Prohibition, persecution, performance. Anthropology and the penalization of vodou in mid-20th-century

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A preponderance of the ethnographies published by researchers working in Haiti during the 1930s and 1940s focus on the Vodou religion. Yet the fact that many Haitian popular ritual practices were officially prohibited by penal law, first as «sortilèges» and later as «pratiques superstitieuses», and, on this basis, subject to US Marine, Protestant missionary, Catholic Church, and Haitian state offensives during these same years, is not always well-acknowledged or documented in this ethnographic literature. Focusing on the writings of Melvillle J. Herskovits, George Eaton Simpson, Jacques Roumain and Alfred Métraux, this article argues that the persecution of Haitian popular religious practices played a key role in propelling ethnographic work on Haiti and Vodou during this period and also influenced the methodological forms that this research took. In particular, the article examines the ways in which officially prohibited rituals were restaged and reframed as ethnographic «performances» in the context of this repression.