After an excellent update and pointing the way forward on the gradual re-opening of the country on Saturday, the Prime Minister concluded with the rather unfortunate affirmation, “It is not voodoo; it is science.” I gasped. I couldn’t imagine that after the shameless display of Trini xenophobia against Haitian survivors of the destructive earthquake of 2010 that our leaders would remain in such a state of cultural backwardness.
Why not, “It is not Catholicism; it is science” or “It is not Hinduism; it is science;” or “It is not Islam; it is science”? Of course, I would have been equally alarmed if he had similarly assailed any other religion. I am certain, too that the population at large would have flooded the media with objections and calls for apology. But voodoo? No big thing!
In his presentation, the Minister of Health reiterated, “It is science we are working with;” yet, he affirmed, “We’re playing around with the numbers,” whether 75 per cent or 85 per cent of occupancy at Caura hospital would constitute “capacity”. Is “playing around” science or vodoo? To give another example, the BBC announced that UK’s prime minister is pushing ahead with reopening the country, contrary to scientific advice. So, is he operating on voodoo? Why the dichotomy? Is it only science or voodoo that informs the reopening of countries during Covid-19?
Couldn’t the PM simply say, “It is not faith [or religion]; it is science”? But even that might have irked many religionists. So, what about, “It’s not hope; it is science”? What about, “It’s not a crystal ball; it is science”? Why target voodoo?
In Togo, vudu (voodoo) is a sacred word; it’s the name of a deity of the Ewe and Fon ethnic groups. In Haiti, nodou [voodoo] is a national religion. Although certainly unintended, the PM’s pitting of voodoo against science is tantamount to a demonisation of voodoo and an insult to the people of Haiti.
African peoples of the Caribbean owe their freedom to voodoo. The success of the Haitian Revolution was the primary reason for Britain abolishing her transatlantic slave trade. According to WEB DuBois, it was also the Haitian Revolution that “rendered more certain the final abolition of the slave trade by the United States in 180”.
The revolution was launched in 1791 by a Papaloi voodoo high priest), Boukman Dutty. CLR James, author of The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, acknowledges, “Voodoo was the medium of the conspiracy.” San Domingo (also San Domingue) was the colonial name of Haiti.
Voodoo underscored the entire revolution from the 1791 “conspiracy” to the defeat of the British in 1797, the defeat of the French in 1803 and the declaration of the Republic of Haiti in 1804.
The Catholic Church forcefully baptised every African sold into slavery in Haiti, but every leader of the revolution was immersed in voodoo. Historian Patrick Taylor tells us about General Jean Jacques Dessalines, who led Haiti to its final victory against France in 1803: “Sometimes Ogun-Sango possessed him and thus himself directed the combat.” General Toussaint L’Ouverture often manifested as Ogun-Ferraile when he was the commander-in-chief of the revolution.
The Yoruba deities, Ogun and Sango, became two of the most powerful deities or lwas of Haitian vodou. In Haiti, Ogun-Ferraille is another name for Ogun, God of War.
The Haitian Revolution inspired every major emancipation war of the 19th century in North America, Brazil and Cuba.
The Latin American Revolutions that overthrew Spanish colonialism owed a huge debt to Haitian president Henri Petion who was a general in the Haitian Revolution. Petion provided a safe haven to Simon Bolivar in 1815 and gave him over 4,000 guns, several kegs of gunpowder, provisions and a printing press in exchange for a promise to abolish slavery should he succeed in expelling Spain.
When Britain passed the Emancipation Act in 1833, it was because she feared that the Jamaica Baptist War of 1831-1832 could escalate one day into another Haitian revolution, where she had suffered the most humiliating military defeat in modern history, worse than the war of American independence.
According to Karl Marx, one of the greatest European intellectuals of the 19th century, the Haitian Revolution was the most significant victory in the advancement of universal freedom.
Hats off to voodoo! Let’s stop the demonology of African cosmology. More respect from our leaders!
Dr Claudius Fergus