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What Is Haitian Voodou?

07/22/2013 10:43 am ET | Updated Sep 17, 2013

Before the European came, there were basically three spiritual forces in West Africa: Islam, animist pantheon faiths, and ancestor worship. "Voodou," as we know in Haiti, a word possibly coming from Benin, derives from all of these faiths combined with some minor elements of Catholicism. Voodou in Haiti, however, does not exist in a spiritually pure form in comparison to its original practice on the African continent.

In West Africa these faiths sometimes got along well, and other times they were in serious battle. Islam had been in west Africa since late 700s and was actually chosen by the African kings freely because they saw the value of the intellectual advancement the Muslims possessed through their use of the Arabic language. Soon after, their followers came in droves. This movement created three whole Islamic Empires that spanned centuries and were based in West Africa. This First Islamic kingdom was called: The Ghana Empire, and also existed peacefully with the practitioners of animist pantheon faiths and ancestor worship.

From this link:

The Ghana Empire or Wagadou Empire (existed c. 790-1076) was located in what is now southeastern Mauritania, and Western Mali. It first began in the eighth century, when a dramatic shift in the economy of the Sahel area south of the Sahara allowed more centralized states to form. The introduction of the camel, which preceded Muslims and Islam by several centuries, brought about a gradual change in trade, and for the first time, the extensive gold, ivory, and salt resources of the region could be sent north and east to population centers in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe in exchange for manufactured goods.

The Empire grew rich from the trans-Saharan trade in gold and salt. This trade produced an increasing surplus, allowing for larger urban centres. It also encouraged territorial expansion to gain control over the lucrative trade routes.

The first written mention of the kingdom comes soon after it was contacted by Sanhaja Berber traders in the eighth century. In the late ninth and early tenth centuries, there are more detailed accounts of a centralized monarchy that dominated the states in the region. The Cordoban scholar al-Bakri collected stories from a number of travelers to the region, and gave a detailed description of the kingdom in 1067. At that time it was alleged by contemporary writers that the Ghana could field an army of some 200,000 soldiers and cavalry.

Upon the death of a Ghana, he was succeeded by his sister's son (matriliny). The deceased Ghana would be buried in a large dome-roofed tomb. The religion of the kingdom involved emperor worship of the Ghana and worship of the Ougadou-Bida, a mythical water serpent of the Niger River.

The Next Islamic Empire was: The Mali Empire

From the link:

The Mali Empire or Manding Empire or Manden Kurufa was a West African empire of the Mandinka from c. 1230 to c. 1600. The empire was founded by Sundiata Keita and became renowned for the wealth of its rulers, especially Mansa Musa I. The Mali Empire had many profound cultural influences on West Africa, allowing the spread of its language, laws and customs along the Niger River. The Mali empire extended over a large area and consisted of numerous vassal kingdoms and provinces.

The Mandinka kingdoms of Mali or Manden had already existed several centuries before Sundiata's unification as a small state just to the south of the Soninké empire of Wagadou, better known as the Ghana Empire. This area was composed of mountains, savannah and forest providing ideal protection and resources for the population of hunters. Those not living in the mountains formed small city-states such as Toron, Ka-Ba and Niani. The Keita dynasty from which nearly every Mali emperor came traces its lineage back to Bilal, the faithful muezzin of Islam's prophet Muhammad. It was common practice during the Middle Ages for both Christian and Muslim rulers to tie their bloodline back to a pivotal figure in their faith's history. So while the lineage of the Keita dynasty may be dubious at best, oral chroniclers have preserved a list of each Keita ruler from Lawalo (supposedly one of Bilal's seven sons who settled in Mali) to Maghan Kon Fatta (father of Sundiata Keita).

Then came the Songhai Islamic Empire:

From this link:

The Songhai Empire, also known as the Songhay Empire, was an African state of west Africa. From the early 15th to the late 16th century, Songhai was one of the largest African empires in history. This empire bore the same name as its leading ethnic group, the Songhai. Its capital was the city of Gao, where a small Songhai state had existed since the 11th century. Its base of power was on the bend of the Niger River in present day Niger and Burkina Faso

As stated earlier, the other spiritual forces were either ancestor worship. Or animist pantheon faiths such as this:

Orisha (also spelled Orisa or Orixa) is a spirit or deity that reflects one of the manifestations of Olodumare (God) in the Yoruba spiritual or religious system (Olodumare is also known by various other names including Olorun, Eledumare, Eleda and Olofin-Orun). This religion has found its way throughout the world and is now expressed in several varieties which include Candomblé, Lucumí/Santería, Vodou, Shango in Trinidad, Anago, Oyotunji as well as some aspects of Umbanda, Winti, Obeah, Vodun and as well as many others. These varieties or spiritual lineages as they are called are practiced throughout areas of Nigeria, the Republic of Benin, Togo, Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, and Venezuela among others. As interest in African indigenous religions (spiritual systems) grows, Orisha communities and lineages can be found in parts of Europe and Asia as well. While estimates vary, there could be more than 100 million adherents of this spiritual tradition worldwide.

When Africans were being taken during the slave trade they came from all the above respective faiths. There are some estimates that 30% of the African Slaves brought to the Western Hemisphere were Muslim.

"The use of Quranic verse as amulets was (and is) widespread and of considerable vintage throughout Islamic Africa. It is clear from the colonel's comments that Muslims made common cause with others of African descent in the complicated undertaking that was the Haitian Revolution, both as soldiers and mallams or Holy Men who called upon the forces of the Islamic Sciences in pursuit of their cause."-Michael A. Gomez, "Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas."

"The Mande were viewed in Saint Domingue (pre-revolutionary Haiti) as "Good Muslims" even though it was understood that "they were not good for everything. Great producers of rice, with long experience, they did not make very sturdy plantation workers. Colonists estimated that it would take two years for a (Slave) driver to succeed in making them passable field workers." -"Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas," Michael A. Gomez

Since they had advanced literacy and learning in sophisticated warfare, the Muslims often rose to the tops of these slave societies and became leaders in revolts against their masters as in the case of the Muslim Factor in the Haitian Revolution. But because under the harsh regimen of the the plantation, system with little access to Islamic text, proper Islamic garb, regular prayer times, ability to fast during the month of Ramadan, Islam became the faith that most easily dissipated among the three brought from West Africa in its original form.

The Legendary Haitian revolutionary leader called Bookman was a Muslim as we've already shown here. But one may ask, what was Ceremony Bois Cayeeman, the alleged "pact with the Devil" Pat Robertson spoke about, and why would a devout Muslim participate in such a thing. First of all, Ceremony Bois Cayeeman linguistically makes no sense in creole because it means. "Ceremony in the Alligator Woods" There are no alligator woods in the area the ceremony was held. After studying this for over 15 years its is my conclusion that Ceremony Bois Cayeeman, was actually; CEREMONY BAW KAIS IMAM, Meaning CEREMONY BY THE IMAM'S HOUSE. Bookman, being the Imam.

Under the French Plantation system Slaves were allegedly given off on Friday, and Sunday. Friday is Yauma Jumma, the day of worship for Muslims. Ceremony Bois Cayeeman took place on a Sunday, August 14, 1791 The most interesting thing about this is that the prior Friday, August 12, 1791 would have been one of the most important Fridays for Muslims all over the world. Based in this link that would have been the first Jummah (Friday day of prayer) After Yauma Arafat, for the year of 1791: the Day of Arafat during the Islamic Month of the Hajj. The day of Arafat is one of the most important days in the Islamic calender. So much so that all non Hajj performing Muslims are expected to fast on that day. It is believed to be the day that Adam and Eve descended from the Paradise on to earth after being expelled by The Almighty. Moreover, the actual ceremony took place on Sunday, August 14, 1791 during the Islamic Days of Tashriq. Understand that using calender conversion must incorporate the one day deviation that occurs in the Islamic lunar calendar. Hence, though August 14, 1791 shows up on the Hijri-Gregorian Calender Converter as the 14th of Dhul-Hijjaj (The Month of Hajj Pilgrimage) the one day deviation would still mean that Ceremony Bois Cayeeman happened on the 13th since such deviations cannot be assured illustrated in a Hijri Calender converter.

The days starting from the 10th of Dhul-Hijjah through the 13th are days that Muslims slaughter and worship in commemoration of the sacrificing of the ram by the Prophet Abraham after God ordains him to spare his son from that command. Hundreds of millions of Muslims would have been slaughter in divine ordination the same day African Muslim Bookman specifically chose this ceremony.

Ceremony Bois Cayeeman took place during the Month of Hajj for that year based on evidence presented to you in the calender conversion tools I provided in this link, after one of the most spiritually powerful days for Muslims around the world. The African Muslims on the then Island of San Domingue, now Haiti, must have planned this ceremony at a time to maximize their spiritual acuity and force, but also had to find a way to get the pagan Africans who normally they would be loathe to share in these holidays back home, to participate and also feel that spiritual power. Therefore, after Bookman gave a speech, probably similar to the call to Jihad to the people from the land of the Blacks discussed in this video which was found in Jamaica in the 1800′s and led to a massive slave revolt (Bookman was originally from Jamaica) the African animists were allowed to incorporate a pagan practice into this ceremony by slaughtering a massive boar(Pig) and drinking from its blood (The Petwo Haitian Voodoo tribe who are among the largest and most aggressive view the massive pig as one of their sacred animals. Hence, the choice of that animal would also add to their spiritual acuity.) The two forces then combined into a spiritual nuclear bomb and started the attack that brought forth the Haitian Revolution as fully discussed here.

Voodou as practiced in Haiti is a product of the dissipated remnants of Islam which left the Africans after years of neglect and inability to practice their faith accordingly, combined with the elements of the animist pantheon and ancestor worship faiths and Catholicism. This resulted in the powerful spiritual soup (joumou) that is Haitian Voodou.

Note: I would like to take the opportunity to thank Professor Michael A. Gomez, of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Department at NYU and one of the experts on the Afro-Islamic presence among African Slaves in the Americas, and author of Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas for reading this piece as it appeared on my blog and finding my thesis both innovative and plausible.