The Depiction of the Haitian People and Voodoo in Society

As a child growing up, whenever anyone heard that I was Haitian, they immediately assumed that I knew and practiced Voodoo. This was not only offensive because I was a Christian, but it was more so offensive because voodoo was not considered a positive thing. It was not seen as a religion or a way of life. It was seen as evil and destructive.

I am in no way involved in the practice of voodoo, but as the years have gone by, I have a better understanding of the practice. This enlightenment did not come from my parents, because even speaking of such a thing was very uncomfortable. The media gave me a one-sided view and for
years I was afraid of certain Haitians and their talks of voodoo. I decided to enlighten myself through the use of books.

Growing up, voodoo ever being depicted in a positive light. It was always negative. The typical scenario was if someone wronged another, the voodoo priestess would put a hex on him or her and curse them. Symbolism was very important in this depiction. The use of skulls and bones and the notorious chicken head were all props used to depict voodoo.

One mistake the media made was to make people think that voodoo was only a Haitian phenomenon. On a hit show back in the early 90’s called the PJ’s, there was a mumbo woman (voodoo priestess) who was supposedly from Haiti, however she carried a Jamaican accent. This was to show that anyone black that was practicing voodoo had to be Haitian. Forget the fact that her accent meant she was from another island. Voodoo equaled Haitian. There have been several instances even as of recent on the hit show Hero’s where the man dubbed “The Haitian” has these powers to see the future. In my opinion the media is responsible for societies association of Haitians and voodoo. The media rarely, if ever discusses Haitian voodoo in a positive light. It never hones on the fact that it is a religion like many others, that
it can be used for good and that it is a way of life. Voodoo is not all about spells and chicken blood or turning people into objects and animals.

It is ironic that today there are so many shows on the paranormal, vampires and witches and other forms of “black magic” yet they seem to be more acceptable to society. Harry Potter is filled
with sorcery and magic and yet it is hailed to be a children’s story. Society does not have a problem promoting these images, yet whenever there is black magic performed by a person of color, it is voodoo, it is evil and it represents that entire culture.

To some people this may seem over the top, but I have never called a white person a witch or a vampire based on any of the television shows I have watched, yet I have been asked the infamous question of “how can I turn someone into a goat” simply because I am Haitian. Nine times out of ten if there is a voodoo theme, the person is usually Haitian.

However, there has been some sort of a shift in this idea of voodoo in the media, in where Louisiana has become a focal point. This may be because of the Haitian community’s protests against this constant depiction of our culture. However, from the media standpoint, it appears as if the people from Louisiana are more comfortable with being tied to black magic than the Haitians. Movies such as the Princess and the Frog, Eve’s Bayou, televisions shows such as Bones, have heavy illustrations of voodoo in Louisiana. Voodoo is just as synonymous to Louisiana as gumbo. Ironically enough, no matter how dark and dreary the illustration of black magic, there is always a turn around where this magic is used for the good. It is never showcased as pure evil. It is as if Louisiana voodoo is a safer friendlier version than the voodoo of the West Indies.

There maybe several theories behind the media’s depiction. Maybe the fact that Louisiana is a United States territory helps; maybe it is some sort of propaganda against third world countries. Perhaps it is a way to degrade a particular group of people and their culture. Whatever the reasons, the fact still remains that there is an injustice. It is a moral injustice. It is what one would call a spiritual crime. Of course the media does not care about how it depicts certain people because, they are in the business of making money, not protecting cultural images. It has always been said that Haiti will always pay the price for being the first black nation to declare it’s independence, thus allowing all the other nations to receive their freedom. Maybe the media’s negative depictions are part of this ongoing agenda. No one really knows, but one thing I do know is that voodoo does not encompass Haitian culture. Is it present? Yes, is it a religion? Yes. Just like Santeria is to Cuba. It is a part of the whole and not the other way around.

FYI I am in no way supporting voodoo. This is not a “coming out” moment. It’s just food for thought. So eat up!

3 thoughts on “The Depiction of the Haitian People and Voodoo in Society

  1. Hi Madame, I am a young Haitian woman and I must agree with you. I can also tell exactly why the depiction of Haitians are so negative. It roots back to when our African ancestors where placed in Haiti. When we retaliated and fought for our freedom we were depicted as evil doers around the world and this was a sorry attempt to make sure rebellions didn’t arise else where.

    1. Thanks for commenting. You are so right. And it is so sad that till this day we have to pay for wanting to be free, which is in my view a God given right. When will the mother get a chance to enjoy the fruits of her labor…

  2. That was a great piece. Yes, the American mass media along with Holywood have been given Haitian Vodoo a bad rap for so long. As long as, we have people who can educate others about the true of this religion. As you have well described, Vodou is just another religion. I remember the people at my job when I told them I was from Haiti, they quickly mention about Vodoo ( zombie, dolls…etc)…Ha…ha…they are so scare! LOL

    Even though, I do not practice it, but I ‘m happy I see the light ( : ).

    Keep up the good work. Great theme!

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