The Spirits And The Law: Vodou And Power In Haiti

Paperback | November 13, 2015

byKate Ramsey

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Vodou has often served as a scapegoat for Haiti’s problems, from political upheavals to natural disasters. This tradition of scapegoating stretches back to the nation’s founding and forms part of a contest over the legitimacy of the religion, both beyond and within Haiti’s borders. The Spirits and the Law examines that vexed history, asking why, from 1835 to 1987, Haiti banned many popular ritual practices.

To find out, Kate Ramsey begins with the Haitian Revolution and its aftermath. Fearful of an independent black nation inspiring similar revolts, the United States, France, and the rest of Europe ostracized Haiti. Successive Haitian governments, seeking to counter the image of Haiti as primitive as well as contain popular organization and leadership, outlawed “spells” and, later, “superstitious practices.” While not often strictly enforced, these laws were at times the basis for attacks on Vodou by the Haitian state, the Catholic Church, and occupying U.S. forces. Beyond such offensives, Ramsey argues that in prohibiting practices considered essential for maintaining relations with the spirits, anti-Vodou laws reinforced the political marginalization, social stigmatization, and economic exploitation of the Haitian majority. At the same time, she examines the ways communities across Haiti evaded, subverted, redirected, and shaped enforcement of the laws. Analyzing the long genealogy of anti-Vodou rhetoric, Ramsey thoroughly dissects claims that the religion has impeded Haiti’s development.

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Vodou has often served as a scapegoat for Haiti’s problems, from political upheavals to natural disasters. This tradition of scapegoating stretches back to the nation’s founding and forms part of a contest over the legitimacy of the religion, both beyond and within Haiti’s borders. The Spirits and the Law examines that vexed history, a...

Kate Ramsey is associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Miami. 

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Kobo ebook|Sep 17 2015

$5.39 online$6.99list price(save 22%)
Format:PaperbackDimensions:448 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.2 inPublished:November 13, 2015Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226703800

ISBN - 13:9780226703800

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations        

Acknowledgments       

Note on the Spelling and Use of Terms in Kreyòl         

Introduction     

1. Crimes of Ritual Assembly and Assemblage in Colonial and Revolutionary Saint-Domingue   

2. Popular Spirituality and National Modernity in Nineteenth-Century Haiti       

3. Penalizing Vodou and Promoting “Voodoo” in U.S.-Occupied Haiti, 1915–1934     

4. Cultural Nationalist Policy and the Pursuit of “Superstition” in Post-Occupation Haiti 

Epilogue          

Notes  

Bibliography    

Index

Editorial Reviews

“A tour de force of research and interpretation, this book offers a spellbinding history of the relationship between popular spiritual practice and the rule of law in Haiti. With fine-grained detail and theoretical sophistication, Kate Ramsey shows law to be a fickle spirit—a powerful but capricious force, having the capacity to lie dormant for long periods and then form suddenly into a dangerous weapon of church, state, and imperial oppression, while remaining susceptible to popular efforts to harness legal powers for beneficial ends. Can great scholarship work like medicinal magic? If, as Ramsey argues, popular religion is a vital resource sustaining Haiti’s people, then perhaps The Spirits and the Law can cure the toxic pathologies afflicting so much of the ill-informed commentary on Vodou’s role in Haitian life.”