Bon-Dieu and the Rites of Passage in Rural Haiti: Structural Determinants of Postcolonial Theology and Ritual

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The Catholicism of more than one postcolonial group in the New World has been described as a surface veneer masking a much deeper commitment to non-European cultural forms and value? A number of careful studies have been done of Haitian voodoo and the authors generally allude in passing to the superficial nature of Catholic elements in the cult. My own research among Haitian peasants has turned a number of important non-Christian elements. But m this chapter, I will show that the religious lives of even the most ardent Voodoo cultists are not only permeated with, but clearly dominated by the rites and beliefs of institutional Catholicism in a manner that renders empirically untenable, and theoretically questionable, any statements about “non-Western religion.” I will further show that such religious subordination has been created, not by the Catholic Church itself, but by Haitian rulers. And I will argue that the conventional downplaying of these western elements in the analysis of New World folk-cults creates theoretical obstacles to the accurate identification of a major mechanism of postcolonial dependence. In proposing such an analysis, I will be addressing myself to the larger issue of the social and political functions of religion in general, and will hopefully be contributing to a reassessment of other New World postcolonial cults which have also been labelled, perhaps prematurely, as “non-western.”

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