IN the early 1970s, the Mighty Composer (Fred Mitchell) composed and sang a calypso entitled “Black Fallacy” in which he showed that many persons today and “from since in the Beginning” continue to use the word “black with a degrading twist,” to denote racism, prejudice and bigotry in their dealings with Africans and African descendants.
He named words like “black-jack, black-mail, black-lie, black-book, black-eye and black-list,” and went on to state that they do so out of spite, for they “know that these words don’t exist.” The calypso was a hit with the “Black Power” crowd in the 1970s for Composer explained to his Caribbean, diasporic audiences that whites and bigots “made up the English language in such a way, to belittle my black brothers every day,” hoping to make the world believe that “everything black is evil”.
Now in this era of “Black Lives Matter” and right on our doorsteps daily, I am drawn to television programmes where Caribbean seer-men, in their quest to make a dollar in these Covid-19 times, are selling their services to Trinidadians especially, with a view to the rooting out of “Voodoo, Black Magic and Obeah” from the population. For the operational records, every time I turn on my TV to watch Beyond the Tape on CCN TV6 with Roger Alexander and Marlan Hopkinson, and Crime Watch with Ian Alleyne on Synergy TV, I am bombarded with advertisements from these prognosticators telling me that they have the power to save us Trinis from the evil of “Black Magic, Voodoo and Obeah”.
What makes these advertisements more disdainful and beneath the diameter of human responsibility is that 99.99 per cent of the soothsayers are Hindu pundits. In fact, I counted 17 of them on Supt Alexander’s show on Thursday; they hailed from San Juan to Cedros and boasted of their anti-obeah skills and their certificates for providing cures for voodoo.
It is a fact that if we adhere to the many books and films of racists, voodoo has been shown by these authors to be primitive acts of stupidity and sorcery (control of evil spirits) that even aim to worship Satan and allow evil spirits to be cast upon decent folks to the extent that many of the saintly ones, although good-natured and religious, become inundated with diseases, mental and otherwise, that cannot be explained by modern medicine. Worse, voodoo, for the racists, affects mainly Africans who, when they fall under its evil spell, turn into murderous beasts and madmen who cannot live with human beings. Hence, racists preach the need for the purification of such black souls.
If we study history, however, particularly African and Caribbean History, we would know that Vodun (plural Vodu), which was highlighted first in Haiti, is the synthesis of the traditional religions of Dahomey, Yorubaland and the Kongo which the Enslaved brought from Africa during the period of African enslavement in the Caribbean, and infused it with certain aspects of Roman Catholicism to which they were exposed in French Saint Domingue, as a way of adaptation to their new environment. CLR James in his famous book on the Revolution in Haiti, Black Jacobins, referred to their Vodun religion as “Africa in the West Indies”.
Actually, the Vodun religion had two parts: one was named Rada after the Dahomean city of Allada and the other was named Petra or Petra-Lemba after a leader in Haiti called Don Pedro and the Healing Society from the Kongo district of Haiti named after Lemba.
Africans believe that spirits manifest themselves by “mounting” the bodies of their devotees, and in Haiti, as Vodun practitioners, they believed that Catholic saints did the same, by way of miracles. We in Trinidad in the Kalenda before Carnival carried our sticks to the cemetery to be mounted by spirits in preparation for the celebrated stickfights. After Carnival, the mounted sticks were taken back to the cemetery— a return to the spirit world. Hence in Vodun, spirits mount the believers to do good, to heal the sick, to bless children and marriages and to forecast evils that may be in the way. Racist whites, however, spread the lies that Vodun priests were all devil worshippers who were bent on putting evil on whites and plantation owners, as a form of remonstrative resistance to enslavement. Hence, they changed the holy term “Vodu” to an evil “Voodoo,” represented often by a black doll stuck with pins.
The soothsayers of today who peddle all this voodoo nonsense are predators. They seek to exploit people who, now quarantined in their homes, have become depressed and are therefore vulnerable to swindlers. They seek to bring darkness to our world of spiritual light. They are in fact doing the devil’s work. One wonders that in today’s foolish world of Indian Magic, Arab Magic, Chinee Magic and White Magic, why would learned Hindu pundits yet seek to focus on and spread the term Black Magic? Surely, if other groups must show respect for Africans, especially at this time when we celebrate Emancipation, and if society must truly understand that “African Lives Matter,” television stations in Trinidad, as well as Roger Alexander, Marlan Hopkinson and Ian Alleyne, must all say No to the casting off of “Voodoo, Black Magic and Obeah” from the noble hearts and minds of Trinbagonians. They must seek to dispel such garbage from their knowledgeable programmes.
Dr Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool is a veteran calypsonian and an Honorary Distinguished Fellow of the University of Trinidad and Tobago.