There’s a great deal of ridicule being aimed at Pat Robertson for describing the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti as God’s retribution on the country for a deal with the Devil supposedly made by the leaders of the 1791 slave revolt in which they threw off French control. And Robertson is a foaming loon, to be sure…but when I dug for the source of the legend I found a curiously plausible account:
It is a matter of well-documented historical fact that the nation of Haiti was dedicated to Satan 200 years ago. On August 14, 1791, a group of houngans (voodoo priests), led by a former slave houngan named Boukman, made a pact with the Devil at a place called Bois-Caiman. All present vowed to exterminate all of the white Frenchmen on the island. They sacrificed a black pig in a voodoo ritual at which hundreds of slaves drank the pig’s blood. In this ritual, Boukman asked Satan for his help in liberating Haiti from the French. In exchange, the voodoo priests offered to give the country to Satan for 200 years and swore to serve him. On January 1, 1804, the nation of Haiti was born and thus began a new demonic tyranny.
The reason I describe this as plausible is that if you were to delete “Satan” and replace it with a name of any of the darker Voudun gods, it would be well within their tradition to do something like this. The question that sprang to my mind when I read this was, who were they actually invoking?
The Wikipedia article on Haitian Voudo has this to say:
The most historically important Vodou ceremony in Haitian history was the Bwa Kayiman or Bois CaÃ¯man ceremony of August 1791 that began the Haitian Revolution, in which the spirit Ezili Dantor possessed a priestess and received a black pig as an offering, and all those present pledged themselves to the fight for freedom. This ceremony ultimately resulted in the liberation of the Haitian people from French colonial rule in 1804, and the establishment of the first black people’s republic in the history of the world and the second independent nation in the Americas.
Just as the first account was clearly written by a Christian projecting his pantheon on Voudun, this one smells of apologism by a modern Voudun practitioner trying to sound unthreatening and New-Agey. For starters, “kill all the white Frenchmen” sounds like a more plausible objective for a bunch of illiterate, pissed-off black slaves to have chosen than the more abstract “fight for freedom”, especially in view of the fact that actually did massacre the white population pretty comprehensively (not that I’m objecting; under the circumstances, doing so was arguably justice). And it has its own corresponding implausibility about the focus of the ritual built in.
It is relevant here that I am a third-degree Wiccan, which means that I’m pretty experienced at designing rituals that invoke god-forms for specified purposes. Part of the art is choosing a god-form with attributes appropriate to the purpose of the rite. And I have to say that Ezilie Dantor is just not a very plausible choice here — not for a ritual intended to consecrate the participants to acts of bloody revolutionary mayhem.
It’s true that she’s “petwo”, one of the “hard” gods associated with aggression and violence, but she’s mainly associated with motherhood and fertility. But if I had been the houngan in charge, I’d have chosen either Baron Samedi (more or less the god of death) or Ogun (god of war, politics, fire, and smithing). And I won’t believe (well, not without evidence anyway) that the houngans were less capable ritual artists than I am.
Ogun would probably have been a better functional choice, but the theory that they invoked Baron Samedi gets a little support from the fact that Christian accounts finger Satan. The Baron is not actually very much like Satan, but he’s the closest you get in the Voudun gods and I could easily see someone with the impoverished theological categories of a Christian making that error of identification.
Now I’m writing in real time…googling for “Bois Cayman ceremony” reveals mainly disputes over whether it actually took place at all, and the information that the government of Haiti staged a 200th-anniversary re-enactment in which Ezilie Dantor was (re-)invoked. But no, I think I still don’t believe she was the original focus.
Aha! The Wikipedia article on Ogoun says: “It is Ogun who is said to have planted the idea, led and given power to the slaves for the Haitian Revolution of 1804.” That is rather more plausible.
To sum up, I strongly suspect that what actually happened was: a mass invocation of Ogun, Christian idiots hearing secondhand accounts mistaking it for Satanism, and the Haitians themselves later reinventing the story around Ezilie — possibly under the influence of the French and American “Lady Liberty”.