Chapter 9. Religion and Syncretism

A city with colorful buildings.
Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash

9.1 Studying Haitian Voodoo

  • Critiqued the legacies of colonialism
  • Applied the principles of cultural relativism
  • Compared and contrasted theoretical approaches toward the study of religion
  • Analyzed the limitations of science to explain meaning in religious life
  • Examined the meaning behind religious rituals
  • Examined the meaning being cultural myths

9.2 Where is Haiti?

  • Cuba and Puerto Rico where it’s called Santeria or Lukumi
  • Cuba, Belize, and Venezuela where it’s called Palo
  • Brazil where it’s called Camdomble or Umbanda

9.3 Zombies

9.4 Syncretism

9.5 History Shapes Culture

9.6 What Happened to the Taino?

9.7 Outcomes From Slavery

9.8 The Syncretization of Voodoo

  • For Southwest College students, the population of West Athens is about 9,000
  • For Pierce College students, the population of Woodland Hills is 70,000
  • For LA Valley College students, the population of Van Nuys is 100,000
  • For COC students, the population of Santa Clarita is 210,000
  • If your community is not mentioned above, please look up your community’s population for reference
  • Have an ancient culture
  • Believe in two sets of divine beings: a major God who exists but is not involved in human affairs and the spirits who are reachable by humans called “orisha
  • The orisha are human like in form and in emotional range
  • The orisha are not inherently good or evil, but are complex like humans

9.9 Makandal

  • Makandal was African born which reflects the people’s strong connection to their African heritage.
  • Makandal lost an arm during his time working on a plantation which reflects his empathy with the suffering of his fellow citizens and his resilience in the face of enormous brutality. Both of these are central Haitian values.
  • It was believed that Makandal performed powerful magic that allowed him to turn himself into a mosquito. Mosquito-borne diseases played a role in defeating the French during the Haitian Revolution.

9. 10 The Loas of Voodoo

  • Papa Legba is believed to be the keeper of the underworld. He stands at the crossroads of this world and the next and must first be addressed before one can attempt any Voodoo ceremony (Stein and Stein 234). Papa Legba is believed to speak all of the world’s languages so that he can understand the prayers of all people. Papa Legba is associated with Saint Peter because, in Catholicism, Saint Peter is believed to stand at the gates of heaven.
  • Ogun is believed to be a loa whose job it is to make the world a nice place for humans to live but that he is still working on this project. He is the loa of war, iron and metallurgy and, because he’s often depicted with a sword, he’s associated with Saint James.
  • Damballah is a serpent loa who is believed to have created the Earth by using his coils to shape it and by shedding his skin to create rivers and oceans. Voodoo ceremonies are often performed around a pole that will have Damballah painted or carved onto it. Damballah is associated with Saint Patrick who is frequently drawn with snakes in Catholicism.
  • Erzulie Danto is the spirit of fertility and motherhood. She’s specifically seen as the saint of single mothers, working mothers, and battered women (she’s usually shown as having a wound on her face). Erzulie Danto is associated with Mary.
  • Rada
  • Benign spirits from ancestral West Africa
  • Kind and benevolent
  • “Cool”, composed and rational
  • Petwo
  • Fiery spirits representing Central African and Creole traditions from Haiti
  • “hot”, foreign, fast spirits,
  • powerful, but risky, harsh and demanding
  • associated with slavery
  • Gede family
  • Lwas of cemeteries and spirits of the dead
  • Recognized and honored on All Saints Day and on All Souls Day
  • Gede Nibo is leader, considered Rada lwa
  • Reputation for vulgarity, immorality and depravity
  • Enter services for other lwas through deception to eat and drink the offerings and utter vulgarities to the participants
  • Despite these qualities, they are also kind, helpful and especially protective of children

9.11 The Haitian Revolution

9.12 Voodoo Explains Misfortune Today

9.13 Vodun in the United States

9.14 Early Nineteenth-Century Representations of American Vodun

9.15 Late Nineteenth-Century Representations of American Vodun

9.16 Representations of Vodun and Haiti in the Early 20th Century

9.17 Literary Depictions of Haiti in the Early 20th Century

9.18 Late 20th Century and Modern Depictions of Vodun

9.19 Modern Perceptions of Vodun as a Legitimate Religion

9.20 The History of Rastafarianism

9.21 Examining the Sociocultural Context As A Revivalist Movement Through Symbols

  • The “Lion of Judah” is one of the most important Rasta symbols, which represents the maleness of the movement. Rastafari is a male dominant movement and women are typically in the periphery.
  • History plays an important role in the Rastafari movement, making it another important symbol. African history is considered to be deeper than Christianity and older than Judaism. This revivalist movement connected itself to African history, which predated the history of slavery and domination by Europeans, as a response to European colonialism.
  • Sins of Babylon — Babylon is considered to be the place of bondage, which represents the white imperialistic political power structure exploiting and holding people, especially Black people, back for centuries.
  • Zion is the counter to Babylon in Rastafari, a utopian place where there is unity, peace and freedom. Ethiopia is considered to be the Zion for the Rastafari movement, believed to be the original birthplace of humanity. The only path to redemption from Babylon is repatriation to Ethiopia.
  • Jah is the Rastafarian name for God and is the symbol of triumph over tribulations of everyday life.
  • The Holy Herb — Ganja — is not smoked recreationally in Rastafari, contrary to popular belief. It is ritually smoked for spiritual reasons and medicinal purposes. Use of Ganja is based on several passages from the Bible that are embraced by Rastas as reasons for use of the herb. These include:
  • “…thou shall eat the herb of the field.” (Genesis 3:18)
  • “He causeth the grass for the cattle, and herb for the service of man.” (Psalms 104:14)
  • Dreadlocks are another important symbol of the Rastafari. This is a type of hairstyle where hair is twisted into locs or braided. Dreadlocks symbolize Rasta roots and are a symbol of the Lion of Judah, because their form resembles a lion’s mane. This hairstyle is a rebellion of the system and the “proper” way to wear hair according to the white elites of the society, so they are a sign of resistance and outsider status.

9.22 Exodus and Jamaican Rasta Captivity

9.23–9.26 Slavery, Religion and Salvage Anthropology






Cultural Anthropologist in Los Angeles

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Amanda Zunner-Keating

Amanda Zunner-Keating

Cultural Anthropologist in Los Angeles

More from Medium

Who Gets to Be Human in an Ed Ruscha print?

Ruscha, Ed, News from News, Mews, Pews, Brews, Stews, Dues, 1970, organic screen-print, 58.4x78.7cm. New York, MoMA.

Hello Star 🌟!

Song 10 (The Topcities) and Song 11 (Revolution)

The Final Stages of Whittling