Resource Page: Haitian Vodou

Introduction

This resource page acts as a jumping off point for interest and research into Haitian Vodou available in print and online. Although far from exhaustive, I have tried to gather reliable information that sheds light on the social and cultural work that Vodou religion performs.

Print

Scholarly publications

On Haiti

As a bit of background, I thought I would give a few resources (to be updated and added to) about Haiti that are both reputable and offer historical and contextual background on Haiti, its history, and, in some cases, its religious practices.

Joan Dayan (GC Alum!), Haiti, History, and the Gods (University of California Press), 1998.

This book offers good information on Haitian history, with a particular emphasis on women’s roles and the lives of women in both Vodou ritual and in the pantheon of Vodou spirits.

C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins (Penguin), 2001 (1938).

Seminal history on the role of the Haitian revolution as it unfolded during the Age of Revolutions, including the American Revolution and the French Revolution.

On Vodou

Because Vodou has been instrumentalized and politicized for an American audience for both cultural and political reasons, good resources on what Vodou actually is are scarce. Below is a book that is highly influential in terms of introducing real Vodou practices and people to the American (intellectual) sphere, as well as a landmark example of what good ethnographic and anthropological practices can be.

Karen McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola (University of California Press), 1991.

Ken Gelder’s article Postcolonial Vodou is an interesting treatment that discusses the way Vodou is deployed in the American cultural imaginary, as well as the role Haiti has played in the political representation of the Western Hemisphere.

Memoir

Interestingly similar, both Maya Deren and Zora Neale Hurston go to Haiti, experience Vodou religious practices first hand, and then write memoirs about their experiences.

Maya Deren, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, 1953.

Zora Neale Hurston, Tell My Horse, 1938.

Roundups

Last year, I worked with a faculty member at Hunter to organize resources on the history of the Zombie. The course, taught at Macaulay Honors College and at the Graduate Center, offers a number of resources that make a fuller picture of what the Zombie is, and its ties to possession and Vodou in Haitian history and culture.

Video

Examples of both some of the good, or better, treatments of Vodou in popular culture

This video features an interview with Mama Lola, whose life story was a central part of anthropologist Karen McCarthy Brown’s anthropological work, Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn.

In contrast, this trailer for the movie adaptation of the book The Serpent and the Rainbow, directed by horror film legend Wes Craven, which exploits horror tropes under the nonfiction guise of “based on actual events.”

Maya Deren, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, edited by Teiji and Cheryl Ito. This film is based off of footage Deren takes in Haiti over three visits between 1947 and 1951. The voiceover is partially taken from her book, but I think the treatment differs greatly from her vision for the film, which remained incomplete and unfinished when Deren dies in 1961.

Other sources

A couple of years ago, at the Fowler Museum at UCLA (not the Hammer, which is the school’s fine art museum), the exhibition In Extremis was shown on life and death in modern Haitian art. The exhibition’s web page has useful descriptions and resources about the work on view, as well as pictures and installation photos that might be useful for thinking about Vodou and its pantheon in a more contemporary, vital cultural context.

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