Women in Perdition: Ritual Fertility Control in Haiti

In the context of almost total national isolation after 1804, the Haitian peasantry has had to call on its own resources for the development of folk institutions and theories to handle the gamut of problems that confront all human societies.’ The economic and social isolation which has characterized, and to a degree still characterizes, Haiti as a national unit has meant, among other things, that the rural populace has remained outside of the currents of modern medicine. The protection and healing of the human body have continued to be handled by herb medicine and by a bewilderingly rich body of ritual and folk practice. Among other factors, high infant and child mortality accounts for the presence of strong general parental anxiety concerning the safety of children and has probably been a major contributing factor to the exceptionally strong emphasis which the Haitian folk-medicinal complex gives to protecting children from the moment their presence in the womb is suspected. But gestation is fundamentally beyond the range of herbal remedies; it can be protected and controlled only by ritual. The folk-medicinal system, while it provides for a wide range of medical concerns, focuses a great deal of attention on the phenomena of gestation and childbirth.