As an anthropologist, I became interested in learning about life in Haitian villages. Despite a tightly controlled government (“Baby Doc” had succeeded his father “Papa Doc”), I was able to secure permission to settle into a small village with my wife to carry out two years of research. I was warned to stay away from Voodoo. Too many foreigners had spent too much time indulging their curiosity about this exotic cult I was told. I agreed. I preferred to learn about “the real Haiti” the economic and domestic organisation of village life. But Voodoo refused to be avoided. After weeks of tension with our new neighbours, who had never had a white live in their village, and who had been reluctant to rent me a house, we were solemnly and publicly welcomed into the community by our neighbours’ dead parents. They had been summoned from the abode of the dead by a houngan(“voodoo priest”) and spoke to the assembly from behind a closed door. (The houngan was behind the door with the spirits.) The dead father greeted me warmly and castigated his children for their mistrust, stating that he was the one who had “drawn” me to this village rather than to another. He instructed us all to live in harmony, bade us farewell and returned to his resting place “beneath the waters”.
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.