Share on Google Plus Share on Twitter Share on Facebook
  21
Share on LinkedIn Share on PInterest Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon Tell A Friend 21 Shares     
Printer Friendly Page Save As Favorite View Favorites View Article Stats
2 comments

OpEdNews Op Eds

Vodou, Haiti and Separating Sense from Nonsense: Responding to Former USAID director in Haiti

By Ezili Danto  Posted by Ezili Danto (about the submitter)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 4 pages)
Related Topic(s): ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; (more...) ; ; ; , Add Tags  (less...) Add to My Group(s)

View Ratings | Rate It

Headlined to H2 2/7/10

opednews.com


(source)


Religion and Haiti's Underdevelopment: Separating Sense from Nonsense by Jerry M. Gilles and Yvrose S. Gilles
February 7, 2010


Lawrence Harrison's disturbing article in the Wall Street Journal, Haiti and the Vodou Curse, is filled with ethnocentrism, religious intolerance, and ignorance of the subject addressed, namely Haiti's underdevelopment. Haiti's poverty is an economic issue. To understand how it arose, one need only review how economic decisions taken inside and outside of Haiti have affected the country.

The foundation for Haiti's underdevelopment was laid by its colonial administrators. During a combined 300 years of Spanish, British, and French rule, not one school was built in the territory. After Haiti's independence in 1804, the US and other slave trading countries imposed and economic embargo on Haiti lasting nearly 60 years. This crushing embargo was only lifted as a consequence of the US Civil War. If embargoes are inconsequential as Harrison suggests, then the one against Cuba ought to be lifted and embargoes should be abandoned as a tool for implementing U.S. foreign policy.

Harrison's article mentions the indemnity extracted by France but conveniently overlooks its impact. In 1821, France demanded that Haiti pays it 150 million francs for loss of revenue from the island. This indemnity is estimated to be equivalent to 21 billion dollars in today's currency. Paul Farmer said it well, when he said that Haiti paid with money what it had already paid in blood. The payments to France further crippled Haiti's economy by preventing necessary investments in education and infrastructure.

Beyond these manmade difficulties, Haiti also experienced numerous natural disasters like the earthquake of 1842 that killed half of the inhabitants of its second largest city, Cape Haitian. In 2008, four hurricanes caused millions of dollars of damages. Repeated natural disasters further contributed to Haiti's economic woes.

Internally, the most devastating measures taken by Haitian rulers have been a persistent reliance on an agrarian economy instead of investing in industrialization. All countries of the world that have relied on agriculture rather than industrialization are today similarly poor and ill-equipped to partake in the information age. This is the real similarity between Haiti and Benin as it relates to development.



To explain Haiti's poverty, Harrison puts forward a genetic and a religious explanation and gets both wrong. He says that Haitians are mostly of Benin ancestry when indeed according to the database from Harvard and Cambridge University that compiled records from the Trans-Atlantic Trade, Haitians are predominantly of Central African descent.

He misleads the reader to attack Vodou rather than provide a tactile accounting of the history that led to Haiti's underdevelopment. Harrison, the former head of USAID in Haiti, offered no accountability for his use of US resources during his tenure. He makes no mention of his role in distributing US AID during the brutal Duvalier dictatorship. Jean Claude Duvalier's regime deposited funds in foreign accounts rather than invest in building the necessary infrastructure for development. It is such corruption and not how Haitian people worship that best explains Haiti's underdevelopment.

In an attempt to make Vodou seem bizarre, Harrison wrote: Voodoo is one of numerous spirit-based religions common to Africa. It is without ethical content. He says this as though his own religion, presumably a brand of Christianity, is not a spirit based religion. Should we then conclude that beliefs in spirits and in angels are not present in Non-African Religions? If so, is Christ, commonly presented as God or as the Holy Ghost, devoid of spiritual content?

The truth is Vodou is the belief that there is one God and many African Ancestral spirits analogous to European saints. Harrison's allegation that Vodou is without ethical content is a vicious attack on a religious tradition that teaches one to do good on to others so that one may also experience good things. An old Nigerian proverb, from Haiti's Nago Vodou tradition makes this clear: Before pricking a bird, prick yourself so that you may know how it feels.

Like all other religions, Haitian religious beliefs are not a hindrance to development. China, Japan, India, and Israel are all non-Christian countries who share the Haitian belief in reverence for Ancestors and they are far more developed than many Christian countries in this hemisphere. Would Harrison have us believe that the poverty found in many Latin American countries is the result of this region's Christianity?

Rather than say Haiti has a Vodou curse, one can make an equally fallacious argument that Haiti has a Christian curse considering the extermination of its original inhabitants by Christians and the enslavement of Africans by people who once called the territory Saint Domingue. Such an argument would be wrong because it is not religion but people who act on the world. It is people who have the capacity to be kind or cruel to each other.

In the past, Haiti was a victim of human cruelty from the likes of Napoleon and Duvalier. Today, Haiti is experiencing unprecedented support from the world community. How Haiti moves forward will be influenced far more by how aid is spent than by how Haitian people worship. Fortunately, the UN has named former President Bill Clinton to oversee some of that expenditure. Bill Clinton has argued for accountability, for better disaster planning, for coordinating the activities of relief agencies, non- profit organizations, and Haitian Government agencies. Clinton is able to point to these things because unlike Harrison, he can separate a crusade from a development plan.

Jerry M. Gilles, M.D, FACOG

Associate Professor Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine


Yvrose S. Gilles, MA
Author of Remembrance: Roots, Rituals, and Reverence in Vodou
http://www.bookmanlit.com

Next Page  1  |  2  |  3  |  4

 

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Follow Me on Twitter

Contact Editor

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Did mining and oil drilling trigger the Haiti earthquake?

The Avatar Movie from a Black perspective

Rush Limbaugh/Clear Channel must be held accountable for racial, sexual slur and hate tirade on Haitians

Haiti: Brandt Busted as Clintons with Hollywood celebrate sweatshop

Oil in Haiti, reasons for the US occupation, Part 2

Massive earthquake (7.0) rocks Haiti: Aftershocks reverberating, US sending in rescue troops

Comments

The time limit for entering new comments on this article has expired.

This limit can be removed. Our paid membership program is designed to give you many benefits, such as removing this time limit. To learn more, please click here.

Comments: Expand   Shrink   Hide  
2 people are discussing this page, with 2 comments
To view all comments:
Expand Comments
(Or you can set your preferences to show all comments, always)

This is a typical ethnocentric and defensive react... by Bambi on Wednesday, Feb 10, 2010 at 8:49:58 PM
Bambi my big eye doe, how "ugly American" and paro... by Ezili Danto on Wednesday, Feb 10, 2010 at 10:31:03 PM