruit.
This mythical island has been placed in the Atlantic, by Celtic as well as Irish mythology. Haiti could set itself up as that mythical land that so many cultures are seeking for their perfect place on earth. It can happen only when Haiti gets rid of the religious connotation to enter into the realm of the imaginary.
Sharing the attractiveness of the voodoo rituals: the chorus, the songs, the drums, the costumes, the medicinal virtues is worthwhile not only for Haiti but also for the rest of the world, because indeed some of the practices are a millennia-old experience that needs the stamp of world preservation heritage.
It cannot be shared in the dark or in fetid and cramped hum fort (temple). The Cardinal must go further and take action in bringing education and civilization to rural Haiti. He needs the bold courage and the support of those who believe that Haiti can enter into the road of hospitality for all as such civilization, while at the same preserving cultural traits that can be passed on to the patrimony of global myths that have enriched students from Homer to Socrates and from Socrates to Shakespeare and from Shakespeare to Laferriere (Danny).