Volltext: Anthropos, 85.1990,4/6

Anthropos 85.1990: 475^482 
The Maroon Republics and Religious Diversity 
in Colonial Haiti 
Leslie G. Desmangles 
Abstract. - Anthropological literature about Vodou suggests 
that African religious traditions brought by the slaves remained 
intact throughout the colonial period in Haiti. This article pre 
sents two theses: first, the nature of the ethnic compositions of 
the Maroon republics throughout the island, new environmental 
factors, and the socio-political situation in the colony would 
have resulted in radical transformation of African traditions; 
second, culture contact between Africa and Europe in Haiti 
caused Vodou to incorporate Roman Catholic beliefs and prac 
tices in its theology. This subterfuge resulted in a religious 
symbiosis, the juxtaposition of religious beliefs and practices 
from two different continents. [Haiti, Maroon republics, Vodou, 
Rada, Rétro, symbiosis, confréries] 
Leslie G. Desmangles, Ph. D. (Philadelphia, Temple Univ., 
1975); Assoc. Prof., Director of the Area Studies Program at 
Trinity College, Hartford, Conn.; field research on the religions 
of Africa and the Caribbean; - publications include articles and 
book reviews in different journals (see also References Cited). 
The African slaves who came to Saint-Do 
mingue, as Haiti was called during the colonial 
period (1492-1804), were a mixed group of people 
who possessed different cultural and religious her 
itage. Tom from their homelands and transplanted 
in a new milieu, they left much of that heritage 
behind them. In many parts of the New World, 
however, they managed to salvage some of that 
heritage from the wreckage that was left of their 
old way of life. Under the weight of slave labor, 
they dinged tenaciously to their traditional African 
beliefs and practices, to their gods, and to their 
ritual ceremonies which were sources of inspira 
tion and comfort to them. In these ceremonies, 
the slaves danced, tended offerings in homage to 
these gods, and became spiritually possessed by 
them, a non-material achievement which allowed 
the slaves to embody divine powers whom they 
believed would free them from their oppression 
and brutal displacement. 
These ceremonies had a profound effect not 
only on colonial plantation life, but on the history 
of Saint-Domingue as well. Many of the slaves 
believed that they were the elect of their gods and 
that, while they were spirit possessed, these gods 
would appear in large ships to take them back to 
Africa. Under the guidance of slave leaders viewed 
as messiahs, they conducted countless raids on the 
plantations, often brutal and costly in human lives 
and materials. Because the planters perceived the 
slaves’ religion as a threat to the economic and 
political stability of the colony, they were quick to 
enact a number of edicts to regulate the religious 
lives of slaves throughout the colony. One of such 
edicts, the Code Noir of 1685, made it illegal for 
the slaves to practise their African religions openly 
and, as we shall see later, under stiff penalties 
to the contrary, ordered all masters to have their 
slaves converted to Christianity within eight days 
after their arrival to the colony (Gisler 1965; 79). 
The severity of such laws drove African ritu 
als underground. To circumvent the officious in 
terference in their rituals by their masters, the 
slaves learned to overlay their African practices 
with the veneer of Roman Catholic symbols and 
rituals. They used symbols of the church in their 
rituals as “white masks over black faces,” veils 
behind which they could hide their African prac 
tices. Moreau de Saint-Méry, an eye-witness of 
Vodou during the eighteenth century, reported that 
makeshift altars and votive candles concealed the 
Africanness of their rituals (1958/1: 55). The pres 
ence of these symbols not only prompted the slaves 
to use them in these rituals, but their inclusions of 
prayers revering the Catholic saints caused them to 
establish a system of correspondences between the 
African gods and these Catholic saints. These cor 
respondences consisted of a system of reinterpre 
tations described by Herskovits and others (1937; 
Simpson 1980; Métraux 1958). Particular symbols 
associated with the gods in African mythology 
were made to correspond to similar symbols asso 
ciated with the saints in Catholic hagiology. Thus, 
for example, the Dahomean snake deity Damballah 
was made to correspond with St. Patrick because 
of the Catholic legend about Saint Patrick and the 
snakes of Ireland. Hence, the slaves succeeded in


Sehr geehrte Benutzerin, sehr geehrter Benutzer,

aufgrund der aktuellen Entwicklungen in der Webtechnologie, die im Goobi viewer verwendet wird, unterstützt die Software den von Ihnen verwendeten Browser nicht mehr.

Bitte benutzen Sie einen der folgenden Browser, um diese Seite korrekt darstellen zu können.

Vielen Dank für Ihr Verständnis.