Haitian Vodou: A short reading list
Below is a selection of books on Haitian Vodou which I have read over the past 18 months. The first two are the most valuable in understanding Vodou and its centrality to Haitian culture and history, it’s timelessness and continued lived connection to Africa – Ginen, Guinea – the place where the spirits are born and where all return on the final journey home.
“Nan Domi: An Initiate’s Journey Into Haitian Vodou” by Mimerose P. Beaubrun of Boukman Eksperyans. Nan Domi is a journey into Vodou’s interior, it’s mysteries, and rituals as told by Mimerose and her teacher, the marvelous wisdom and patience of Manbo Tante Tansia. Nan Domi is an incredible collection of knowledge and wisdom. It is beautifully written with self-reflection as Mimerose Beaubrun takes us on the journey of her own decolonization. I treasure this book more than any other I have read.
The Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti by Russian filmmaker Maya Deren, written in 1953. Derin went to Haiti intending to stay a few months and ended up staying a few years and becoming an initiate herself. In addition to the book, she shot 18,000 ft of film of Vodou ceremony. Her work is one of the earliest account on Vodou and is detailed on ritual, music, dance, the Lwa, particularly as practiced in the rural Lakou’s of Haiti.
Vodou in Haitian Life and Culture: Invisible Powers by Claudine Michel & Patrick Bellegarde-Smith [Eds] Invisible Powers is one of three academic books that focus on the role of Vodou in Haitian culture and history and it’s connections to other areas of the Caribbean.
Haiti, History and the Gods, by Colin Dayan investigates the confrontational space in which Haiti is created and recreated in fiction and fact, text and ritual, discourse and practice. Dayan’s ambitious project is a research tour de force that gives human dimensions to this eighteenth-century French colony and provides a template for understanding the Haiti of today.
The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti by Kate Ramsey examines the how the law in Haiti has been applied at different times in history to exclude, criminalize and regulate ritual and practices under a broad and contradictory notions of what has become to be known as Haitian Vodou / Vodoun.
Healing in the Homeland: Haitian Vodou Tradition by Margaret Mitchell Armand explores the possibility of attaining decolonization through reconnecting with the past and reclaiming knowledge, particularly for the Affranchi descendent / bourgeois / elite class in Haiti. This is achieved through a series of narratives of formally educated Haitians who have ‘transcended their class and elite status’ to openly embrace Vodou, Haitian Kreyol and African-Haitian culture.
Haitian Vodou: Spirit, Myth, and Reality by Patrick Bellegarde-smith Claudine Michel is a continuation of “Invisible Powers” and includes essays on music, song, education, gender and one of my favorite, healing “The Holistic Medical System of Haitian People’ by Ati Max Beauvoir
Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica A personal account of the author’s experience of Vodou in Haiti and Jamaica
Africa’s Ogun: Old World and New by Sandra T Barnes. An exploration of the origins of Ogun, Ogou, his complexities and many forms and the cultural context within he presents himself.
Les Espirits du Vodou Haitien by Hans Ackermann, Maryse Gautier, Michel-Ange Momplasir – lists over 2,000 Lwa including their origin, their family and characters of each. I’m told there are lots of errors though I would say ‘disagreements’ but still this is a comprehensive piece of work and not everyone agrees on everything.
Secrets of Voodoo by Milo Rigaud is one of the early books on Haitian Vodou and comprehensively traces the origins in Africa, across the Atlantic and in Haiti itself. Rigaud is meticulous in explaining symbols, chants, prayers, the Lwa, roles of Manbo’s and Hougans and the rituals of Vodou
Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn by Karen McCarthy Brown
Fragments of Bone: Neo-African Religions in a New World, Patrick Bellegarde-Smith [Editor]
Haiti: The Beached Citadel, Patrick Bellegarde-Smith