There is an interesting analogy between the reaction of the outside world to the popular language of Haiti on the one hand and, on the other to the popular religion. The language spoken by the Haitian people, Creole, used to be dismissed as merely a form of broken French. Scientific analysis of the structure of Creole, however, reveals that it is not a dialect of French (Hall, 1953: Valdman, 1980). Though possessing a French-derived vocabulary, Creole has an internal syntactic structure that in several crucial ways is quite unlike that of French and some scholars have posited West Africa elements in Creole clause structure. Whether their analysis is correct or not, it is clear that to construe Creole as distorted French or distorted Yoruba is off-target. Creole is an independent language containing elements from several traditions but which has its own structure that must be analysed in its own terms. The same can be said of the folk religion still practised by large numbers of people in Haiti: Voodoo. Catholic priests or Protestants pastors may look at the combination of Catholic and West African elements in a ceremony and dismiss Voodoo as a garbled form of Catholicism, much as Creole is dismissed as a form of broken French. Cristian clergy, be they Haitian or foreign, are uncomfortable with this mixture. They would rather purify village religion by eliminating the African elements
Bon-Dieu and the Rites of Passage in Rural Haiti: Structural Determinants of Postcolonial Theology and Ritual
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.