Roman Catholicism is the official religion of Haiti,
voodoo may be considered the country's national religion.
majority of Haitians believe in and practice at least some
aspects of voodoo. Most voodooists believe that their
can coexist with Catholicism. Most Protestants, however,
Misconceptions about voodoo have given Haiti a
sorcery and zombies. Popular images of voodoo have ignored
religion's basis as a domestic cult of family spirits.
of voodoo do not perceive themselves as members of a
religion; they consider themselves Roman Catholics. In
word for voodoo does not even exist in rural Haiti. The
word vodoun refers to a kind of dance and in some
a category of spirits. Roman Catholics who are active
say that they "serve the spirits," but they do not
practice as something outside of Roman Catholicism.
distinguish between the service of family spirits and the
practice of magic and sorcery.
The belief system of voodoo revolves around family
(often called loua or mistè) who are
through maternal and paternal lines. Loua protect
"children" from misfortune. In return, families must
loua through periodic rituals in which food, drink,
other gifts are offered to the spirits. There are two
services for the loua. The first is held once a
second is conducted much less frequently, usually only
generation. Many poor families, however, wait until they
need to restore their relationship with their spirits
conduct a service. Services are usually held at a
In voodoo, there are many loua. Although there
considerable variation among families and regions, there
generally two groups of loua, the rada and
petro. The rada spirits are mostly seen as
loua, while the petro are seen as "bitter"
they are more demanding of their "children." Rada
appear to be of African origin while petro spirits
to be of Haitian origin.
Loua are usually anthropomorphic and have
identities. They can be good, evil, capricious, or
Loua most commonly show their displeasure by making
sick, and so voodoo is used to diagnose and treat
Loua are not nature spirits, and they do not make
grow or bring rain. The loua of one family have no
over members of other families, and they cannot protect or
them. Voodooists are therefore not interested in the
of other families.
Loua appear to family members in dreams and,
dramatically, through trances. Many Haitians believe that
loua are capable of temporarily taking over the
their "children." Men and women enter trances during which
assume the traits of particular loua. People in a
feel giddy and usually remember nothing after they return
normal state of consciousness. Voodooists say that the
temporarily replaces the human personality. Possession
occur usually during rituals such as services for
a vodoun dance in honor of the loua. When
loua appear to entranced people, they may bring
or explanations for the causes of illnesses or misfortune.
Loua often engage the crowd around them through
flirtation, jokes, or accusations.
Ancestors (le mò) rank with the family
the most important spiritual entities in voodoo. Elaborate
funeral and mourning rites reflect the important role of
dead. Ornate tombs throughout the countryside reveal how
attention Haiti gives to its dead. Voodooists believe the
are capable of forcing their survivors to construct tombs
sell land. In these cases, the dead act like family
which "hold" family members to make them ill or bring
misfortune. The dead also appear in dreams to provide
survivors with advice or warnings.
Voodooists also believe there are loua that can
paid to bring good fortune or protection from evil. And,
believe that souls can be paid to attack enemies by making
Folk belief includes zombies and witchcraft. Zombies
either spirits or people whose souls have been partially
withdrawn from their bodies. Some Haitians resort to
who are specialists in sorcery and magic. Haiti has
secret societies whose members practice sorcery.
Voodoo specialists, male houngan and female
manbo, mediate between humans and spirits through
divination and trance. They diagnose illnesses and reveal
origins of other misfortune. They can also perform rituals
appease spirits or ancestors or to repel magic. Many
specialists are accomplished herbalists who treat a
Voodoo lacks a fixed theology and an organized
unlike Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Each
develops his or her own reputation for helping people.
François Duvalier recruited voodoo specialists to serve
tonton makouts to help him control all aspects of
François Duvalier, 1957-71, ch. 6). Duvalier
that he retained power through sorcery, but because voodoo
essentially a family-based cult, Duvalier failed to
the religion to any great extent.
Data as of December 1989