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January 14, 2010

The ceremony at the Bois Caïman

Call Pat Robertson crazy or, worse yet, insensitive for his remarks following the earthquake in Haiti. To a reasonable person (by which I mean an NPR listener's self-concept), the notion Tuesday's 7.3 magnitude earthquake was punishment for a 200 year old pact with the Devil sounds crazy or, worse yet, insensitive. This perhaps particularly so to a reasonable person recalling Robertson's remarks along similar lines following 9/11. The trouble for critics of Robertson's insensitivity (I have seen no sympathy for the devil troubling him), is that Haitians say much the same thing themselves.

The commonly accepted date for the start of Haiti's slave revolution against the French is August 22, 1791, the date a voodoo priest named Dutty Boukman presided over a ceremony at Bois Caïman. Whether or not such a ceremony ever took place is beside the point, it is an important part of Haiti's national mythology and, I would argue, Haiti's national mystique.

Most reasonable people would be skeptical as to the efficacy of Boukman's ritual in its own terms. This is because most reasonable people claim to respect cultural difference but actually think voodoo is superstitious bullshit. Academics would attribute the power of Boukman's rite - and its memory - to revolutionary theatre not to divine - let alone infernal - intervention. That most Haitians really do believe in voodoo does not trouble reasonable people in the slightest; reasonable people could not care less what Haitians think about anything, let alone a 200 year old voodoo rite.

What reasonable people do care about is pretending to celebrate religious diversity but actually kicking religious diversity if it is of the Christian variety. Pat Robertson's real crime was aesthetic. If he had expressed much the same views while sacrificing a chicken to the gods he would have gotten a pass, even a pat on the head.

Here is what bothers me about the criticism leveled at Pat Robertson by reasonable people, including the criticism of all too many reasonable conservatives: If it is fine for Western academics to celebrate "the voodoo revolution" as part of Haiti's rich historical tapestry, to stage reenactments of Boukman's voodoo ceremony in New York as revolutionary theatre, it seems turnabout is fair play should a Bible believing evangelical have the temerity to identify vodoo spirits with demons and a voodoo ceremony as a demonic rite. Haitian's have traditionally made this identification themselves, albeit as a syncretic borrowing of European devil imagery into their West African spirit worship.

By all means dismiss Robertson's beliefs as nonsense if you will but do not blame the man for doing what the Left cannot quite manage, taking Haitians at their word about their own history. Jihadis everywhere are familiar with the problem; no matter how many times they try to tell us why they want us killed or converted the Left insists these doctors and engineers and billionnaire's sons are revolutionary proletarians with a colourful religious vernacular. Only a few latter day Crusaders have the courtesy to respect Muslim beliefs concerning holy war for what they are and to take jihadi statements as to their intentions at face value.

To place Robertson's analysis in context, tell me how the Left's version of witchcraft - vulgar economic reductionism - is any less condescending, any less inappropriate to the ongoing horror for survivors.

Haiti's cultural traditions also have their part to play in making the standard of living there lower than anywhere in the Caribbean and most of Sub-Saharan Africa. The prevailing belief in voodoo continues to mean that many Haitians reject modern medicine in favour of more traditional practices. A visit to the village witch doctor is for many Haitian parents the first port of call when their child falls ill. Without access to clean water and without treatment for basic illnesses the child mortality rate in Haiti is one in five, with diarrhoea, malaria and TB the most common causes of death.

Ironically for the only country ever to have had a successful slave revolt, child enslavement is also a culturally accepted practice in Haiti.

Modern medicine and, presumably, seismology and engineering. That last bit about child slavery is off topic but something to keep in mind as Obama's media people sell you on Haiti's exemplary slave revolution.

Citation: The internets suggest Tom Barrett's "Government Of The Devil, By The Devil, And For The Devil" is the go to reference for the folks in Robertson's corner. You have to admit as an essay title, it rocks.

The offending remarks: Not quite long enough for a proper Two Minutes Hate.

Background: An international crime scene, not a country.

With one in ten under-40s infected with HIV, and millions living in squalor and destitution, thousands try to flee each year to the U.S. by hanging on to anything that will float. While hurricanes, floods and earthquakes have all devastated the landscape over the years, the biggest threat has come from humans.

Successive dictators have raped, murdered and even reputedly eaten their enemies.

Described by one commentator as an 'international crime scene' rather than a country, Haiti became infamous around the world during the reign of Francois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier, a former doctor who murdered 100,000 people and formed a private band of killers called the Tonton Macoutes. Wearing their trademark mirrored sunglasses and designer T-shirts, these murderers and cannibals were named after a terrifying bogeyman from Haitian mythology, who carried off naughty children into slavery.

The Tonton Macoutes cut out the hearts, eyes and lungs of opponents with machetes, while Papa Doc, who stole almost a billion pounds in foreign aid, insisted that every television and radio programme had to be entirely in praise of his rule. In power from 1957, Papa Doc made voodoo the country's official religion and claimed to be Baron Samedi, the religion's spirit of death. He often wore a top hat and tails while demanding the skulls of his dead victims were brought to his palace in Port-au-Prince.

He collected blood from prisoners who had been tortured and killed and sold it for $22 a pint to U.S. health groups. He once ordered the death of all black dogs in the country after a political enemy was rumoured to have transformed into one.

How anyone could confuse these charming folkways with Devil worship is beyond me.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at January 14, 2010 07:04 AM


bravo GOF! good to see refreshing candour is still active in some people anyway. Whilst some deplore Pat's "insensitivity" I can only agree with your post - it's what they say of themselves. Your tie in with jihad was very a propos also - it's why people I thought were sane are causing me to shake my head in amazement as they try to tell me "Islam is a religion of peace" and "the extremists are only doing what the Christian fundamentalist maniacs have always done ... twist their scripture to support radical nutbar actions" etc.

Posted by: paul [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 22, 2010 01:08 AM