The intellectual foundations of Vodun abound in its expositions and rationalizations of our natural world. However, the striking feature of the religion throughout historical time shines brightest when one examines its resilience, its resolve and its tenacity in the face of dreadful odds. From the pristine temples of Vodun in Yorubaland, to the famous temples in Eweland to Akanland in West Africa, to the temples of Candomble in Brazil, to the Vodun temples of Haiti, to the Kromanti temples of Jamaica and Suriname, and to the Vodun sanctuaries of New Orleans, the shared multiplicity, diversity and uniformity of the religion is evidence of its organically evolving genius throughout time and space.

Unique to Vodun is the unforgettable, unforgivable and unparalleled pain: the form, length and nature of the tragedy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. No practitioners of a religion have suffered more horrors, more genocide and more tribulations together than the people of Vodun in the tired space of the last four centuries of colonial terrorism.

Even more disturbing than the constant travail of the lived experiences of the people is the persistent ideological mutilation, the “cleansing” missionary attack on the theological and intellectual core of the religion itself. First, by Arabized Islamists of the African North, then by Judeo-Christian sects of Europe, the goal has been threefold: (1) to brand Vodun people as below human, (2) to relegate Vodun knowledge forms to the doldrums of primitivism and finally (3) to wipe out all memory of Vodun by any means necessary.

To this point the genius of Vodun is distinctive in that the shared doctrines and experiences, no matter how tenuous and unnerving—and however minuscule their triumph against these appalling odds—speak truth to their unquenchable will to power. Vodun’s very survival is testament of this genius. From the first invasions of Islamic terrorists to the subsequent blitzkriegs by Judeo-Christian terrorists from Europe, the people of Vodun and their religious ideas have evolved and adapted in ways unimaginable.

The tenacity of the people is shown across West Africa and much of the American diaspora, where Vodun has provided the core for a super-human strength necessary for transcending the consummate stupidity and complete insanity of racism, slavery and colonialism. Throughout these four hundred years of the terrorism of slave raiders and slave plantation capitalists, funded and trained by colonialists, the people of Vodun have arisen, albeit scathed—but remained spiritually stronger—from the midst of oppression in one country after the other, and from one battle after the next.

For some of these reasons, to understand where the anti-Vodun movement obtains its drive to sustain its genocidal verve, one only need look at the color of the trade that stoked the fire of slavery and the religious inclinations of the capitalists who abused fellow human beings much more intellectually advanced than they. Even here, it was easy to think that the believers in “primitive accumulation” would actually become satiated by their sheer greed. But no! They engaged the services of blasphemous traitors in the twentieth century especially to conveniently shift blame to the very victims of their carnage.

Vodun’s genius hence stems from the mere fact that it persisted against the torrent of existential threats, both from without and within, and it managed to propagate its invigorating spirituality among African peoples scattered across the globe in equal measure. Further, it survived an idea that was even more debilitating—the ideology of anti-Vodunism itself, which still rears its ugly head in almost all parts of colonial Africa. Specifically, anti-Vodunism as an ideology is the strong derogatory sentiment against Vodun as if those who practice it are the proverbial devils and their children committed to the indoctrinated hell.

In most of the barbaric world, from the torch-carrying Islamic Arabs to the Christian sword-wielding westerners and through much of the ignorant terrain of the remaining abyss of stupidity, anti-Vodunism is a popular refrain for those who wish to scorn and demean doctrines other than their own, and more specifically it is a pastime for those who wish only to express their disgust for people they partly hate and partly despise—Blacks!

Anti-Vodunism then is invariably rooted in much of the doctrines of the nineteenth and twentieth century European racial sciences. Indeed, the unique tragedies of the past four centuries speak volumes about the effects that the “sciences” produced by uninformed men, pseudo-intellectuals, in one part of the world can have on the ideas and human dignity of men in another part of the world. Although within their rotten rumblings about Blackness, and about Africa, Vodun still managed to rise up from the ashes of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade; and it has also emerged from the unrelenting colonial, neocolonial and imperialist terrorism of today to occupy the apex of an unmatched human spiritual expression.

The people of Vodun, although they now straddle worlds across the vast terrain of colonial Africa and the diaspora, still share in the lived experiences of their historical memory of Vodun from its West African source and its triumphant all-encompassing intellectual culture. Incidentally, all its peoples are part of a resolute and unshakable spiritual identity.

This shared identity transverses four key aspects of the fabric of the ancient religion that is Vodun: (1) the culture—in the sense that ideals of Vodun such as the day-to-day customs, taboos, rituals and mores permeate almost all aspects of the lives of the people, (2) the geography—in the sense that Vodun people can still be found mainly in historically defined parts of the world and finally (3) the unmistakable hew of the race—in so far as Vodun is historically and entirely an African religion that is still only largely embraced by those who don the rich hew of Blackness.

Obviously, on the one hand, it is this history of Africa’s Blackness about Vodun that continues to unsettle the rest of the ignorant and particularly stupid world of anti-Vodunism. On the other hand,   it is this Blackness that shines brightest in the unparalleled spiritual expression of Vodun. Those who rise against Vodun could not be expected to be bright enough to recognize its unique history, its energizing spirituality, its freedom seeking radar and its unforgettable gifts to the spiritualties of almost every other religion that has sprung outwards from its African historical context.

Anti-Vodunism, in this inimitable sense, is distinguishable; it draws much from the fountain of racism—an ideology rooted in the psyche of the stupid, the conscience of the foolish and the monomania of the ignorant. In fact, in this light, according to anti-Vodunists, the race of Africans can be inextricably linked with Vodun, while the same race can be excised from the forgery of the historical contexts of both Islam and Christianity (and Judaism). This way, the evangelical and civilizing role of Islam and Christianity for instance make their way back to Africa, newly rooted in an anti-Vodunism without exception. Which all goes to show that the confusion of the hatred is lost in its utter craziness.

In order to appreciate this nonsense of the anti-Vodunist, take for instance a cursory look at any referral to Vodun within western paradigms of thought. One cannot come across a single line in a newspaper, book or TV show without pejorative terms like “black market,” “black magic,” “paganism,” “animist,” and “Satanism.” Along this line of thinking, even the memories of our own Ancestors are relegated to a purgatory beyond redemption. Again, according to the racist and the anti-Vodunist, Vodun is anything but the axiomatic good, hence all its historical memory, its culture and its spiritualism must be summarily discarded.

The historical divergence of this association of Africans to Vodun while writing them out from the early foundations of Islam and Christianity, and many other religions, are probably lost to several of the Napoleonic book-burning, library-burning, and priest-killing terrorists, militants, academics and colonialists, but the cultural and spiritual influences of Vodun from its most ancient parts on the “fashionable” religions of today are not lost on those who care to dig a little deeper.

Nevertheless, the goal of anti-Vodunists has always been clear—brand Vodun as evil, and by this very branding, the African, the Black man, by association and definition becomes an evil that needs correction; he becomes a disease that needs a cure, a pagan who needs salvation, a gentile who can only be accepted into the presence of God through the blood of Jesus, a Goyim whose claim to God must come through the “chosen” hands of the Jew, and consequently a savage without a sense of agency about his own land and his own resources and hence must be directed as to their very use. Of course the goal for these pseudo-religious doctrines was clear from the outset. It was set in the final analysis of imperialism. And in this imperialism the unhappy, the unruly, the unrounded and the uncouth sought to amass unnecessary wealth by any means.

Clearly, race will continue to play a defining role in how anti-Vodunist sentiments are propagated around the world. It is from this frightening valley of racism that one cannot humanely overlook the shared suffering and tribulation of the people of Vodun in the past four centuries alone. It is also the proper context from which one can carefully examine the resilience and genius of a religion that has struggled and fought against barbaric odds; a religion that has outsmarted the contempt of much of the anti-Black, anti-African and racist world.

Like the concurrent ideologies of whiteness and like the emasculating Judeo-Christian doctrines of the exceptionalism of only the “relaxed hair and the white faces,”anti-Vodunism too is rooted in an ignorant illogical hatred. To this point, there is little to be said about the inchoate minds of the anti-Vodunist, but more to be written, examined and espoused about the sheer will with which the people of Vodun have genuinely, immaculately and intellectually navigated the colonial terrains of terrorism throughout the past four centuries.

Surely the luster of Vodun today derives from its character and its exultant will. But its genius derives much from its intellectual capacity—the ability of the theology to escape, survive and triumph over the carnage unleashed upon it. The sum total of the spiritual and intellectual might of Vodun rests within this safe bosom of the freedom of the will. More, this genius of Vodun will continue to shine even brighter as Africa, in particular, begins the hard work of deracinating the last claws of colonial, neoliberal, racial and pseudo-religious terrorism. The will of Vodun will persist and it will continue to carry its people across time and space.

24 COMMENTS

  1. Once again, Narmer Amenuti presents the genius of Vodun in a language befitting the pertinent traditions of the religion itself. The major point of his essay is a call to attention about the specificity of the history that has produced the uniform traditions, customs and rituals we see today cutting across the vast terrain of Vodun peoples, however diverse and distinct the tenets of the religion may have metamorphosed throughout time and space.
    On this issue he believes that the four hundred year old onslaught – through racial slavery and colonialism – on the ideals of Vodun and the persistent oppression of the people of Vodun, mark the unparalleled uniqueness of the religion to transcend suffering and evil. In fact, this is where the religion shines brightest! The ideals of Vodun then assert more than any other religion the freedom of The Will within a Balanced Earthly Existense (Ma’at), and lays a lesser emphasis on a supra-natural human goal [say in a spiritual paradise]. In this regard Vodun is the persistence of The Will against all odds and should be seen as the religion of the freedom fighter.

    But the more I write, I spoil it. Engage!

  2. Exciting piece! Truly! The choice of a prophetic tone is rather apt. But I am sure Narmer knows that he indulges his intellect in a controversial space. Controversial for two main reasons. One, there seems to be a more virulent tide against Voodoo right here in Africa where Charismatic Churches seem to be consuming the minds of the vast masses. And two, the lack of a central dogma amongst the various traditions of Voodoo, or rather the lack of a written central dogma.

    But before you make your entry with a response to the issues raised, Narmer, I would attempt to preempt your varied intellectual cunning with matters of the continent with this statement: You are deservedly, and decidedly arousing an important interest in the matter. If there should be a central dogma of Voodoo, I do agree too that there needs to be an awakening about such matters pertinent to the African heritage in a way that gives an intellectual voice to them. With regards to this latter point, one can say you aren’t actually engaging in the controversial but rather impregnating the African mind with a desire to intellectualize, once again, his own existence.

    All of which is cool but then again by adopting the prophetic tone of Africa fame you shy away from engaging more intellectually on the matters of the religion itself. You cannot be challenged properly in that sense, which can be a shame depending.

    • A shame! Lol. If only I could write prophetically, your challenge would be non-existent. But alas, here we are. To what end would an essay serve were it to gain the confidence of the whole world but loose it’s soul?

    • What a way to put it! Lol. I mean, gee… So by staying true to form you are happy to escape the snare of the fowler.

    • There’s no other way to avoid needless pseudo-intellectual ramblings about beliefs from the deeper depths of the soul.

  3. Dade Afre Akufu, you seem to be more interested, it appears, in the intellectual foundation of Vodun, and challenges to it, more than you could care about its uniqueness from the historical context. Is that it?

    I think your critique of the prophetic tone is harsh. You presuppose that the tone does not lend itself to a proper debate. Right?

  4. I guess, Solomon Azumah-Gomez! I have difficulty debating an essay mastered in the prophetic language, although I am not afraid to. But in case I challenged the uniformity issue about Voodoo across time and space, I can see ten thousand ways that anyone, including Narmer, could obliterate my argument with mere examples from the uniformity inherent in other religions however diverse some have become in more recent times. There’s a trajectory of uniformity and diversity to every religion it seems but I would rather the specifics of those are unearthed at some point. A prophetic tone for me, takes much away from the wrath of my “supposed” critique of Narmer’s essay.

  5. Narmer Amenuti, what say you to the many accounts of the debt to Christianity that slaves of the America’s owe in enduring the plantation? Do you not see a contradiction?

  6. Take for instance the early African Churches of the United States. I can barely recognize Christianity. I think there’s more lingering Vodun traditions to the spiritual expression of the Negro Spirituals exhibited amidst the cloak of a Bible than one would care to admit. Instead of see Christianity in the early African American Churches during slavery, I see Vodun, masked of course, with the veil of the Bible. Again, this speaks to the relentless genius of Vodun, and how it has managed to morph, diversify and adapt to terrible odds in the diaspora!

  7. Interesting thoughts Narmer Amenuti. Wouldn’t you agree that the onslaught on Vodun , as stated by Dade Afre Akufu I believe, comes more from Africans on the continent than from any other quarters? Furthermore, Vodun’s inability to rise in prestige stems mainly from its lack of scientific base as well as it’s inability to rise above a way of life that seems unattractive to the modern mind? After all this is an era of unparalleled science and religions that fail to evolve get left behind in the muck of ignorance.

    If you compare Vodun to Christianity and Islam you will find that it is Vodun that has been unable to produce significant development for its adherents. Vodun’s stigma comes from its self-inflicted resolve to remain stagnant in the midst of great change occurring all around it.

  8. I think this critique is a fair one, Atiga Jonas Atingdui. The leaders of the religion in various parts of the continent and in the diaspora have not provided a consolidated social scientific base for the uniformity within the religion. That is to say for example that there isn’t enough academic dialogue about the tenets of the religion amongst its leaders. That said, it is not as if Vodun lacks the same level of sophisticated theology as Islam or Christianity. But your point hearkens back to an all important issue in Africa in general: the written language. When it was discarded/forgotten in favor of an Oral Culture it was easy to either fail to develop this inviting, enticing and exciting academic conversation about the doctrines of the religion and advance its frontiers in public relations. This failure, if I may so put it, has more to do with the more insidious general problem of the lack of a written culture in the past few centuries centuries than anything else.

    Although this critique can also be easily taken as not entirely fair. Take for instance the ancient Kemet Temples. Let me try to be a tad bit precise. If one examines the rituals and customs around Heka and the performers of these rituals (the Hekau), they are indistinguishable from Djosa and the Djosala in Vodun. Western scholars call all these just magic and consecutively those who practice them, magicians, as if Jesus walking on water was anything more than magic. But two revealing issues arise: (1) the ancient Kemetians wrote extensively and discussed the efficacy and use of their Heka rituals and (2) they did it through a predominately written culture. But what happened? Once Napoleon and the other marauding hoards descended on Kemet, all we have left are the writings and not the practitioners, per se.

    Vodun then is unique in its genius in this sense alone: by concentrating its energies on the strength of its rhythm and spirituality it became more an abstract idea floating in the firmament for followers to grasp. It is difficult to kill an idea. It is difficult to quench an abstraction. This way the religion by dint of its embracing spirituality forced its followers to bend and turn and adapt to fit and escape constant tribulation and trial. You see evidence of this in the Negro Spirituals in North America where the traditions of Vodun easily passed unsuspected into the confines of the Christian Church. Even in the early EP churches of Togoland, followers brought in their own Ancestral Gods to the churches until these were later banned (reminiscent of the evolution of christianity itself in Ancient Rome). Much Christian charismatism derives from some of this early evolution of Vodun spirituality within the forced spaces of colonial or plantation churches.

    On the other issue about Africans representing some of the most significant parts of the onslaught on Vodun, I agree. However I am under the impression, and I may be wrong, that these sentiments have been equally stoked through Islam and Christianity. These two evangelizing religions are interested in saving the “world” from purgatory than they are about an Earthly Balance (Ma’at), for to them a Higher Earth (paradise or heaven) exists beyond our comprehension for our own redemption from Earth. More, colonialism brought the most significant parts of them. In this sense the color of those who practiced Vodun, and nothing else, never escaped the copious machinations of those who sought rather to enslave them for their own capitalist agenda. To that end the people themselves had to be saved from Vodun. Since in that calculation, the African had no history and certainly no religion. Vodun was just some satanic cult of gibberish. Of course, the minds of racists, especially when their profits are at stake, are beyond redemption.

  9. So Narmer Amenuti, essentially what you are saying is that the fluidity of Vodun, since as an abstraction it cannot be “constrained” by the practitioners of rigorous ideology and theology for lack of a written culture, enables it to toss and turn in the midst of the onslaught. And that the reason it continues to survive after these four hundred years of tribulation is due to this high-end flexibility. For example, it lacks a Holy Book, a rule book (none that I am aware), from which it followers could constantly be held to.

    In this sense then, can one regard Vodun definitively as a “religion,” in the same sense that the others are regarded?

  10. Of course Dade Afre Akufu. I do not believe that Jesus Christ, if he existed at all, wrote the Gospels. I do not believe that any Christian has provided a Holy Book, or rule book, by Christ or by Moses, of by Solomon himself. The Bible is a compendium of what others regard their prophets and the tenets of their religion. In this regard alone, Vodun can only attempt the written culture in an atmosphere of a writing culture. Which, in all fairness, it is beginning to do after centuries of an Oral Culture. Still I don’t think anyone would have called Christianity in the second century, any less a religion than the followers of Hathor in the same way that Vodun’s rise to systematize (record its rituals in written form) can not be the yardstick for its qualification as a definitive religion. For its rituals, customs, mores and more importantly theology are concise and precise even within the cultural framework of its Orature.

  11. It is my understanding that the only religion based in science is science itself. And all philosophies including science are baked in ideology. Modern religions seem to be rooted in ideologies of profit, the collection plates, big fundraisers and all. Modern religions seem to leave pathways to financial rewards that are appealing to practitioners. I don’t think traditional religions have this mindset to account for this turn in social thought to which they perhaps do not want to adapt. If Voodoo followers which to spread the religion, which I am not sure is their goal, they would have to take this into consideration.

  12. Excellent write up. If you look at statistics alone you would think Voodoo is dead and Christianity and Islam are beyond unstoppable. But the worldviews of almost every African I have encountered suggests that voodoo is very much alive. Worldviews on unseen ancestors watching, worldviews on the power of the tongue to curse and bless, on the aftermath of evil deeds on earth, on the spiritual significance of rivers, seas, streams, even in terms of the spiritual importance of the naming system, the fear of refusing help to a total stranger or not greeting them, and on many other aspects of life. What appears to be the weakness of Vodun, the fragmentation into thousands of ‘Gods’ and adherents can also be seen as emancipatory in the sense that there is no confinement to a particular physical location and dogma. But by this very nature it is extremely vulnerable to charlatans and criminals. And some voodoo cults are extremely hide handed in their attitude to atonement, where the young are condemned to servitude. Secret societies also abound, and some practices like the attitude in some places to twins are outright obnoxious. But can we consider some of these excesses as cultural rather than religious/spiritual? I also think they are isolated. I am very sure that voodoo had a lot of capacity for evolution beyond these things, like other religions seem to have put mass destruction, genocide, murder and rape behind them. If you consider the environmental realm and see where the world is going, Voodoo has been ahead of its time in its harmonious and symbiotic integration of spirituality and the environment. This is one of my favourite topics. There Is much to be done here

    • “But by this very nature it is extremely vulnerable to charlatans and criminals.” Well put!

      It’s obnoxious, even hypocritical for some practitioners of other religions to judge voodoo then by the excesses of the horrendous practices in some African cultures. I am not one to judge what is voodoo and what is not, but there’s little debate about voodoo’s strict moral codes across time and space.

      So when you say that we should rather “consider some of these excesses as cultural rather than religious/spiritual,” it’s fully apt! In that, it grants us the conscience to empower the people of voodoo, in a way, to join the collective fight against the charlatans and the criminals, instead of castigating the very voodoo followers best suited for those fights.

  13. Also, when vodun is compared to other religions’ reliance on textual scripture, and their ordering of religious observance into specific days of the week ,it appears backward. But that is the point. It is in the heart and around us. It is inward and reflects the environment. A feeling. Vodun is saved from bloody disputes over literal and other interpretations. From the way I look at it, it is more mental than actual physical practice. It is more of an attitude or philosophy that is not too amenable to being rigidly written down. By whom? Any effort to streamline it should not automatically regard the unwritten form as undesirable. It could be a strength.

    • “[Voodoo] is in the heart and around us. It is inward and reflects the environment. A feeling. Vodun is saved from bloody disputes over literal and other interpretations.”

      Dade Afre Akufu, you see? Akudugo Ayoka is performing some prophetic traditions of Vodun here. Just look at that statement, it’s as if he charmed it from the skies!

    • Guys, you will kill me oh! I am under this impression that this prophetic tradition is widespread? LOL!

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