Legislating “Civilization” in Postrevolutionary Haiti

Kate Ramsey

in Race, Nation, and Religion in the Americas

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780195149180
Published online April 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780199835386 | DOI:
Legislating “Civilization” in Postrevolutionary Haiti

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This article examines the nineteenth century Haitian state’s penal prohibition of “le vaudoux” as a form of “sortilege” or spell. It studies how, in the face of unremitting white Western hostility and racist malign, successive post-revolutionary Haitian governments relied on juridical law both as a sign of political modernity and as a space for the repudiation of the so-called primitive in Haiti. The article focuses on two significant episodes of enforcement of these laws following the return of the Roman Catholic Church to Haiti in 1860. At this point, popular ritual practice fell, in effect, under a second punitive regime, even as the newly arrived foreign clergy also pressed the Haitian state for stricter enforcement of the laws already in place. I argue, however, that the application of what were frequently consolidated after 1860 as “les lois divines et humaines” against “le vaudoux” proved, repeatedly, to be impossible for both state and Church. The disparity between how this word was constructed through penal and ecclesiastical laws versus how it was popularly understood became the key point on which both the state’s and the Church’s campaigns against popular ritual invariably foundered.

Keywords: Haiti; religion; law; Vodou; Roman Catholicism; colonialism; race; civilization

Chapter.  13465 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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