When enslaved Africans were brought to Haiti from West Africa, they brought their ways of life with them.
When confronted with the Catholic teachings of the French colonists, Haitians blended the new with the old, choosing to create
a revised world view, rather than abandon their ancestral practices.
Mostly for appearances sake, the Africans adopted Catholicism. This helped keep them out of trouble with the law as well as with the
plantation owners. They were compelled to attend Sunday mass and take communion. Yet whenever possible they would use the Catholic
rituals to carry out their own beliefs. For instance, when dancing and singing were abolished for fear of Vodou practices, slaves would
dance and sing to Catholic saints, but have them represent Vodou spirits. When forced to work on plantations on African holy days, they
would celebrate on the nearest Catholic holiday instead.
The perception outside of Haiti that Vodou is nothing more than superstition, black magic or devil
worship does not diminish the religion's central importance to Haitian culture and history.
Vodou is more than just a religion; it is a way of life. It encompasses everything from folk traditions to medicine practices to ethics.
Haitians turn to Vodou for the same things that followers seek in other religions: to make sense of the spiritual and material worlds; to
experience community; and to seek answers to questions of life, death, right and wrong.
For centuries, Haitians have practiced Catholicism in order to be socially and politically accepted and Vodou in order to relate to their ancestry. Today, Haitians commonly practice both religions and see no contradiction in this. Haitians do distinguish between the service of family spirits and the practice of black magic and sorcery.
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