Timeless Taboo: New Attacks on African Spirituality
by Ezinne Adibe
On January 13, 2010 Pat Robertson, founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, stated that Haiti “swore a pact to the devil.” This was one day after a 7.0 earthquake rocked the island nation resulting in massive loss of life. The “pact” Robertson so confidently mentioned to various media outlets was a reference to the Haitian Revolution, more specifically, the Bwa Kayiman (Bois Caiman) Ceremony in August of 1791.
The event is significant because Africans of varying ethnicities joined together in a traditional ceremony to affirm that they would no longer remain enslaved. The insurrection in Saint-Domingue (modern Haiti), in what would become known as the Haitian Revolution, resulted in the establishment of a Haitian republic in 1804. The “devil” Robertson spoke of was a reference to the African gods invoked by Haitians to overthrow their French oppressors.
This practice of referring to anything in the realm of African spirituality as evil or devilish is a continuation of the propaganda used by missionaries, slave traders, and colonizers ever since they ventured onto the continent. Enslaved Africans were treated as a people without culture. They were reduced to being treated as cargo. Africans were viewed as heathens because they had their own religious traditions prior to the introduction of Christianity and Islam. These traditions include ancestor veneration, systems of initiation and respect for the natural environment.
African Traditions in the Americas
African spiritual systems, which fall under the category of African Traditional Religion (ATR), are the traditions that have sustained us since time immemorial. Enslaved Africans brought these traditions to such places as Haiti, Brazil, Cuba, New Orleans, Florida, and South Carolina. They can be seen in the burial custom of placing items on the graves of deceased family members, knowledge of certain ritualistic and medicinal practices, known under various names as juju, hoodoo, rootwork, etc. They can be seen in the tradition of adorning trees with bottles, vessels, and other objects to protect the household through invocation of the dead as noted in places like Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia.