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 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.
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.
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.