Histo-Bio Reading of the Farming of Bones Essay

Histo-Bio Reading of the Farming of Bones Essay.

“Our motherland is Spain; theirs is darkest Africa, you understand? They once came here only to cut sugarcane, but now there are more of them than there will ever be cane to cut, you understand? Our problem is one of dominion. Those of us who love our country are taking measures to keep it our own”.

This statement was memorized by both the Haitian and Dominicans prisoners tortured by the soldiers during the “Parsley massacre”, which was a clear illustration of the xenophobia the Tyrannical leader, General Trujillo had.

Thus, a wave of genocide which decimates the Haitian emigre population is justified (Brice-Finch, 1999). Farming of the Bones, a novel of Danticat, does not only vividly reveal a detailed, fictional narration of what happened to the Haitians before, during, and after the “El Corte” or provide us a glimpse of the author’s life as a Haitian. The novel, considered to be one of the literary records of history of Haitians, was able to captivate the lives of Haitians in a land they partly owned.

The Farming of Bones is a stark reminder of the massacre as well as a tribute to the valor of those Haitians who escaped the terror (Brice-Finch 1999). At that particular time, Haiti was being colonized by the Americans.

This event pushed some of the natives to go to Dominican Republic and find work to be able to help their families left in Haiti. Most of them became cane workers, housemaids, houseboys, etc. as expected, most of them were being oppressed by their employers in different ways. Some of them were overworked but underpaid and some are physically abused. However, amabelle did not suffer the same fate as a personal maid since she was adored, if not loved by her employers. Papi and Donya Valencia, her patroness, never failed to treat her right. However, when the tyrant General Trujillo felt that the number of Haitians is continuing to grow, he felt it was high time to “cleanse” their land. After hearing news of the killings, Amabelle then decided to leave her patrons and go back to Haiti with her lover Sebastien and his sister.

However, when she was about to leave, the cutting in 1937— a part of General Trujillo’s dictatorial regime, Donya Valencia bled—an event that made her stay at the house a little bit longer. Because of the slight delay, Amabelle was not able to meet Sebastien and Mimi by the church—the meeting place for those who will cross the border with Doctor Javier. It was said, nonetheless, that all those who were to meet in church were arrested by the soldiers together with the doctor and the priests.

Amabelle then decided to go and find Mimi and his brother. She journeyed with Yves, a good friend of Sebastien. While they were on their journey, there were several instances of them having themselves almost killed by the Dominicans. Their companions, whim they met on the way, also died one by one and Yves and Amabelle were the only ones to return to their homeland. There, they attempted to have normal lives so they kept themselves busy; however, no matter what they do, it was very clear that the ghosts of the past would haunt them until death.the border region. These instances from the novel clearly mirror the 1937

Parsley massacre and had shown a very precise documentary of the said horrifying event. Such instances are as follows: First, General Trujillo was really the name of the tyrannical leader of Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961, who ordered to kill all the Haitians so that, generally, they could have their country only for themselves. In the novel, him despising the Haitians was clearly shown in his actions.

He was the sole mastermind of the “cleansing” of their border and he was also the one to pay very small amount of money to all the victims after the almost one-week bloodbath. Second, the narration of the Parsley Massacre was exactly how the event happened in 1937. The trucks containing the Haitians were real. The “killing spree”, where the peasants are to line by six and jump off a cliff if they were not able to say “perejil” (parsley) correctly, since the color of the

Dominicans and Hatians are almost the same, also happened the same way it was in the novel. A quote from Senyora Valencia illustrates this point: “And in the parsley he said ‘pewegil’ for perejil. The Generalissimo had him in plain sight and could have shot him in the parsley, but he did not because the Generalissimo had a realization. Your people did not trill their r the way we do, or pronounce the jota. ‘You can never hide as long as there is parsley nearby,’ the Generalissi mo is believed to have said. On this island, you walk too far and people speak a different language. Their own words reveal who belongs on what side.”

In this particular event, Dominican troops killed between 10,000 and 15,000 Haitians in approximately 2-6 days, particularly from October 2nd to October 4th 1937 (Upchurch, 1998). Third, the River of Massacre is really the name of the river at the borderline of Haiti and Dominican Republic. The Massacre River was named for a seventeeth century bloodbath, but as Danticat makes clear, it has continued to live up to its name. The river divides the small Caribbean island of Hispaniola into the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Because the countries are so close, their fates have historically been intertwined.

The Farming of Bones begins in the Republic, during the regime of General Rafael Trujillo (Upchurch, 1998). Fourth and last in the significant similarities in events in history and the novel was that even though the Dominican leader taught its people to be cruel and to have no mercy for the Haitians, some of them chose to defy the General and helped hide several peasants during the mass killing. Senyora Valencia was a great example of such Dominicans: “Do you truly understand? During El Corte, though I was bleeding and nearly died, I hid many of your people. I hid a baby who is now a student at the medical school with Rosalinda and her husband. I hid Sylvie and two families in

your old room. I hid some of Donya Sabine’s people before she and her husband escaped to Haiti. I did what I could in my situation.”

In history, however, it is believed that although we must acknowledge that the Haitian-Dominican conflict stemmed from the occupation of the Dominican Republic by Haiti, it would be dangerous, and unfair to the Dominican people, to attribute Trujillo’s acts and ideology entirely to the same origin. Most of the Dominican people did not participate in Trujillo’s massacre of the Haitians. In fact, Many Haitians were saved by good-hearted Dominicans who could not imagine and could not accept the killings of thousands of innocents for petty reasons. The best example of this fact is the Dominican politician, Jose Maria Peza Gomez, who is believed to be of Haitian descent, and who escaped the massacre because a White Dominican family adopted him.

As for the author’s relation to the characters, I found Amabelle most likely to share the life of Edwidge Danticat. There are few similarities in them but if you would compare Danticat’s life to that of other characters, it is most likely that you would find it difficult. For one, Danticat had always wanted to be a writer ever since she was a child. Her parents, on the other hand wanted her to be a doctor. In Amabelle’s case, she had always been veering away from her parents’ love for giving birth and chose to just sew clothes and at the same time serve Senyora Valencia.

Another, I think, is the point in her life when her parents transferred to New York to work there. She was very young then and yet had to live without her parents with her. Amabelle experienced this when her parents drowned while crossing the river at the border. Both of them were forced to live without their parents at a time when they need guidance, love, and care from the person who brought them into this world. Third and last point is when Danticat transferred to Brooklyn to live with her real family. Adjustment to this new

family was difficult, and to make it worse, she also had difficulty adjusting at school, because she spoke only Creole and did not know any English. Other students taunted her as a Haitian, a boat person, or a refugee. This time, it’s not only Amabelle who experienced the same treatment from other people but all the Haitians in the Dominicans part of the land.

As evident in the novel, most of them suffered greatly because of their race, social status, and language. Obviously, it is very apparent that the novel Farming of the Bones was a literary record of what had happened to the 1937 massacre and a bit of the author’s life. In fact, the massacre, Danticat told Mallay Charters in Publishers Weekly, is “not just a part of our history, as Haitians, but it’s also a part of the history of the world. Writing about it is an act of remembrance.”


Brice-Finch (1999) A review of The Farming of Bones, in World Literature Today, Vol. 73, No. 2, p. 373. Munro, M. (2006) Writing Disaster: Trauma, Memory, and History in Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones. London: Faber and Faber Upchurch, M. (1998) “No Room for the Living,” in New York Times Book Review. Lancer, J. The Conflict between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Retrieved from http://www.allempires.com/forum/

Wucker, M. (1998) The River Massacre: The Real and Imagined Borders of Hispaniola Retrieved from: http://windows.on.haiti-the.river.massacre.files.html

(2005) Edwidge Danticat. Retrieved from


(2009) 70 Years Ago in the Dominican Republic! Retrieved from http://fowomouvriye.org/Bulletins/001/TheHopeAct.html

(2012) The Farming of Bones: Author Biography. Retrieved from http://www.enotes.com/farming-bones

(2012) Dominican Republic. Retrieved from

Histo-Bio Reading of the Farming of Bones Essay

Haiti and Dominican Republic Essay

Haiti and Dominican Republic Essay.

This investigation examined four existing studies that explored the reasons in why Haiti is more impoverished than its neighbor, the Dominican Republic. Haiti occupies the western one-third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea. The other two thirds of the island is the Dominican Republic. These two independent countries are broadly similar in terms of geography and historical institutions, yet their growth performance has diverged remarkably. In the first study they talk about how AIDS has affected Haiti and how is it been concentrated in some of the Bateyes* in the Dominican Republic, affecting its population.

The second study proposes measures to improve the migration system between the two countries so as to reduce the vulnerability to human rights deprivations of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. The third study addresses the growth of the two countries since 1960, when both countries had the same income per capita, just below $800. The fourth study examines the present state of health and education of the Haitian people, in the wake of the recent natural disasters.

*A Batey (plural is bateyes) is a company town where sugar workers live, in this context it is where illegal Haitian workers live in the Dominican Republic with very poor conditions.


Poverty in Haiti is massive and deep. Up to one million Haitian immigrants live in the Dominican Republic, most of them illegally. The high unemployment rate is a major cause of increasing levels of crime thought Haiti, especially in urban areas such as the capital, Port-Au-Prince; also this has been the cause of emigration to the Dominican Republic. Haiti is described as highly corrupted according to the Corruption Perception Index score system (2008). The most common type of corruption that exists in Haiti is known as political corruption. Facilitators of this form of corruption
continue to assist political leaders who profit from unjustly acquired wealth such as briberies. The next graph shows the contrast between Haiti and the Dominican Republic in terms of political instability from 1984 to 2000. Increase Indicates Better Institutions.

Source: International Country Risk Guide.

Additionally, the fact that many intermediaries who are trained in operating leading economies whom often take advantage of the economic system. The relationship between corruption and poverty affect both individuals and businesses in a country, in this case in two countries, and they run in both directions: poverty invites corruption, while corruption deepens poverty. One of the results from the poverty in Haiti is the fact that most Haitians cannot cover their own dietary or health needs. Furthermore, the present issue of malnutrition is only one of the many causes of extreme poverty and massive emigration to the neighboring nation of the Dominican Republic.

The terrain of Haiti is two-thirds mountainous with the rest of the country marked by great valleys, extensive plateaus, and small plains. Haiti’s natural resources include bauxite, copper, calcium carbonate, gold, marble, and hydroelectric power. Environmental and other current issues include extensive deforestation (much of the remaining forested land is being cleared for agriculture and used as fuel); soil erosion; inadequate supplies of potable water. This study finds that initial conditions cannot fully explain the growth divergence, but rather policy divisions have played a central role in the growth trends of the two countries, the Dominican Republic and Haiti in terms of employment, unemployment rate, health and quality of life.


I have chosen to talk about the Dominican Republic and Haiti because I am from the Dominican Republic and the conflicts that the Dominican Republic and Haiti have interest me. What is the explanation for these cultural differences between these two counties sharing the same island? How did the island the Tainos called Hayti come to be divided into two countries, and inhabited by two peoples of such different cultures? I took a look at the colonial past of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which contains the answer to these questions. Both countries have a colonial background that has made them into what they are today. I have read and analyzed four different studies that talk and explain some of the causes these two nations are so different in terms of education, culture, and health.

Results and Discussion

The first study used umbilical cords that were collected at seven obstetrical sites where over 95% of La Romana* deliveries occur during for phases (pilot, expanded pilot, full study, and pMTCT program monitoring) from 2 August to 30 September 2006, the results showed that HIV seroprevalence was 2.6% (263/10 040 overall; 114/4 452, full-study phase (95% confidence interval = 2.1%-3.1%)). Most HIV-infected parturients were Dominican (68.9%) and urban (64.0%). However, prevalence was higher among Haitians (3.7%) than Dominicans (2.3% (p < 0.001)), especially those aged 21-25 years (5.2% vs. 2.3% (p < 0.001)), and among rural, batey, and peri-urban (vs. urban) parturients (3.4% vs. 2.3%, (p = 0.003)). HIV prevalence was associated with commercial sex work (reported by only 0.4%), and prior pregnancy. In logistic regression analysis, commercial sex work, Haitian nationality, and prior pregnancy were independently associated with HIV infection.

Caesarean deliveries were more frequent, and rose in the last years of the study, among HIV seropositives; however, most deliveries among seropositives (57.5%) were vaginal. The traffic from Haitians to the Dominican Republic is obvious and imminent and the authorities seem to be doing nothing to stop the traffic, some Haitian parturients cross the border to the Dominican Republic just to give birth, that way they assure a better future for their baby, like Bracken (2004) said Haitian immigrants to the Dominican Republic are received ambivantly. The researchers interviewed 24 key informants including academics in Haiti and the Dominican Republic studying migration issues, representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with the affected populations, Haitian and Dominican migration officials, and private Dominican companies that employ Haitian workers. Interview subjects were identified through prior contacts with NGOs working on Haitian issues. Semi-structured interviews were also conducted with 13 victims who had been expelled from the Dominican Republic to Haiti.

The scientists analyzed a total of 674 questionnaires administered to those expelled between August 1999 and December 2000. ONM recorded basic information (name, age, profession, etc.) for each expellee. Fletcher and Miller found that the population appears to be overwhelmingly male and concentrated in the age range 20–40. According to ONM data, about 80 per cent of those expelled are men. About half are below age 27. About 8 per cent are children below age 15 and 2 per cent are older adults over age 60. About 4 per cent were born in the Dominican Republic. Most of the adults have lived for at least two years in the Dominican Republic. The data show that levels of education, as indicated by the ability to sign one’s name, are quite low among respondents, with approximately half of expellees able to do so.

Lower rates are found among women and adults over 40 years old. Data from ONM also show that the vast majority of men deported were working in agriculture. GARR data also show men primarily employed in agriculture, but with significant proportions in construction and factory jobs. Along with this study, Jamarillo & Sancak performed a comparison between the two countries since 1960, the countries had the same income per capita GDP in 1960, but, by 2005, the Dominican Republic’s per capita real GDP had tripled, whereas that of Haiti had halved, the experiment included a panel regression to study growth determinants across a broad group of countries and a case study framework to better understand the specific policy decisions and external conditions that have shaped economic outcomes in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Per Capita, and real GDP Growth Rates in Latin America, 1960 2005. The following graph indicates the GDP per capita (in constant 2000 US Dollars)

Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators.

Brown, G., talks about the tragedy of Haiti and the recent issues that have affected Haiti lately, this article examines the present state of education and health of Haitian people, in the wake of the recent tragedies. According to Brown although the people were very poor in economics, they were rich in culture and manners that welcome the people visiting the poor nation. Therefore, one can make the point that the inaction of the global community needs to be addressed because poverty is a continuous state of being for a country like Haiti. In addition, Haiti’s poverty has been affecting its neighbour country as well, the Dominican Republic.

By paying off border guards, Haitians immigrants are trying to find refuge within the Dominican Republic. As a result, the Dominican Government has heightened security measures in order to combat the ongoing influx of Haitian immigrants. Even though the Dominican government is heightening security, there is still the fear that their nation will be overrun with Haitians immigrants escaping poverty and environmental degradation. To counterattack this situation the Dominican government has launched a new military frontier force to prevent illegal transportation of Haitians inside the Dominican Republic.

According to the Population Reference Bureau Population Data Sheet (2009), Haiti’s population is estimated at 9.5 million people. The age structure of the population is as follows: 43% are aged 0-14 years: 54% are 15 to 64 years of age and just 3.7% is age 65 or older. The median age of the entire population of Haiti is 17.9 years indicating an overwhelmingly young population. The literacy rate, defined as people age 15 and over that can read and write is 53% of the population. Haiti suffers from the death of 60 children under the age of 5 for every 1000 live births. Being one of the highest numbers throughout the world, the United Nation is trying to reduce the children mortality rate by 2/3 in 2015, which seems very unlikely. United Nations. (2010). We can end poverty.

Retrieved from: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/childhealth.shtml In addition to the goals on poverty and health, there are other issues the United Nations is trying to achieve such as universal primary education, gender equity, stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, environmental stability, and to create a global partnership. Health issues are also another cause of poverty and corruption in Haiti (Bracken, 2006). Haiti spends 12 dollars a head on health, which affects human resources.

There are 1.1 nurses for every 10,000 people showing a great deficit of health personnel. There is a low vaccination coverage and increase cases of child malnutrition, which causes health situations to worsen. If the United Nations achieves these goals then health would improve because the less malnutrition and poverty people suffer the better their health become. When mothers are well educated and gender equality is reached then women have access to better income, which improves the health of the population at large. (Fletcher, 2004).

Unemployment is a serious problem. There is widespread unemployment and underemployment. Estimates are that more than two-thirds of the labour force is unemployed or underemployed (Central Intelligence Agency, 2010). There is a direct relationship between the unemployment rate and the state of the economy of Haiti. Consider these facts provided by the United States Central Intelligence agency (“CIA Fact book- Haiti”): * About 80% of the population lives in abject poverty

* Nearly 70% of all Haitians depend on the agriculture sector, which consists mainly of small-scale subsistence farming * Following tainted legislative elections in May 2000, international donors including the United States suspended almost all economic aid to Haiti

* Real GDP growth dropped by almost 1% in 2002
* GDP per capita is an anemic $1400 a year
* Inflation in Haiti in 2001 was estimated at about 12%
* There is a shortage of skilled labour in Haiti, but unskilled labour is abundant * The government’s budget is unbalanced with Revenues of $273 million and Expenditures of $361 million * There is a three to one ratio between unpaved roads and paved roads in Haiti pointing to infrastructure deficiencies * A number of private companies have gone bankrupt, and those businesses still operating are doing so in order to be in a position to capitalize on opportunities when the economy rebounds (“Situation in Haiti borders on chaos, economist says”).

* Crime, along with political and civil unrest, deters international investment. * Without a stable political and economic environment, multi national companies are unwilling to invest or build in Haiti meaning that there is not enough work available for the people that live on the island. * According to the Association of Haitian Economists Vice President, the minimum wage for those lucky enough to have a job is $1.50 per day. A different situation embraces the Dominican Republic. According to the Population Reference Bureau Population Data Sheet (2009) the Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola.

The terrain encompasses rugged highlands and mountains with fertile valleys interspersed. The Dominican Republic’s natural resources include nickel, bauxite, gold, and silver. This nation has a population of approximately 10.7 million, just slightly higher than the population of its neighbour Haiti. The age structure of the population is markedly different. 34% of its population is 0-14 years old, 61% is age 15-64 and 5.2% of the population is 65 years and over. The median age of the population is approaching 24 years. The literacy rate, defined as people age 15 and over that can read and write is 85% of the population.

The Central Intelligence Agency (2010) informed that the unemployment rate in the Dominican Republic was estimated at 14.5% in 2002. The Dominican Republic’s economy experienced dramatic growth over the last decade, even though Hurricane Georges hit the economy hard in 1998. Although the country has long been viewed primarily as an exporter of sugar, coffee, and tobacco, in recent years the service sector has overtaken agriculture as the economy’s largest employer, due to growth in tourism and free trade zones. Real GDP growth was estimated at 4.1% in 2002. The GDP per capita is $6300, which is more than four times the GDP per capital of its island neighbour Haiti. Despite this, almost 25% of the population lives below the poverty line.

According to a 2001 estimate published by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA Fact book – Dominican Republic”), GDP by sector in the Dominican Republic is broken down as follows: Agriculture: 11%, Industry: 34%, and Services: 55%. For comparison, in Haiti the breakdown is as follows: Agriculture: 30%, Industry: 20%, and Services: 50% based on 2001 estimates.

Furthermore, I believe, intuitively, that there is or must be a statistically significant causal relationship between the following factors: * Declining GDP growth in Haiti and unemployment in Haiti * Low literacy rates [relative to the Dominican Republic and the dramatic difference in unemployment rates between these nations * The lack of skilled labour in Haiti and the unemployment rate * The limited number of paved roads, which is indicative of a weak infrastructure and the rate of unemployment in Haiti.


This study examined four existing studies that explored the reasons in why Haiti is much poorer than its neighbor, the Dominican Republic. I suspect there are statistically provable relationships between a variety of factors and the rates of unemployment in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. However, there are not enough data points to generate a statistically relevant analysis of the data. If Haiti is to recover, the world needs to be aware of the problems plaguing the land and its people. The world also needs to come to the aid of Haiti and provide assistance and foreign loans if it hopes to help the poverty-stricken population of Haiti.

Brown, G., (2010). The tragedy of Haiti: A reason for major cultural change. The ABNF Journal, 90-93.
Central Intelligence Agency 2010. The world fact book Dominican Republic. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/dr.html CSR International (2010). 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). Retrieved from: http://www.csrinternational.org/?tag=corruption-perception-index Central Intelligence Agency. (2010). CIA World Fact book Haiti. Retrieved from: http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ha.html Fletcher, L., & Miller, T. (2004). New perspectives on old patterns: Forced migration of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. Journal of Ethnic & Migration Studies. pp. 659-679. Jamarillo, L., & Sancak, C., (2009). Why has the grass been greener on one side of Hispaniola? A comparative growth analysis of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. IMF Staff Papers, 56(2), 323-349. Roman-Poueriet, J., Fernandez, A., Beck-Sague, C., Garcia Szabo, F., Duke, W., Martinez. A., & Stephen, N., (2009) HIV infection and prevention of mother to child transmission in the childbearing women: La Romana, Dominican Republic, 2002-2006. J Public Health 26(4) 315-23.

Haiti and Dominican Republic Essay

The Impact of Voodoo on the Haitian Revolution Essay

The Impact of Voodoo on the Haitian Revolution Essay.

Most history books give August 21, 1791 as the date of the start of the Haitian revolution.  The slaves in Haiti set in motion an uprising that was so bold and bloody that one researcher calls it “so colorful that not even Hollywood would have to improve upon history” (Corbett 1991).  However, many historians cite the revolution as beginning many, many years earlier with the natural unrest of the slaves of the time.  Despite the many intervening influences, the voodoo religion greatly impacted the revolution of Haitian slaves.

In order to understand how this impact arose, one must understand some of the basic information behind both the voodoo religion and the history of Haiti.  First, the voodoo religion, also known as voudon and vodun, must be examined. The origins of this religion can be traced to Africa  Here, 1,000 different tribal groups combined to form the religious base of what is now voodoo (Haeber, 2004).  This religion is not written down in a series of laws or explanations, as is Christianity in the Bible, but rather, according to historian Joseph Washington (1972), “written in its members’ hearts, minds, oral history, rituals, priests, rainmakers, elders, and kings.

In such a setting, there were no sacred scriptures, only traditions. Their rituals were what bound them together as communities, much like Kabbalah did during anti-Jewish climate of Medieval Europe.” Now, most religious references sources, acknowledge voudou (voodoo) as the “complex beliefs and practices among the majority of the populace of Haiti” (Pastor, 2004).  It is important to note that voodoo is recognized as a true and documented religion, not just a silly form of superstition.

Voodoo, as a religious practice, believes in one god, just like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  Three forms of spiritual beings characterize the belief system; these are the iwa, twins and the dead.  Iwa are the spirits of family members may reclaim the bodies of people now and again.  They interact with human beings.  Twins are mysterious opposing forces in the universe, such as good and bad, happy and sad, and the like. The dead are family members who have died buy remain unclaimed by their family.  These dead can be very harmful or dangerous.  Voodoo ceremonies involve worshipping, respecting, honoring and making sacrifices to the iwa in order to gain healing, to create spells and potions, to initiate new priests and priestesses and to read dreams and foretell the future.  Theses ceremonies are led by holy men and women and generally involve a type of sacrifice.  The iwa can take over the body of any participant for a period of time as well (Corbett, 1988).

Many of the superstitious ideas of voodoo, such as black magic, pins in dolls, and human sacrifice are the result of folklore.  Basically, there are two kinds of voodoo – rada and petro, sometimes called congo.  Rada is the family spirit kind of voodoo described above and centered upon the iwa, who are usually kind an helpful.  Petro is the blacker voodoo which is comprised of the mean and dangerous iwa.  This particular sext of voodoo historically involved sexual initiations, death curses and the creation of murderous zombies.    Howver, by “virtually all scholarly estimates one can find, Rada accounts for about 95% of Voodoo, if not more. Thus the spectacular tales of black magic, while very real, are extremely limited. Petro is not the typical Voodoo, but it does exist” (Corbett, 1988).  It is this 5% that has made voodoo a frightening idea for many.

 Voodoo traveled with the African slaves all across the world, but seemed to find its foothold in the Caribbean and Haiti.  Haiti, formerly called Saint-Domingue on the half that was controlled by the French and Santo Domingo on the half that was controlled by the Spanish, was among the wealthiest colonies in the world, with the most profitable sugar and indigo plantation system in the West Indies. Sadly, their system of slavery was among the most brutal and oppressive in the world, which led to a high mortality rate among the slaves and the constant influx of first generation Africans to replace them.  As a result, the slaves’ cultural and religious traditions, such as voodoo, remained strong and undiluted (Duffy, 1999).          The force of their beliefs propelled them onward throughout their years of enslavement and the revolution that followed.

These slaves sailing to Haiti from Africa were not allowed to take any possessions; the only things they could take were their “languages, folktales, songs, dances and religions” Even though the Catholic Haitian whites forbade them to practice their culture outwardly, they practiced it in secret as their religious beliefs helped them get through the terrible days of slavery.  Of course, the Catholic priests attempted to convert the slaves to Catholicism.  In order to put up the appearance of acceptance, the slaves pretended to be Catholic, but secretly practiced their own religious; as these religions blended together, the Haitian “brand” of voodoo was formed.  This voodoo fostered strong bonds between family, ancestors and community and ultimately gave the slaves the strength and unity for the revolt (Maclean, 2004).  These bonds made the revolution possible.

A Catholic figure Moreau de Saint-Mery noted enslaved Africans manipulated Catholic faith to create an arena for the practice of their own primitive religions – voodoo.  The moral conduct of some Catholic clergymen was brought into question as they were accused of enabling these practices through the solicitation of fees supposedly for voodoo items, such as “baptizing houses, boats and even blessed charms, amulets or whatever brought the Voudou followers back for service. Some priests were taken away for providing such services and for more importantly comprising their morals and values to the Catholic religion” (Pastor, 2004).  As a result, problems were generated in the Catholic Church as well which affected the French nation as well as its Haitian colony.

            At this time Haiti was a hotbed of uprising and unrest. Violent conflicts between white colonists from France and their black slaves were common in Saint-Domingue, which later became Haiti.  Runaway slaves, called Maroons, undertook a type of guerrilla warfare against whit plantations and eventually organized itself into a powerful and unified force under the leadership of Francois Makandal.  He attempted to poison the drinking water of all the whites long before the “official” rebellion but was unsuccessful (Pastor, 2004).  These attempts, though failures, did spawn more and more interest in becoming free and in empowering the slaves to revolt.

            This revolt against the system of slavery and the French colonists eventually escalated into what is called the Haitian Revolution.  For a long time, the Maroons were only successful on a limited scale because the whites and the free, landholding blacks combined to repel them.  Soon, the black landowners soon tired of the arrangement and wanted to be equal to and as powerful as the white landowners.  This led to a dissolution of their cooperation.   Unfortunately for the slaves, tensions between blacks and mulattos impeded the process of creating unified front against the white elitists (US Library of Congress, 2006).   However, this tension soon become cooperation.

            Officially, the causes for the revolution (and its success) are listed in the book, Voodoo and Politics in Haiti, as

  • The increased number of blacks needed to work on the numerous developoing sugar plantations. As a result, black culture and religion began to become more prominent in Haitian society.
  • This increase caused an increase in the population of Maroon settlements, who ultimately instigated the revolution.
  • The French revolution in France was a critical factor in the success of the slave revolt: “the events in France did not necessarily cause Boukman’s uprising but they did paralyze the colonial regime’s ability to deal with the revolt” (Laguerre, 1989).
  • The tolerance of Spaniard to the Maroon guerillas. The Maroons knew that they could escape at any time to Santo Domingo and receive clemency.
  • The dissolving of animosity between the blacks and mulattos.  Thus the two groups were able to cooperate.

 (Laguerre 1989, 66-67)

What links voodoo with this Haitian rebellion is the eventually leadership and organization of the slave’s uprising.  In August of 1791, several black leaders joined together to solidify a unified group of fighters.  Some of these leaders were Francois Dominique Toussaint Louverture (Toussaint), Boukman, a runaway slave, Georges Biassou, Jean-Francois, and Jeannot.  Boukman was a voodoo houongan, or priest.  The ceremony, led by Boukman, was sealed with the sacrifice of a pig (Pastor, 2004).   This service was reportedly one of the very rare Petro (petwo) services.  “Word spread rapidly of this historic and prophetic religious service and the maroons and slaves readied themselves for a major assault on the whites” (Corbett, 1991).  The uprising was primed.

Voodoo practices gave the slaves hope that they might overcome their plight.  They believed fully that religion would give them victory over their cruel masters and allow them the chance to live out their dreams.  This faith gave them strength.

What ensued was a mass execution of white men, women and children in the far northern settlements.  All of the white settlements were burned, with nothing spared.  However, all of the slaves attempts were not successful; at Cap Francais, the white residents were ready and held their own with each side losing thousands of individuals and acres upon acres of plantation land.  It was this battle that truly set the full-fledged Haitian rebellion into motion (Pastor, 2004).  For the first time, the white landowners were afraid.

Voodoo was a powerful weapon for the revolution in that it soon terrified white planters and allowed for the mass organization of separate groups of maroons and blacks under the guise of religious practice.  High priests and priestesses instilled fear among the plantation owners and other whites through their preparation of potions and poisons and their ability to curse individuals (Duffy, 1999).  Troy Taylor cites Marie Laveau, the supposed Queen of Voodoo who notes that

The religion was practiced by the slaves and the free blacks as well and so strong was the power held by the upper echelons of the religion that they could entice their followers to any crime, and any deed. Whether or not these priests held supernatural power or not, the subtle powers of suggestion and of secret drugs made Voodoo a force to be reckoned with. Masters felt the taste of poison in their food, women and men the taste of lust with a handful of powder… and even death was held in check by the use of “zombie” drugs. There was no denying that Voodoo was real, and powerful (Taylor, 2000).

The power that some priests and priestesses could wield reached epic proportions in the folklore of Haiti.  Examples include the ability to kill by simply pointing loa fetishes at people or animals.  One journalist affirms this phenomenon two hundred years later:

A woman splashed sand into her eyes, a man cut his belly with shards of glass but did not bleed, another swallowed fire. Nearby a believer, perhaps a yam farmer or fisherman, heated hand-wrought knives in crackling flames. Then another man brought one of the knives to his tongue. We cringed at the sight and were dumbfounded when, after several repetitions, his tongue had not even reddened. (Beckwith 1995)

Participants in these occurrences claim to be protected by the spirits and that no harm will ever come to them.  This of course struck great fear in the white plantation owners who did not feel capable of such a formidable opponent.  Plantation owners and other whites and free blacks were within their rights to be frightened of this seemingly sinister practice that could cause their own deaths at any time.

One particular ritual of voodoo, known as the Candela was particularly feared because it seemed indecent and erotic and might provoke violent or indecent actions.  “The secret societies had their own individual formal initiation rituals and consisted of teaching the society, tested their skills of loyalty by sharing information belonging to the group. The individual participating in the initiation ritual must not share any secrets with a group not belonging to this particular society” (Pastor, 2004).  Thus, through the Candela, the loyalty of other unknown individuals could be tested and information shared on a regular basis.

                     The communal bonds of voodoo and its rapid growth and awareness during the revolutionary period created a serious level of suspicion among the whites and other Christians.  As opposition and religious tensions mounted, the voodoo community grew more secretive, more loyal, and more determined.  As individual began to be persecuted for their religion, the fervor just continued to grow which created a wide gulf between the then French Catholics and the black voodoo slaves (Pastor, 2004).

Soon, rumors or secret and barbaric rituals involving sex, blood, poisons and more began to circulate among the whites.  “The dichotomy that developed became more pronounced through time, which led to an unambiguous climate of Black and White, Good and Bad.  In colonial Haiti, the slave owners and Jesuits saw the Black slaves as literal practitioners of Black magic, even though the vast majority of Voodoo – 95-percent – is comprised of White magic (houngan), rather than Black magic (bocor) practitioners” (Haeber, 2004).   By 1790, fear of this dark voodoo religion spread to the French Louisiana in the current United States.  (Slave Religion in Central and South America, 2002).

As a result of the rising level of factions and unrest in Haiti, France took action by naming commissioners to use military action to restore order.  While the military intervention did not do much in the way of restoring order, giving free blacks full citizenship status did a little. In 1797 an important figure by the name of Toussaint led the revolt. Toussaint warned that Napolean would burn the entire Haitian nation.  During this time the French colony of Louisiana was sold to the United States and populated with the many exiles and refugees from Haiti (Pastor, 2004).

Toussaint’s leadership was admired by nearly everyone.

He was revered by the blacks, and appreciated by most whites and mulattoes for helping to restore the economy of Saint-Domingue. Disregarding French revolutionary laws, he allowed many émigré planters to return, and used military discipline to force the former slaves to work. He believed that people were naturally corrupt, and felt that compulsion was needed to prevent idleness. The labourers, however, were no longer whipped; they were legally free and equal, and they shared the profits of the restored plantations. Racial tensions eased because Toussaint preached reconciliation and believed that for the blacks, a majority of whom were African born, there were lessons to be learnt from whites and Europeanized mulattoes. His ability to control the revolution was a form to restore law in the enslaved colony (Toussaint Louverture, 2007)

As a result, Toussaint was regarded as honorable by both sides of the conflict who “had the regard for human life and passed on with honor and respect and accomplished success and defeats and helped to change the course of history” (Toussaint Louverture, 2007).  An opponent of voodoo, he worked for the safety of his own white master and others like him while fighting to bring rights and wages to the blacks. Later, however, he had to send his family to safety in Spanish Santo Domingo and join forces with the French commanders in order to ensure his own safety (Toussaint Louverture, 2007).

Voodoo as a religion thus began as a revolutionary cause and resulted in the establishment, ultimately of the Creole community in Louisiana.  Of course, Creole as a language was brought to the French in the 1600s but the slaves use of the language as a means of resisting their owners and other whites entrenched it in their culture.  Language was brought by French Buccaneers in the 17th century, and the combination of Indian and Spanish formed Creole which served to isolate others in France. Creole was taught to the enslaved Africans as another form of resistance (Pastor, 2004).  Thus, the slaves had a secret language to go along with their voodoo.

Another major contribution to history of Louisiana was the influx of 10,000 Saint-Domingue refugees between 1792-1810. Along with their arrival to New Orleans their Contributions included the sugar industry, establishments of the French Opera, Newspapers, Schools and Colleges with French culture. The refugees also contributed Creole cuisine, Creole language, okra and voodoo to their adopted homeland.

Louisiana benefited economically from the sugar industry that was introduced to the region by white and black St. Domingans (Pastor, 2004).   Voodoo beliefs were carried through the slave trade from New Orleans, up the Mississippi delta to Memphis. Voodoo later traveled to Houston in the 1930s and 40s as the railroads and promise of jobs provided more opportunities to these former Haitians (Wenger). Thus, the Haitian revolution eventually impacted the United States by contributing to the rich and unique culture of Louisiana.

“Revolutionary leaders successfully used Voodoo to make Haiti the first black republic in the world and the second nation to achieve independence in the western hemisphere and to make the Haitian revolution the first social revolution in the third world” (Laguerre, 1989). The Haitian revolt was the largest and only successful slave revolt in the Eastern hemisphere and produced the first black republic in the entire world and the first independent country in Latin America (Duffy, 1999).  The Haitian revolution was the result of many factors – political, social and religious.  However, the voodoo religion practice by the revolutionary leaders and the slaves both served to turn the course of the revolution to create the free nation that it is today.


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The Impact of Voodoo on the Haitian Revolution Essay