Social scientist Elizabeth McAlister writes about the real-world effect of voodoo religion on the ways Haitians explain — and make — the material world around them. What I found most interesting about McAlister’s post, which appears on the social science blog The Immanent Frame, is how accurately political and economic machinations are accounted for in the Haitian mind by dark voodoo logic. For example:
The thing is, real power does operate in a hidden realm in the Haitian context. The religious imagining of an unseen world indexes the hidden, covert, and often illegal world of deal making in the Haitian political and economic spheres. Haitians’ familiarity with the idiom of religious secrecy gives them the analytical tools they apply to the obscure workings of the Haitian government, the rapaciousness of the mafias, and the formidable and self-interested power of the Americans. It always surprised me to hear just how aware ordinary Haitians were of the workings of political power. Haitians in the Rara bands, Vodou temples, and Christian churches were well aware that the Haitian state was more interested in politics than services. While often spiced with far-fetched details, people voiced suspicions about foreign support for certain political parties, of the politics of trade embargoes, of the clandestine cocaine trafficking networks, and of predatory trade deals. (One of the reasons evangelicalism appeals to so many Haitians is its adamant rhetorical stance against corruption and secrecy. In the light of Christ, what is hidden must be revealed.)
One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist of the “paranoid style of mind” to develop a solid social scientific analysis of hidden, predatory deal making. Such an analysis will be vital in making plans to rebuild. Debates about whether it is the Haitian political class or the Americans who are more are at fault are unproductive. In this transnational era, the parties depend on one another, and sometimes overlap. “Diri Miyami” (“Miami rice”) is a prime example. In one of the most destructive economic deals of the last decade, the international financial institutions (IMF and World Bank) negotiated a reduction of tariffs on rice imports from 35% to 3%, even while the average CARICOM tariff for rice was 25%. In a related deal, a single Texas-based corporation called American Rice Inc. gained a monopoly over rice imports. The first shipments were distributed to rice-growing areas in Haiti by military convoy, so strong was the local opposition to the imported product. Native rice production virtually collapsed, and many farmers migrated to the overpopulated capital city as a result. While these regulations and trade deals may (or may not) have been legal, they were carried out behind the scenes, unannounced to Haitian farmers and the broader public, and involved both Haitian and American elites.
Are the Haitians entirely misguided to divine that Lucifer really is the Lord of this World, and that the only way one can know success is to appease him and his servants? And: when our government and corporations behave this way, whom do we serve?