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American Voudou

Journey into a Hidden World

Rod Davis

Publication Year: 1999

Voudou (an older spelling of voodoo)—a pantheistic belief system developed in West Africa and transported to the Americas during the diaspora of the slave trade—is the generic term for a number of similar African religions which mutated in the Americas, including santeria, candomble, macumbe, obeah, Shango Baptist, etc. Since its violent introduction in the Caribbean islands, it has been the least understood and most feared religion of the New World—suppressed, out-lawed or ridiculed from Haiti to Hattiesburg. Yet with the exception of Zora Neale Hurston's accounts more than a half-century ago and a smattering of lurid, often racist paperbacks, studies of this potent West African theology have focused almost exclusively on Haiti, Cuba and the Caribbean basin. American Voudou turns our gaze back to American shores, principally towards the South, the most important and enduring stronghold of the voudou faith in America and site of its historic yet rarely recounted war with Christianity. This chronicle of Davis' determined search for the true legacy of voudou in America reveals a spirit-world from New Orleans to Miami which will shatter long-held stereotypes about the religion and its role in our culture. The real-life dramas of the practitioners, true believers and skeptics of the voudou world also offer a radically different entree into a half-hidden, half-mythical South, and by extension into an alternate soul of America. Readers interested in the dynamic relationships between religion and society, and in the choices made by people caught in the flux of conflict, will be heartened by this unique story of survival and even renaissance of what may have been the most persecuted religion in American history.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Preface / Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xvii

FOR MOST OF my life all I knew about voudou1 was what I saw in the movies: dancing zombies, chicken heads, and pins in dolls. It had something to do with the Caribbean or New Orleans. It was black. Sometimes you'd hear about it in the blues. I didn't go so far as to equate...

Part One: The Street

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1: Midnight Ritual

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pp. 3-16

AT 1:00 A.M. the open air market along the Mississippi River edge of the French Quarter was still brightly lit, although the handful of people threading through the vegetable stands, bins of T-shirts, tables of tourist memorabilia and hanging clusters of garlic were mostly either vendors or drunks. My...

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2: Looking for Lorita

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pp. 17-27

IT HAD TAKEN me a few days once I got to New Orleans to track down the Reverend Mitchell and thus be a witness to the ceremonies for Lorraine that had culminated at the French Quarter. I almost hadn't found her at all. Hard...

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3: The Gods and Their Ways

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pp. 28-38

ONE SULTRY MORNING a couple of weeks after the initiation at Lorita's home, I drove down to the lower end of the Quarter to meet Ava Kay Jones at the Old u.s. Mint, a refurbished brick office building now used as a museum, library...

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4: Countertop Voudou

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pp. 39-52

LORITA LIVED SUCH a cash-and-carry life it was difficult for me to see how she'd managed to lease two-thirds of a brick triplex at the corner of Iberville and Dorgenois, just off Canal Street about a mile from the Quarter, as the new home for her church and the first home for her own...

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5: Preacher to Priestess

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pp. 53-62

CONSISTENTLY, EFFORTLESSLY, SHE strode the line between voudou and Christianity-a path so strange and precipitous I could only watch in amazement. In the end, I could barely distinguish the two modes of Lorita's spirituality,...

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6: Jesus Out of Africa

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pp. 63-71

BY NOW IT was late spring in New Orleans. Evenings had become thick and sluggish, precursors to the long, hot summer of Southern fame. Sticky shirts and frizzy hair were the couture of circumstance. The city was a huge, inescapable greenhouse. And I was ready to move on. At...

Part Two: The Road

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7: On the Hoodoo Trail

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pp. 75-88

IN HER CLASSIC 1953 study of Haitian vodun, The Divine Horsemen, Maya Deren wrote that what she had really witnessed was that which we see in every culture-the operation of a unifying myth. A myth, to Deren,...

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8: Spirit Wars

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pp. 89-99

AT A SMALL corner grocery in Natchez the owner's wife listened to me with bemusement while her teenage rap master son looked on like I was an escapee from some honky nuthouse. I wasn't connecting, but was honing my...

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9: Two-Headed Men and Ghosts

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pp. 100-115

THE TWO-HEADED MAN, the Reverend Allen Buckley, was a prophet from down near the Quarters, the old slave section. He was a hoodoo man by reputation, but also, like Lorita Mitchell, a charismatic minister. Buckley's New...

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10: Elvis and Dr. King

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pp. 116-136

OUT OF JACKSON I took Highway 3 north to Yazoo City. The moon alongside the Yazoo River was only a sliver, and a thick lowland fog made the countryside seem like a Yorkshire moor. Off to my left lay the Delta

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11: Kindred Spirits, Lingering Foes

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pp. 137-155

I SET UP a temporary base in Meridian. Instead of constant driving, I thought I'd try a hub and spoke strategy. The small towns and rural roads of southeastern Mississippi teemed with spirits. As usual, I relied on...

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12: Crossing the Line

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pp. 156-174

THE RELENTLESS RAIN that had dogged me had been no stranger to Atlanta, either. A curtain of gray steam, punctuated here and there by torrential cloudbursts, almost obscured the downtown skyline as I came in from Montgomery....

Part Three: The Way

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13: Africa in America

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pp. 177-190

IT WOULD BE easy to miss Oyotunji-and although I'd been there before, three years ago-I almost did. The 1-95 exit halfway up from Savannah to Charleston dumps directly onto South Carolina 21, a two-lane blacktop...

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14: The Day of the Living Dead

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pp. 191-206

I AWOKE SURROUNDED by Baptists. Several dozen of them had come down by bus from Durham on a church-sponsored outing, and I threw on jeans and T-shirt hurriedly to get out of my hut before they all congregated in the patio. Most...

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15: The King and His Court

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pp. 207-215

AS FESTIVAL WEEK passed, and ceremonies became sporadic, I filled the days as best I could. Many hours I would sit in the shaded patio or walk among the shrines listening to villagers tell me how they had left their former...

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16: Advice and Consent

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pp. 216-226

A FEW DAYS LATER, I asked for my reading. As with Lorita, I'd been putting it off. The king agreed, pleased I'd finally come around, and set a time for that afternoon. I would follow a woman from Georgia who'd driven in especially. It...

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17: Sacrifice

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pp. 227-241

THE ISSUE OF sacrifice has been one of the most difficult for those wishing to approach or understand voudou, but to the true believer, it is the essence of the religion. From the point of view of the voudou priest, ebo is a necessary fulfillment of Ifa divination. It is the way in which...

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18: Exiles and Apostles

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pp. 242-254

FLORIDA STRETCHED DOWN to Miami like an endless carny strip. I kept thinking I was going the wrong way-it was all NASA and Gannett media empire and National Enquirer and fuzz-busting Canadian Toyotas down the 1-95 zipper. To the west lay the interior of the state-mostly...

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19: Santeria

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pp. 255-275

THE FLASH IS everywhere in Miami. The city is now, to voudou, what New Orleans was a century earlier-the landfall of the Caribbean, the great demographic crossroads of the North American spirits: European, African and Native American. The difference from New Orleans,...

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20: Urban Herbs and Little Haiti

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pp. 276-298

EACH MORNING IN Miami I ate a big Cuban breakfast of eggs, bacon, black beans, potatoes, hot bread and cafe cubana. I liked to sit on the round stools at the freshly wiped counters of the small diners that pervaded Little Havana and watch the men at their tables reading the sports pages, mother...

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21: Orisha Anew

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pp. 299-312

FOR MONTHS I had followed the spirit, drifting with it from Texas into New Orleans, tracking its peaks and depths across the South like lines on a Richter scale chart. I had jumped up into Brooklyn and back down to Miami. And now I would jump again....

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22: Amen

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pp. 313-318

I LIKE RITUAL because it is a form of art-a contrivance of human thought in the attempt to reach the eternal and unknowable. Ritual lets us believe in things we can see and do, because the gods are too remote. Christians reach God through symbols: the cross, the saints, and especially the human form of God, which they call] esus. The...

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Appendix I: Voudou in the Media

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pp. 319-346

A REPRESENTATIVE SAMPLE of voudou accounts in the nineteenth-century New Orleans press easily shows the establishment, repetition and reinforcement of the negative cultural stereotype that has stuck with the religion. The stories usually appeared about the time of St. John's Feast...

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Appendix II: The Revolution Denied

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pp. 347-361

FROM ALMOST THE inception of the slave trade, kings, constitutions and legislatures codified the incubating negative ideologies about Africans into edicts and ordinances, creating a legal and rationalist framework. As early as 1493, only a year after Columbus made landfall...

Glossary of Voudou Terms

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pp. 363-369

Bibliography

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pp. 371-380

Index

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pp. 381-392


E-ISBN-13: 9781574414882
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574410815

Page Count: 410
Illustrations: 40 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 1999

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