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.
Traveling on a criss-cross route from New Orleans across the slave-belt
states of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, dipping down to Miami where
the voudou of Cuba and the Caribbean is endemic, and up to New York
where priests and practitioners increase each year, Rod Davis determined
to find out what happened to voudou in the United States.
A fascinating and insightful account of a little known and often
misunderstood aspect of African-American culture, American Voudou
details the author’s own personal experiences within this system of
belief and ritual, along with descriptions and experiences of other
people, ranging from those who reject it entirely to ardent
practitioners and leaders. Davis also places voudou in a broad context
of American cultural history, from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement,
and from Elvis to New Age.
Current interest in voudou is related, in part, to the arrival of large
numbers of people into the United States from the Caribbean, especially
Cuba. Blacks in that country were able to maintain the African religion
in a syncretic form, known as santeria. The tensions that have arisen
between Cubans and African Americans over both the leadership and the
belief system of the religion is discussed.
Davis raises questions and offers insight into the nature of religion,
American culture, and race relations. The book contains an extensive
bibliography for further reading and a glossary of voudou terms for
readers unfamiliar with the subject.