That Voodoo That You Do So Well

Voodoo Music of Haiti

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Abstract

This web page discusses the music of the Voodoo religion. I describe Haiti’s location, geography, and climate and review Haiti’s history and the origins of its people. I discus Voodoo’s origins in Africa, France, and Spain, and describe the Catholic and Protestant contributions to Voodoo. I conclude that Voodoo music is doomed to disappear within this century.

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Introduction

When thinking of Haiti, many people think of Voodoo. To most, it is an exotic concept associated with back magic, swamps, and the raising of the dead. The media has helped to imprint these stereotypes into the minds of the general public. Yet Voodoo is much more. It is a religion that's been practiced in Haiti for 6,000 years and traces its roots back to the Benin, West African Yoruba people where it was originally, and is still called, Vodun which means “drum and spirit” (Gerdès, 1996, 35). Today it is practiced in many countries ranging from Africa to the US. Music is an integral, part of this religion. While the drums are the best known, many instruments are also used, including the guitar. The purpose of this site is to educate on Voodoo music and show the rich religion it defines as it really is.

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Location, Geography, and Climate of Haiti

Haiti is located in the Caribbean Sea on the western one-third of the island of Hispaniola, the same island the Dominican Republic is found, and its area is 27,750.00 sq km (slightly smaller than Maryland) (go.hrw.com). It is located at about 19 00 N longitude, 72 25 W latitude, near Africa and Cuba. Haiti’s geography is limited to a rainforest, which is vanishing for various reasons, and the beach, which can be found almost all along the coast. Other than that, the “terrain [is] mostly rough and mountainous (about.com).” Its climate is rather harsh, since it “lies in the middle of the hurricane belt and [is] subject to severe storms from June to October (about.com).” Additionally, occasional flooding, earthquakes, and periodic droughts have been known to occur. Normally the climate is “tropical; semiarid where mountains in east cut off trade winds (about.com).

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Brief History of Haiti

“The Haitian of today was created out of the fabric of three continents – Africa, America, and Europe. He was shaped out of the plains and hills of Nigeria, Dahomey, and the Congo; the summer and winters of Europe; and the mountains and mountain mists of Haiti itself. He is the synthesis of the folk beliefs of the French and Spanish peasants, the Yoruba and the Arada of West Africa, and perhaps of the Carib Indians with whom he had close contact during his first days in the New World.”
                                                ---The Drum and the Hoe (pg. 2)
                                                          Courlander, Harold

The history of Haiti began in 1492 [when] Christopher Columbus landed at Mole St. Nicholas in Haiti's north (www.webster.edu). The French and Spanish quickly colonized the Island and set it up as a stop for the slave trade. “The first Africans sent to Haiti arrived there in 1510. The precise origins of these first African immigrants to the New World are not known, but they came from somewhere along that long stretch of African coast between Senegal and Angola” (The Drum and the Hoe, pg. 3). These immigrants were brought as “chattel” (The Drum and the Hoe, pg. 3) slaves. More African slaves were brought to Haiti and “by the eighteenth century the slave population represented the countless tribes and kingdoms of West Africa” (The Drum and the Hoe, pg. 4). “And into this amalgam flowed some of the literature, the traditions, the religious thoughts and the superstitions of Europe. Under Spanish, French, and English rulers the slaves were constantly subjected to ways and ideas that were new to them. They absorbed and digested, and out of the diverse and even contradictory elements they worked out new patterns of life and thinking.” (The Drum and the Hoe, pg. 5). Haiti’s revolutionary war started in 1791, when the slaves rose up against their mostly French oppressors. In 1803 they had driven the whites out of Saint-Domingue, (the colonial name of Haiti) declaring the independent Republic of Haiti (www.webster.edu). Haiti has thrived and grown as a nation to this day.

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Distinctive Features of Haiti

Haiti’s distinct feature is its unique and thriving religion of Voodoo. The people enjoy an unique mix of French, Spanish, and African culture that has now been injected with some new ideas from the United States.

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Origins of Voodoo

Voodoo, or Vodoun as it is traditionally and originally known, is a religion that was manifested and created in Haiti. The first religion of Haiti was Catholicism, which was brought over by the Spanish. When the French came, they brought Protestantism. Both nations also brought African slaves with their own unique religions. All these religions mixed together to create what is now known as Voodoo. Since the Spanish and French didn’t want their slaves being any religion other than their master’s, voodoo started as a Haiti cult. “The word Vodoun itself is Dahomean in origin. Among the Fon-speaking people of West Africa it signified “spirit,” or “diety.” In Haiti the word came to be applied in a general sense to all activities of cult life, from the ritual of the “temple” to the songs and dances, though in some old songs it still applies specifically to the idea of a supernatural spirit.” (The Drum and the Hoe, pg. 8).

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The Cultural Significance of Voodoo Music

Sample Song: Sa Ka Mache /  This Can Work  

Original Lyrics of Song and Translation

Interpretation of Song

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Prognosis for this Musical Genre

There is no future for Voodoo in the modern world. With such religions as Buddhism, Catholicism, Judaism sweeping the globe and gaining more and more followers each year, the traditional religion and music of Voodoo is doomed to obscurity. Voodoo music can also not compete against today’s popular music. Voodoo itself has only managed to take serious root in New Orleans and Haiti, and it hasn’t spread much from there, today’s popular music can be heard all over the globe, and even it will change soon. Even in the modern world we can see voodoo being reduced to a straw figure and a few pins. I’m afraid that soon, this doll and a few tourist traps in Haiti and New Orleans will be all that’s left of Voodoo, and its music, within this century, or at least this millennia.

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Conclusion

Voodoo music is a very deep and meaningful music that is part of a religion centuries old. It’s rich beat and rhythmic chants have been part of Haiti for generations. It will truly be missed. Which is why we must enjoy it why it is still among us and a part of so many lives.

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Internet References Cited

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Peer-Reviewed References Cited

    1960   The Drum and the Hoe, by Harold Courlander, pp. 5-8. Univ ersity of California Press Berkeley and Los Angeles, Cambridge University Press London, England.

    1996   Dancing Spirits: Rythems and Rituals of Haitian Vodun, the Rada Rite, by Gerdes Fleurant, pp.34-48. Greenwood Press, 88 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881

    1992 The Drums of Vodou, by Lois Wilcken, pp. 30-59. White Cliffs Media Company, 2121 S. Mill Ave., Suite 206, Temp, Az 85282

    Holt, Rinehart and Winston

    2004 Haiti. Electronic document.

    go.hrw.com/atlas/ norm_htm/haiti.htm

    Stephanie A. Crockett, BET.com Staff Writer

    2003  The Facts About Voodoo. . Electronic document.

    http://www.bet.com/articles/1,,c1gb6017-6766,00.html

    About, Inc

    2004. Haiti. Electronic document.

    http://geography.about.com/library/cia/blchaiti.htm

    Webster University

    2004. Haiti. Electronic document.

    www.webster.edu

    Gaston Jean - Baptiste

    2004.Haitian Drums: Tanbou . 8/2/04

    http://www.bongamusic.com/drums.html

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Where to Buy This Music

Amazon.com
Barnesandnoble.com

Contact Jim Aimers | ©2004 Miami University