Population Pressure, Land Tenure, and Voodoo: The Economics of Haitian Peasant Ritual

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ABSTRACT

In the following pages, I will present both descriptive and quantitative information, gathered in a Haitian village during 21 months of fieldwork. information reveals the somewhat unexpected but empirically convincing and critical role which Haitian-peasant Voodoo plays in the contemporary land tenure system; specifically, this cult was found to function as a partially camouflaged resource-circulating mechanism, a role that seems to have arisen in the context of recent population growth.

Methodologically, I hope to illustrate the manner in which simple quantitative data-gathered and analyzed in a theoretical perspective sensitive to the interactions between material life spheres and other domains of social life-can ‘ expose the operation of systems whose very existence may escape the notice of traditional descriptive ethnography. Substantively, I will argue that the discovery of these internal systemic linkages between Voodoo and aspects of, the agrarian resource regime permits us to comprehend many superficially · enigmatic elements that have come to characterize peasant Voodoo in recent years. We can also come to understand the persistence of the cult in the face of what, until the past two decades, was almost unremitting opposition from the forces of church and state.

Haiti is a land whose inhabitants are mainly descendants of slaves who successfully overthrew the French and brought to a total halt a flourishing Carib- bean plantation economy. After the French were ejected in 1804, the earliest Haitian leaders, following the colonial models most familiar to them, attempted to reinstate an organizationally tight plantation-like economic and social order. Their efforts failed. The newly freed slave population eventually thwarted all attempts to reinstate even the semblance of the old order. Government plans had called for a society of plantation gang labourers-not slaves, it is true, but de facto serfs who would be bound to certain plantations, who would labour under the supervision of the Haitian military, and whose reward would be a share in the produce of the plantations. What emerged instead was a society of peasant cultivators.

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