Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Haiti and voodoo economics

posted by Rod Dreher

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?



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rj

posted February 1, 2010 at 12:13 pm


It’s not as if Christianity (Catholicism) doesn’t have an “idiom of religious secrecy” that causes people to let all manner of corruption and depravity slide.
The difference is that its expression is the “trust me, I’ve got a direct line to the Lord” claims made by every televangelist who buys himself a private jet with relief aid and every corrupt medieval pope and perverted priest.
At least christian believers have the decency to act surprised when it comes to light.



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Pat

posted February 1, 2010 at 12:17 pm


Obviously, those involved in that deal served Mammon. But what goes around comes around, and now that foreign corporations can involve themselves in our electoral politics, we’ll get a taste of our own medicine.



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Turmarion

posted February 1, 2010 at 12:41 pm


I think it’s a little more subtle than religion as such. West African traditional cultures are actually based on secret societies. These often have a religious aspect, but they are also political. The societies are the basis of how business gets done in the tribal and inter-tribal context. Hatian society is just a particular case of this. I believe Wade Davis actually speaks to this in The Serpent and the Rainbow.
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?
I see what you’re saying, Rod, but I’d be careful with phraseology. All of us, Hatians or otherwise, need to remember who the Lord of this World is, especially when we think that politics can solve all our problems. Also, as stated, it makes it sound as if the Haitians are “devil worshippers”, a lá Pat Robertson. What or whom they do worship is a complex and convoluted issue, so without necessarily advocating Vodun, we need to be careful about what we sound like we’re saying.



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Hector

posted February 1, 2010 at 1:44 pm


Re: Also, as stated, it makes it sound as if the Haitians are “devil worshippers”, a lá Pat Robertson. What or whom they do worship is a complex and convoluted issue, so without necessarily advocating Vodun, we need to be careful about what we sound like we’re saying.
I think the definition of ‘worship’ is also something that needs some unwrapping. Haitian practitioners of Vodou do believe in spiritual beings (both good and evil ones) who are superhuman, immaterial and powerful, but who are also created beings subordinate to the true God. Christians believe the same, as do Hindus, Muslims, and other religions. Whether they actually ‘worship’ those beings (‘latrea’ as distinct from ‘doulia’) is an interesting question, but I’d say no. Some Vodou prayers, as far as I know, do invoke the Trinity. And some Christians do call on, say, Raphael the Archangel or Michael the Archangel on occasion.
Re: All of us, Hatians or otherwise, need to remember who the Lord of this World is, especially when we think that politics can solve all our problems
Very true. This is something that most societies with a sense of the tragic (in 5th century Italy, 14th century France, or modern day Haiti) realise quite well, and something that modern America seems to have forgotten. When St. John referred to ‘the lord of this world’, he wasn’t just kidding around, or being hyperbolic.



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Michael C

posted February 1, 2010 at 2:31 pm


I think it is much simpler than all that.
Haitians are resigned to the fact that everyone, there own elites, Americans, The UN, are going to screw them, and whats more they are going to do it well, It has always been that way since Papa Doc, and they see no reason why it would change……..and when it is not humans it is hurricanes and earthquakes.
I wonder how many of them believe Robertson and his quackery?



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Richard

posted February 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm


The tariff that the Hatian government imposes on rice that is imported into their malnourished nation was reduced from 35% to 3%? That makes rice cheaper for the people, and reduces the slush fund for corrupt politicians. Hardly the work of the devil.



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Turmarion

posted February 1, 2010 at 6:08 pm


This is trivial, but I feel so humiliated for using an acute accent on “la” instead of a grave on “a” in à la. Pardonnez-moi!



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Mont D. Law

posted February 2, 2010 at 9:46 pm


The tariff that the Hatian government imposes on rice that is imported into their malnourished nation was reduced from 35% to 3%? That makes rice cheaper for the people, and reduces the slush fund for corrupt politicians. Hardly the work of the devil.
Further destabilization of an already unstable society is never moral. It doesn’t matter what rice costs if the agricultural economy is destroyed. These people are so poor they eat dirt. Imported rice made this worse not better.
As for the slush fund my guess is Texas Rice doubled it one way or another.
We are such an arrogant bunch. Since our marvelous culture dragged those people there as slaves we have done nothing but abuse and exploit them. Yet we sit, over-fed and sassy, blaming them.
God is not mocked, He knows our business



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